Top 10 Best Picture Winners

With the Oscars finally over, everyone looks at who won Best Picture with some thinking, “Who did the producers have to sleep with to win over The Social Network?” (Guilty: I’m one of those people.)

Yes, AMPAS has had its fair share of Oscar boo-boos (Tommy Lee Jones over Ralph Fiennes, Crash over Brokeback Mountain, etc.), but there have been winners that have held up after all these years.

So to sum up everything, I give you ten Best Picture winners that are still relevant today.

10. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)

apartment, jack lemmon, shirley maclaine, billy wilder, top 10 oscar winner,

Some might be saying, “Oh, Psycho should have been nominated that year. It’s the best movie from that year.” Well, that may be true, but I strongly believe that The Apartment earned its Oscar fair and square. Jack Lemmon’s performance as the honest but usually unlucky C.C. Baxter is my favorite from his repertoire of acting credits.

9. Marty (Delbert Mann, 1955)

marty, best picture oscar winner,

Like The Apartment, Marty focuses on the honesty of the lead character, in this case Ernest Borgnine’s Marty Piletti (who in my opinion is the most honest character you’ll find in a movie). Marty also showed that a movie doesn’t have to have glamorous stars to make a very entertaining and delightful movie.

8. From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)

from here to eternity, film, oscar winner,

From Here to Eternity may be better known for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s romp on the beach, but there’s more than the notorious embrace. It’s about five lives that were unaffected by reality before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also contains stellar performances from Lancaster, Kerr, Montgomery Clift at his best, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed, the latter two won Oscars.

7. Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)

gone with the wind, film,

I would’ve gotten ambushed if I didn’t mention this somewhere. I admitted in my review that I really didn’t like Scarlett at all, but I also said that Vivien Leigh was very good in the role. But on a different matter, who doesn’t love Clark Gable as Rhett Butler? Frankly, my dear, I do give a damn.

6. The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)

deer hunter, robert deniro, de niro,

War movies winning Best Picture is pretty common by now, but not many have left the same emotional impact The Deer Hunter had on its audiences back in 1978. Robert De Niro is at the height of his acting, Meryl Streep provides strong support and Christopher Walken is absolutely devastating. The Russian roulette scenes will leave your nerves frayed and the final scenes will put you through the wringer.

5. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

lawrence of arabia, film, david lean, best, oscar, picture,

Yes, the cinematography is STUNNING, but there’s more than that. It’s the story that makes Lawrence of Arabia what it is. It also contains Peter O’Toole’s best performance, which alone is a must-watch.

4. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

schindler's list, steven spielberg, oscar winner,

Let’s face it. Who wasn’t crying from this when it was over? Liam Neeson is the ideal hero while Ralph Fiennes is the horrifying villain. Spielberg, who up at that time was better known for his blockbuster hits, makes the most haunting movie about the Holocaust that Hollywood has ever seen.

3. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

the godfather, coppola, oscar winner, best picture,

Gangster movies pre-The Godfather only focused on getting the money, getting the women and getting the power. The Godfather showed the depths of the Mafia like never before. Marlon Brando, who makes the comeback of a lifetime, is a powerhouse as the aging Vito Corleone. The rest of the cast, which includes Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale and Talia Shire, make The Godfather what it is: brilliant.

2. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

godfather, part 2, robert de niro, al pacino, francis coppola

Yes, I’m one of those people who prefer the sequel over the original. Like the first one, The Godfather Part II shows what control the Mafia over one person. What makes the sequel better than the original is how more in-depth it is. Throw in gripping performances from Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and John Cazale, and you got a classic.

1. On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)

on the waterfront, marlon brando, best picture winner, oscar,

Yes, the movie that beat out the other nine entries for the #1 spot is one of my all-time favorites, On the Waterfront. True, it is dated, but the impact it had almost sixty years ago hasn’t gotten soft at all. Marlon Brando is at his finest as Terry Malloy and is supporting by a superb cast that includes Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger, Lee J. Cobb and Karl Malden.

Honorable mentions: The Best Years of Our Lives, The Lost Weekend, The Hurt Locker

Written and compiled by Anna

Anna is the writer of blog Defiant Success.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    rtm Reply

    This is uncanny, I’m actually working on the same list as I was inspired by the Best Picture posters from IMP Awards I did earlier this week. Nice picks, Dan, props on GWTW and Schindler’s List and it makes me want to watch Lawrence of Arabia. That photo from ‘Eternity’ is such a classic, again I need to watch that one.

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @rtm: It is a great list but I can’t take the credit for it as Anna (author of the blog Defiant Success) put it together. πŸ™‚

  3. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    Why did I just know that would be the image for From Here to Eternity?

    @rtm Thanks for the compliments! It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to ten.

  4. Avatar
    rtm Reply

    Oh I must have missed your name Anna, sorry. Ha..ha.. it’d be a crime NOT to use that photo for that movie. I think Calvin Klein copied it for a perfume commercial even.

  5. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    You make me feel terrible ahah! I have seen only 3 of those πŸ™ Both Godfather and Gone with the Wind.

  6. Avatar
    snobbyfilmguy Reply

    I didn’t care for much of this list. It contains a lot of films I like but it’s obviously contains a HUGE bias when only one film came after 1978. Bummer.

  7. Avatar
    amy Reply

    we kinda beat you to it xD
    We got our list of BP winners that should be seen more.

    I promise I will make my own contribution to Top10Films. I got a list of names, just haven’t revise it.

  8. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    @amy Showoff. πŸ˜›

  9. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Wow. I was thinking of doing a list like this in the lead up to the Oscars but ran out of time (and had other things on). Glad to see somebody else has picked up the slack!!! Great list, but I’d have had Schindlers above Godfather II (sacrilege I know, but there you have it) and I’d have included The Sound Of Music, Bridge On The River Kwai and Casablanca in my list.

  10. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    @Castor You, good sir, need some catchin’ up to do.

    @snobbyfilmguy I wouldn’t say it’s a biased list. I just haven’t seen that many of the Best Picture winners and these were the ones that I like out of the ones I’ve seen.

    @Rodney Ha ha. Beat you to it. πŸ˜›

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Thanks Anna for an excellent contribution to the site.

    The Apartment is probably my favourite film of all time so it’s great to see you rate it so highly. I love the fact you’ve gone with films that have proven their longevity as true masterpieces.

  12. Avatar
    Novroz Reply

    Aha…Anna is the one who wrote this,no wonder there are so many black and white movies in this list. I have only seen 3 of them and only 1 I enjoy the most.
    I really have to change my mind set to start watching black and white…someday.

  13. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    @Dan Again, you’re very welcome.

    @Novroz Ha ha, very funny. I can’t help it if I prefer the classics.

  14. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Novroz: Don’t force yourself to watch black and white films as that won’t allow you to enjoy them. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s until I really started watching older movies. That The Apartment has become a favourite of mine isn’t because of the way it was filmed or when it was filmed but because it has a fine story supported by a script with truly exceptional dialogue and performances you can’t help but fall in love with. These attributes will present themselves to anyone who loves the medium.

    When I first saw Citizen Kane – when I was about 15 – I hated it because of the context I watched it in. It was watched for a class on film and I was more interested in watching Aliens and Jurassic Park. But that changed when I watched the film later in life – not for education, for enjoyment.

    You’ll see an old movie one day that you’ll love. It’ll probably just happen. After that a whole new door will be opened.

    It’s a similar thing as foreign language films are to me (as an english-only speaker). Every so often a Japanese or South Korean or European film will take me by surprise and make me want to explore more of that world.

  15. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Two best foreign language films I’ve ever seen were: Das Boot and Amelie. The end.

    For all those who say “I hate having to read a film”, grow a brain and grow and education.

  16. Avatar
    sundryandco Reply

    A film which is on a par with “The Apartment” is “All About Eve” – An equally clever script, superb acting and balancing brilliant on that line between dark and comic. Really great list, this one. In fact, the entire list would fit perfectly into a desert island film list.

  17. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    @sundryandco Why, thank you! πŸ™‚

  18. Avatar
    YouBix Reply

    I Justed Watched The Godfather From This List πŸ™‚ and I think the first Part deserve A bETTER pLACE than The II part ( Just mY vIEW :p ) Nice Idea bro :p

  19. Avatar
    Jeffrey Young Reply

    I still find it amazing that “Citizen Kane” did not win best Picture. If it did it would be favorite best picture. Everything from the deep focus photography to the performaces were astounding. Can’t go wrong with Brando’s Terry Malloy character though.

  20. Avatar
    mark Reply

    Some fine choices here, but the glaring ommission is The French Connection …. I had watched it a few times over the years, but in 1995 I got the DVD out and couldn’t believe how well it had aged. Plus it’s good – an exciting artsy fartsy action piece that appeals to mass sensibilities. As seminal to a treatise on American cinema as Citizen Kane.

    I would also argue that Bridge on the River Kwai is better than Lawrence.

    Sort of losing touch with the Oscars as years go by, partly because of what you rightly called the “social network” syndrome. Plus, some bad choices have been made. How, for example, did Chariots of Fire outdo Reds? And why did Apocalypse Now lose to either Kramer Vs K or Ordinary People? And what about Driving Miss Daisy? Hell, even Brucie Beresford didn’t get nominated as director for this sentimental claptrap (my memory is sort of vague, but didn’t Billy Crystal describe this as the film that directed itself?)

    Then there’s Dances With Wolves … when it first came out I thought it was going to be one of those Little Big Man/Ulzana’s Raid/Solder Blue anti Western things. Instead we got a paternalistic love story – and with Costner in the lead!!

    And yeah, it was great that Unforgiven won in 1993, but X was ignored in so many other Oscar categories that it wasn’t funny.

    Finally there’s The Deer Hunter. Liked it when I was a teen, but Vincent Canby’s review of Heaven’s Gate in late 1980 always stuck in my mind (something to do with Cimino selling his soul to the devil to gurantee its [DH’s] success). Andrew Sarris described DH as fascist art, while Peter Biskind put forward a just-as-compelling case regarding its racism.

    Having grown up into a bitter old man with some remnants of new age sensibilities lurking about in my confused psyche, I tend to agree with sarris and Biskind – especially after watching Cimino’s subsequent stuff.

  21. Avatar
    mark Reply

    RIP Ernest Borgnine – great actor; so good that he won an Oscar(TM) in his lifetime.

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