Everybody has their own idea of what makes a best picture winner at the Oscars. Perhaps a biopic or a war movie, something huge in scale such as a “Dances With Wolves” or “Titanic,” or a smaller film like the newest to win the Academy Awards‘ top trophy, “CODA.”
What’s pretty clear if you undertake watching all 94 (so far) films to take that vaunted prize – and it’s not for the fainthearted, trust us – is that you come out of it changed. You love movies a little bit more.
All of these films bear Hollywood’s highest honor – but how do they compare with one another? To celebrate Sunday’s 95th Academy Awards ceremony (ABC, 8 p.m. ET/5 PT), we’re ranking every best picture winner, from iffy stuff where a recount seems in order to the very best of the best.
94. ‘The Broadway Melody’ (1928/29)
The second best picture winner, it’s a musical dud with vaudevillian sisters and romantic malarkey that could have won worst picture, too.
93. ‘Crash’ (2005)
A mess of interwoven stories centered on social and xenophobic tensions in LA, it has a good cast (Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle) and little else.
92. ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ (1952)
Jimmy Stewart is a clown and Charlton Heston also signs up for this ostentatious and loathsome three-ring ode to P.T. Barnum’s circus.
91. ‘Cimarron’ (1930/31)
The rocky drama about an 1800s Oklahoma family was the first Western to win the category, yet it has aged badly with unfortunate racist stereotypes.
90. ‘Cavalcade’ (1932/33)
This sentimental tale of family, friends and servants experiencing ups and downs of life from 1899 to 1933 is like “Downton Abbey” but not good.
89. ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ (1989)
Morgan Freeman plays a Black driver and Jessica Tandy is his elderly white charge in an emotionally manipulative dramedy made for random cable TV showings.
88. ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (1956)
An English dude (David Niven) travels the globe and meets colorful characters in a flighty three-hour affair. It’s no “Cannonball Run,” though.
87. ‘The English Patient’ (1996)
The pretentious World War II melodrama has Ralph Fiennes as a burned man, Juliette Binoche as his nurse and Kristin Scott Thomas as his already-married love.
86. ‘Out of Africa’ (1985)
Meryl Streep’s married Danish writer falls for Robert Redford’s big-game hunter over 160 snoozy minutes of Oscar-bait romance.
85. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998)
The biopic rom-com gone wrong finds Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) wooing the woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) who helps him write “Romeo and Juliet.”
84. ‘The Great Ziegfeld’ (1936)
William Powell plays the infamous title Broadway producer in an arduous and showy musical that is, suffice it to say, less than great.
83. ‘Million Dollar Baby’ (2004)
Hilary Swank packed on muscle to play an up-and-coming boxer trained by an aging coach (director Clint Eastwood) in a film as depressing as “Rocky” is uplifting.
82. ‘How Green Was My Valley’ (1941)
One of the Oscars’ greatest unsolved mysteries is how this maudlin Welsh family coal drama upset “Citizen Kane.”
81. ‘Chariots of Fire’ (1981)
Vangelis’ catchy theme is the most memorable aspect of this emotionally deep but sluggish British sports drama that follows runners racing toward the 1924 Paris Olympics.
80. ‘Green Book’ (2018)
Mahershala Ali plays a Black pianist touring the Jim Crow South and Viggo Mortensen is his uncouth driver in a feel-good film about race relations with a whitewashed perspective.
79. ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ (1947)
Gregory Peck stars as a journalist who pretends to be Jewish for a story on antisemitism, which probably sounded like a better idea in 1947.
78. ‘Tom Jones’ (1963)
The courtly British comedy finds Albert Finney embracing saucy adventures and getting into swordfights as a squire cast out of his kingdom.
77. ‘Grand Hotel’ (1931/32)
The episodic drama peeks at the various goings-on at a swanky Berlin hotel, like the budding relationship of a Russian ballerina (Greta Garbo) and jewelry-heisting gambler (John Barrymore).
76. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008)
Dev Patel’s orphan rises from the slums to win the Indian “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” but a Bollywood song-and-dance number botches the satisfying ending.
75. ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1945)
Billy Wilder’s bracing, noir-ish exploration of alcoholism features Ray Milland as a writer whose life devolves into a desperate hunt for his next drink over several harrowing days.
74. ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)
The title character’s fanciful jaunt through American history veers schmaltzy, so thank goodness for Tom Hanks imbuing Gump with an enduring charm.
73. ‘Marty’ (1955)
One of Hollywood’s great character actors, Ernest Borgnine is outstanding as a 30-something butcher who finally finds love and doesn’t know who to do with it.
72. ‘The Hurt Locker’ (2009)
Director Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War thriller makes you feel the constant stress and danger faced by a military bomb-disposal unit (including Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie).
71. ‘American Beauty’ (1999)
Who could have imagined 20-plus years later that the divisive “dancing” plastic bag from the suburban satire would be more respected than best actor winner Kevin Spacey?
70. ‘Terms of Endearment’ (1983)
Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger are a mother and daughter with a polarized relationship, yet Jack Nicholson stands out as a roguish astronaut.
69. ‘Gigi’ (1958)
Young courtesan wannabe Gigi (Leslie Caron) and Parisian playboy Gaston (Louis Jourdan) see each other as just friends, until romance intercedes in the musical confection.
68. ‘You Can’t Take It With You’ (1938)
Frank Capra’s folksy rom-com casts Jimmy Stewart as Tony, a grounded guy from a snobby family who falls for Alice (Jean Arthur), the most normal in a clan of oddballs.
67. ‘Nomadland’ (2020)
Chloe Zhao’s look at older workers in modern America combines splendid scenery with a wondrous Frances McDormand as a woman who adores life on the road.
66. ‘Going My Way’ (1944)
Bing Crosby is the singingest priest you’ve ever seen in the musical dramedy, a tune-filled battle of wills between Crosby’s young holy man and Barry Fitzgerald’s elder pastor.
65. ‘Argo’ (2012)
Director Ben Affleck also stars in the historical thriller (and a sort of salute to the movies) about the CIA using a fake sci-fi movie as a ruse to rescue diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis.
64. ‘The Deer Hunter’ (1978)
Pennsylvania friends (including Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken) go off to Vietnam and face the psychological aftermath. Well made but super-duper bleak, so maybe chase it with …
63. ‘Oliver!’ (1968)
Charles Dickens’ spunky characters from “Oliver Twist” get a crowd-pleasing all-ages revamp courtesy of a Victorian musical that doesn’t skimp on the earworming showtunes.
62. ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’ (1946)
Fredric March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell star in the drama that deals honestly with a theme of the time: World War II veterans returning home to face personal and professional struggles.
61. ‘Braveheart’ (1995)
Mel Gibson’s controversial stances aside, he is pretty good at making you want to put war paint on and fight for Scottish independence.
60. ‘Ordinary People’ (1980)
Mary Tyler Moore veers unlikable for a change as the hard-to-please matriarch of a family shaken to its core by the death of one son and a suicide attempt by the other (Timothy Hutton).
59. ‘An American in Paris’ (1951)
Gene Kelly stars as a World War II vet crushing on the French perfume girl (Leslie Caron) who’s dating his singer pal (Georges Guétary). Awkward! But this one’s all about the wowing 17-minute dance finale set to Gershwin’s title tune.
58. ‘Mrs. Miniver’ (1942)
Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon star as an English couple dealing with the early days of World War II in a drama that, unlike many other films on this list, was made during said war.
57. ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010)
The sweet and inspirational story features Colin Firth as England’s King George VI working through a childhood stutter to be the steady voice his country needs.
56. ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (1957)
“Star Wars” fans will appreciate Alec Guinness owning the screen as a World War II British colonel leading whistling, bridge-building POWs at a Japanese prison camp in Thailand.
55. ‘Wings’ (1927/28)
The first best picture winner holds up well almost a century later. The silent film stars Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen as rival pilots in World War I who dig the same girl (Clara Bow) back home.
54. ‘Dances With Wolves’ (1990)
Kevin Costner takes a break from sports movies to direct and star in the solid Western epic as a Union soldier who befriends – and fights for – a Native American tribe.
53. ‘The Life of Emile Zola’ (1937)
Maybe not the most famous biopic but a quite effective one, with Paul Muni as the 19th-century French writer who speaks up for a Jewish captain tagged as a traitor.
52. ‘All the King’s Men’ (1949)
The film noir tackles the corruptive tendencies of power, with Broderick Crawford as a populist politician who rises up as a Southern governor and wields dangerous influence.
51. ‘A Man for All Seasons’ (1966)
Paul Scofield brings steady nerve to his portrayal of Sir Thomas More, the British statesman who butted heads with King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw).
50. ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (2001)
A year after winning best actor for “Gladiator,” Russell Crowe returned to the Oscar race with his role as John Nash, a genius on an absorbing journey of math and madness.
49. ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987)
Bernardo Bertolucci was the first Italian filmmaker to win best director for the immersive historical chronicle of Chinese emperor Puyi’s life, from ruling as a toddler to being imprisoned as an adult.
48. ‘The Shape of Water’ (2017)
Guillermo del Toro’s beautifully unconventional romance makes you believe in the love between a voiceless janitor (Sally Hawkins) and a captured fish man (Doug Jones).
47. ‘Rain Man’ (1988)
Dustin Hoffman shows up on this list a few times as part of some dynamic duos. Here, he plays a savant with autism who reconnects with his brash younger brother (Tom Cruise) on the road.
46. ‘Gandhi’ (1982)
Richard Attenborough’s biopic takes on the tale of the renowned Indian leader and succeeds, primarily because of the spirit Ben Kingsley gives his title character.
45. ‘The Sound of Music’ (1965)
Julie Andrews is a nun who teaches a family of kids to sing and gallivants tunefully across Austrian mountains, while Christopher Plummer rips up a Nazi flag. They understood the assignment, as the kids say.
44. ‘The Artist’ (2011)
The (mostly) silent film is a joyous look at Hollywood’s yesteryear, finding something special with an aging star (Jean Dujardin), an infectious ingenue (Bérénice Bejo) and a ridiculously cute pooch.
43. ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ (1935)
Clark Gable looks strange without his signature mustache, yet he’s a clean-shaven force of good in this watery clash as a seaman taking on Charles Laughton’s cruel Captain Bligh.
42. ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)
Hobbits and Co. finally reach Mount Doom, and Peter Jackson’s massive fantasy trilogy gets its atta-boy.
41. ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’ (2014)
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s innovative satire sets its sights on celebrity, family and movie superheroes, with a gonzo Michael Keaton in one of his greatest roles.
40. ‘Rebecca’ (1940)
Alfred Hitchcock’s lone entry on this list is a fitting psychological head trip, with Joan Fontaine playing the new wife of an aristocrat (Laurence Olivier) who can’t escape the seemingly constant presence of his dead wife.
39. ‘Patton’ (1970)
George C. Scott embodies Gen. George S. Patton as a tough leader on the battlefield and a larger-than-life speaker, especially the opening monologue in front of a flag that’s a classic Hollywood moment.
38. ‘No Country for Old Men’ (2007)
The Coen brothers’ Western-tinged thriller rounds up a posse with Josh Brolin as a Vietnam vet who finds a load of drug money and Javier Bardem as a chilling hitman.
37. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969)
Dustin Hoffman found another dude duo with Jon Voight as two hustlers – one a Texan sex worker, the other an ailing con man – navigating New York City’s seedier corners.
36. ‘Hamlet’ (1948)
Laurence Olivier is the peanut butter, Shakespeare’s Danish prince is the jelly, and they’re made for each other in a delicious treat doing expressionism way before “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”
35. ‘Platoon’ (1986)
Oliver Stone’s Vietnam drama superbly depicts the horrors of war and the morals of the men involved, including Charlie Sheen as a soldier caught between ideologically different sergeants (Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger).
It’s a big, warm inclusive hug of a movie, with a hearing girl (Emilia Jones) torn between the struggling fishing business run by her parents (Marlee Matlin and Oscar winner Troy Kotsur) and her own musical dreams. Have a box of tissues by your side at all times.
33. ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979)
Dustin Hoffman’s best pairing was with Meryl Streep, with their searing look at parenting, divorce and the effects on a child decades before “Marriage Story.”
32. ‘Titanic’ (1997)
In James Cameron’s blockbuster, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet gave us a doomed love story folks could (mostly) buy amid a historical disaster. (Jack totally could have fit on Rose’s door, though.)
31. ‘Annie Hall’ (1977)
Woody Allen is polarizing, his best movie is not. The filmmaker’s beloved comedy hilariously follows the relationship build and breakup of a comedian (Allen) and a singer (Diane Keaton).
30. ‘The Sting’ (1973)
Set to a rollicking ragtime score, the enjoyable crime caper lets Robert Redford and Paul Newman shine as con men who eye a powerful boss as their ultimate mark after the murder of a shared friend.
29. ‘Ben-Hur’ (1959)
The chariot race rules and the action is on a biblical scale (literally!) in the epic featuring Charlton Heston as a Jewish prince enslaved on a galley ship who plots revenge on the Romans who betrayed him.
28. ‘Unforgiven’ (1992)
Clint Eastwood rides tall in the director’s chair, stakes his claim for best Western ever and stars as an aging farmer who returns to his outlaw ways for righteous retribution.
27. ‘Gladiator’ (2000)
Joaquin Phoenix’s first Oscar win for “Joker” should have been No. 2: He was devilishly top-notch as evil Commodus opposite Russell Crowe’s vengeful battler Maximus.
26. ‘In the Heat of the Night’ (1967)
The late Sidney Poitier wondrously exudes intelligence and gumption as a visiting detective traveling through Mississippi who helps racist cops catch a killer.
25. ‘The Departed’ (2006)
Martin Scorsese’s sole best director win is for this twisty crime thriller with gangster Jack Nicholson, undercover cop Leonardo DiCaprio and Mob mole Matt Damon.
24. ‘My Fair Lady’ (1964)
Audrey Hepburn’s a hoot as cockney Brit Eliza Doolittle, given a makeover by Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins in the musical take on “Pygmalion.”
23. ’12 Years a Slave’ (2013)
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a free Black man tricked into servitude for Steve McQueen’s uneasy-to-watch yet essential pre-Civil War drama.
22. ‘Chicago’ (2002)
The rare A-list musical – with Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as jazz-era convicts – that ingeniously treats its numbers as flights of fantasy.
21. ‘From Here to Eternity’ (1953)
Come for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s infamous kiss on the beach, stay for the drama involving soldiers in Hawaii just before the Pearl Harbor attack.
20. ‘The Apartment’ (1960)
Nothing says “Christmas movie” like office drone Jack Lemmon lending his place to the boss for hookups and falling for elevator girl Shirley MacLaine.
19. ‘Rocky’ (1976)
With Sylvester Stallone’s headstrong boxer, it’s the classic every underdog sports drama will be compared to forevermore.
18. ‘It Happened One Night’ (1934)
Frank Capra’s enjoyable and sexy (for the ’30s) romantic comedy had Clark Gable’s journalist falling for Claudette Colbert’s runaway heiress.
17. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (1929/30)
The extremely powerful anti-war film explored the carnage of World War I and the disillusioned soldiers who came home.
16. ‘Spotlight’ (2015)
Sigh. “All the President’s Men” didn’t win best picture. Thankfully this story of crusading Boston journalists and a shady Catholic Church cover-up did.
15. ‘West Side Story’ (1961)
The cultural portrayals earn some side-eye, but the musical love story still soars with powerhouse tunes and a phenomenal Rita Moreno.
14. ‘Gone With the Wind’ (1939)
It’s problematic for modern eyes, but the Southern-fried Civil War epic still works as a spectacle of unrequited romance.
13. ‘Moonlight’ (2016)
Barry Jenkins’ elegant character study of a Black man dealing with his identity and sexuality is an unforgettable, multilayered work.
12. ‘Parasite’ (2019)
In the first non-English language film to win best picture, a poor but clever Korean family infiltrates a wealthy clan – as well as the viewer’s heart and mind.
11. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962)
Peter O’Toole’s title British officer has his allegiances torn in this sweeping, sandy epic that influenced a generation of filmmakers.
10. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
A criminal (Jack Nicholson) figures being in an asylum is an easy way to do time, then runs into the nurse from hell (Louise Fletcher).
9. ‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974)
Francis Ford Coppola’s great gangland prequel/sequel unleashes Al Pacino and Robert De Niro as two generations of Mob bosses.
8. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
Anthony Hopkins made us root for the bad guy (and a cannibal at that) in the only horror movie to crack this vaunted Oscar list.
7. ‘The French Connection’ (1971)
With an all-timer of a car chase and Gene Hackman’s fantastic antihero Popeye Doyle, good luck finding a better cop thriller.
6. ‘Amadeus’ (1984)
Who said period pieces have to be boring? In the hands of Tom Hulce, musical genius Mozart is a 19th-century wild child we’d all want to party with.
5. ‘All About Eve’ (1950)
Bette Davis’ Broadway star freaks out about her age (at 40!) – and Anne Baxter’s zealous understudy does not help – in a stellar lesson on celebrity and cold-blooded ambition.
4. ‘On the Waterfront’ (1954)
Marlon Brando’s New Jersey boxer-turned-longshoreman “coulda been a contender” but is definitely the champ of this stunning crime drama.
3. ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)
A moving, devastating Holocaust tale about hope and kindness, it’s the best Steven Spielberg movie without a certain globetrotting archaeologist.
2. ‘Casablanca’ (1943)
As Humphrey Bogart learns, you can stay neutral in war only until love and righteousness walk back through your nightclub doors.
1. ‘The Godfather’ (1972)
With violence, betrayal, drama, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, the sprawling gangster epic is the cannoli on top of the Oscars’ best picture cake.
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