CODA is the most recent film to be declared the Academy Award’s Best Picture. The 2022 Oscars has some stiff competition for Best Picture including Belfast, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Dune, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, Nightmare Alley, The Power Of The Dog and West Side Story. The Best Picture award is a tradition that dates back to the 1920s. However, it didn’t always have the same title and actually was divided into two categories.
At the first-ever Academy Awards in 1929, the 1927 film Wings won the Most Outstanding Production Award and was categorized as the 1927/1928 winner. The second award, Most Artistic Quality of Production, went to the art film Sunrise. The first Oscars was the last to have two winners. Eventually, the Most Outstanding Production Award became the sole winning category while Most Artistic Quality of Production became Best Cinematography, which is why Wings is considered the true first Best Picture winner. The title of the award went through a few changes. The biggest was the addition of the word “Motion” in 1941 and the redaction of it after 1962 when the category became its current title– Best Picture.
Another big change that was made over the years is how many films could be nominated for Best Picture. Initially, eight to 12 films could be nominated but during World War II, the Academy ruled that only five films would be nominated for the award. Down the line, the Academy had a change of heart and ruled that up to ten films could be nominated in 2009. Many believe it was due to the outrage over The Dark Knight not being on the ballot the year before. Additionally, it has allowed for more diversity in the Best Picture category. Now that we’re all caught up on the history, let’s take a look at the films that have won Best Picture over the past two decades, all the way back to 2000.
CODA is a film about a teenager who is the only hearing member of her family who yearns to pursue a career in music. The film embodied the definition of authentic and representative casting as all three deaf family members were played by deaf actors. The heartfelt film was nominated for three categories and won all of them. On top of Best Picture, Troy Kotsur won Best Supporting Actor and the film also took away the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Nomadland starred Frances McDormand as a van lifer as well as a large ensemble cast. The slice-of-life film explored themes of loneliness and the limited options retirees have based on their financial circumstances. Nomadland made history with its Oscar wins as it not only won Best Picture but Chloe Zhao became the first-ever Woman of Color and second woman to win the Best Director award. Frances also walked away with Best Actress, totaling the film’s three Oscar wins.
Parasite is a one-of-a-kind thriller-comedy feature that saw the impoverished Kim family rise their way to the upper crust of society. Starring Choi Woo-sik, Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin and Park So-dam, Parasite made Oscars history as the first non-English film to win Best Picture. The foreign film won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, International Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay.
‘Green Book’ (2019)
Green Book, a title inspired by a book that told African American safe places to travel during the pre-civil rights era, the film focused on the real-life story of Black concert pianist Don Shirley traveling through the deep south with his Italian bodyguard Tony Vallelonga. The film scored five Oscar wins on top of Best Picture including Best Original Screenplay while Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor.
‘The Shape Of Water’ (2018)
The Shape Of Water had a large presence at the Oscars with 13 nominations, the most out of any film that year. The film followed a non-verbal human, played by Sally Hawkins, who was born deaf and uses sign language to talk with and eventually fall in love with an amphibious creature. The unique love story won four of the 13 awards it was nominated for including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Production Design.
Academy Award viewers will not soon forget the infamous slip-up where frontrunner film La La Land was initially announced as Best Picture only for Moonlight to be deemed the true winner just seconds later. The coming of age story that followed Chiron growing up as a Black man in Miami won three Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director while Mahershala Ali took away his first of two wins for Best Supporting Actor.
Spotlight was stacked with a star-studded cast. Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo pioneered newspaper drama that explored the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting on sexual abuse in the Catholic church. In spite of the A-list cast, Spotlight winning the Best Picture was an upset as The Revenant, the film that presented Leonardo DiCaprio with his first Oscar win for Best Actor, was expected to be the frontrunner.
Birdman, or more complexly known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, was impressively nominated for nine Academy Awards and won four of those. In addition to Best Picture, the film won Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Cinematography for its innovative use of seamless transitions to make the film seem like it was filmed in one take. Michael Keaton led the innovative film about mounting a risky Broadway production at all costs.
’12 Years A Slave’ (2014)
12 Years A Slave had an impressive showing at the Academy Awards. The film depicted Solomon Northup’s memoir of how he was a free man tricked and sold into slavery ahead of the Civil War and was nominated for 13 Oscars and won three. The film made history as the first film with a Black director, Steve McQueen, to win an Oscar and also provided Lupita Nyong’o her first Oscar win as Best Supporting Actress.
Ben Affleck wore multiple hats as both lead actor and director in Argo. Bryan Cranston starred alongside Ben in the thriller that broke down the Iranian hostage crisis. Argo was a frontrunner going into the night so it wasn’t a surprise that the film won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. The greater surprise came earlier when Ben wasn’t even nominated for Best Director, making it the first film to win Best Picture without its director being nominated since Driving Miss Daisy.
‘The Artist’ (2012)
The Artist took film viewers back to the early days of Hollywood before all the talkies. In fact, it was the first mostly-silent film to win the Academy Award since the first-ever Oscar winner Wings (remember?) as well as the first French-produced winner. The 1920s homage did quite well winning five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director while Jean Dujardin took home Best Actor.
‘The King’s Speech’ (2011)
The King’s Speech was nominated for 12 Oscars, the most of its year, and won not just four Academy Awards but the big ones. The historical drama won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Additionally, Colin Firth took home his first Oscar for his depiction of King George the VI.
‘The Hurt Locker’ (2010)
The Hurt Locker made history in a way that films may not want to be remembered in Academy history. The war drama, based on the conflict in Iraq, had a fierce contender in the multi-million dollar film Avatar and one of the producers was banned from attending the Oscars after they were caught pandering and campaigning the members of the Academy for votes. The film proved to not need the help though as it took home an impressive six Oscars including not only Best Picture but made history as Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win Best Director.
‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2009)
Slumdog Millionaire made a clean sweep during its run at the 2009 Oscars. The ultimate underdog movie chronicled the journey of an impoverished teen (Dev Patel) winning the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and the film too turned out to be the big champion with eight Oscar wins. Slumdog Millionaire took home Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography just to name a few.
‘No Country For Old Men’ (2008)
No Country For Old Men followed a hunter who finds himself being pursued after he stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong. The neo-Western drama won four Oscars, tying with There Will Be Blood. However, No Country For Old Men took home the biggest prize of Big Picture, plus Javier Bardem took home his first Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor.
‘The Departed’ (2007)
The Departed did quite well for itself at the Oscars winning four of the five categories that it was nominated for. The crime drama featured Leonardo DiCaprio as a cop going undercover and busting the mafia and it won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. Unfortunately, Leo wasn’t as lucky as he not only didn’t Best Actor but his name wasn’t even put on the ballot.
Crash’s Best Picture win has gone down as one of the biggest upsets in Oscars history. Many suspected that the groundbreaking film Brokeback Mountain would claim the big prize and make a clean sweep at the Academy Awards. However, it was the crime drama film about the aftermath of 9/11 starring Sandra Bullock, Ludacris, Larenz Tate and Brendan Fraser that won Best Picture in addition to Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing. Brokeback Mountain didn’t go home empty-handed though as it won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.
‘Million Dollar Baby’ (2005)
Million Dollar Baby came out on top as the clear winner at the 2005 Academy Awards even though it only won four Oscars while The Aviator won five. The film about an underdog female boxer not only won Best Picture but its A-list actors also won big prizes. Clint Eastwood walked away with Best Director while Hilary Swank won Best Actress and Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor.
‘The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King’ (2004)
The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King easily had one of the biggest clean sweeps in Oscars history. The third and final installment of the fantasy franchise won all of the 11 categories that it was nominated for, breaking Academy Awards records. While other films have won just as many Oscars or also won all the categories they were nominated for, none of them had as impressive of number or ratio as 11 to 11.
While movie musicals used to frequently strike gold at the Oscars, that hasn’t been the case since Chicago won Best Picture in 2003. The musical crime drama is about how Roxie Hart and her charismatic lawyer helped launch her to fame as an adored public figure in spite of killing her husband. The film won five Oscars in total and while Renee Zellweger didn’t win for her performance as Roxie, Catherine Zeta-Jones won Best Supporting Actress.
‘A Beautiful Mind’ (2002)
A Beautiful Mind was an autobiographical film in which Russell Crowe played mathematician John Nash whose mental illness overshadowed his significant accomplishment in the math world, including inventing game theory. The film won four Oscars even while going up against hits like Lord Of The Rings and Moulin Rouge. On top of Best Picture, it won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.
The 2001 Academy Awards featured a neck-in-neck fight between Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which is quite fitting since both films feature warrior-like characters. Gladiator took home five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won four. While Russell Crowe won the Oscar and got his big break from this film, looking back on it, he admits he felt guilty because he believed the director, Ridley Scott, deserved the recognition.
‘American Beauty’ (2000)
American Beauty kicked off the decade with five Oscar wins! The dark comedy featured an ordinary salesman living a mundane life whose senses are suddenly awakened and begin to affect his entire family. The critically acclaimed film took away top awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.