Ranking the Past 20 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners, pt.1

“Ranking the last 20 “Best Picture” Oscar Winners” (part 1)

Brian G.– Author and editor of IEatFilms.com and TheSoapBoxOffice

Perhaps my favorite thing about the cinema (behind massive explosions, Morgan Freeman’s voice and Rachel McAdams, of course) is the varying opinions moviegoers have about certain films. Most of us can objectively pick out “good” movies and “bad” movies; everyone except Nick Swardson knows Bucky Larson is a cow chip of a film and everyone knows The Shawshank Redemption is a masterpiece (see what I did there?). But when you add in concepts like interpretation, entertainment, and enjoyment, objectivity goes out the window and the whole process becomes complicated. I love that differing of opinion and the good-natured debate that often follows. In no setting is the debate of what is “good” and what “isn’t” more prevalent than during award season.

The Academy Awards, in particular, bring out the critic in just about every moviegoer and more often than not, I think it’s safe to say, we cinephiles disagree with what the Academy thinks is best. This list is not about pointing out what films should have been honored over the last two decades (though that idea may sneak in a time or two); it is simply a ranking (taking into account quality of film and personal connection/appreciation) of the films that have taken home a Best Picture Oscar in the last twenty years. So, without further ado, here are MY rankings of the past 20 Best Picture winners. Let the debate begin.


20. Shakespeare in Love (1998) – Joseph Fiennes, Gwyneth Paltrow, Geoffrey Rush

There are several BP winners on this list that I personally do not care for but Shakespeare is the only one I hold as a straight-up bad film. I feel like I could probably just say, “Shakespeare features Ben Affleck trying to pull off an accent” and leave it at that. Under the impression that perhaps I had given this movie an unfair shake due to the fact that it beat out Saving Private Ryan (a personal favorite of mine) for BP that year, I tried to give Shakespeare another chance recently. I made it through about 15 minutes.

19. The English Patient (1996) – Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas

From a technical standpoint, English Patient is a fantastic film. Landscapes, cinematography, etc. – all of those elements are great. But from a storytelling standpoint, there are very few films that bore me faster than this one. I’ve seen the whole film in various pieces but I’ve never been able to manage a full viewing from beginning to end. I just can’t make myself care enough to sit through it.

18. Million Dollar Baby (2004) – Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman

All cards on the table, I’m not sure why I dislike this movie so much. I’ve watched MDB twice: once right after its release on DVD and once more recently. Both times I had the overwhelming desire to stop watching movies altogether. Maybe it’s just that I’ve never understood the merits of Hilary Swank or maybe Clint Eastwood’s “grizzled old man” bit has worn thin. I’m actually getting a little angry just thinking about this movie now so I’m going to move on to the next film.

17. American Beauty (1999) – Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Mena Suvari

I will not question the quality of the filmmaking that went into American Beauty and I understand why so many people champion it as a great piece of work. But if I were to take all the characters from every film on this list and line them up from my favorite to my least favorite, the bottom half would be dominated by those from American Beauty. There’s not a likeable character in this movie for me and that results in a wholly dissatisfying experience.

16. Chicago (2002) – Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere

Chicago suffers in my book for three major reasons:

1.) Zellweger has never done anything for me on any level;

2.) I don’t like musicals;

3.) Hearing “All That Jazz” played 100 billion times during that year’s broadcast left me with an indelible hatred for this film.

I also just don’t think it’s a Best Picture-caliber film. 2002 was a down year for award-worthy films (Two Towers excluded) but I have a hard time accepting this as the best film a given a year has to offer.

15. Forrest Gump (1994) – Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field

Much like Chicago, one of Forrest Gump’s problems is that I can’t accept it as a Best Picture-caliber film. A heart-warming story? Sure. A well-acted film? Sure. But a Best Picture winner? Really? The final act alone, in which Forrest changes the world through a serious of dumb coincidences, should have kept this film out of contention. Its bigger crime, however, is that it somehow beat out Shawshank and Pulp Fiction for BP. Those are two of the greatest films of all time and somehow neither was recognized in the year of their release.  I hate Forrest Gump; truly and unequivocally hate it.

14. Titanic (1997) – Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane

I must be completely honest: Titanic could have been the greatest film in the history of the medium and I probably still would have hated it. I was borderline obsessed with the tale of the Titanic as a kid and my excitement was immeasurable when, as a young teenager, I heard they were making a movie about the ill-fated voyage. I was furious, then, to learn that my beloved fascination had been turned into a romance; it was a punch in the stomach that I’ve never been able to get past. It was years before I even saw this movie and it’s for the best that I never take it in again.

13. A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly

I am less sure about my opinion of this film than I am any other on the list. I saw ABM in theaters and loved it but upon my second viewing a few years later, I was less impressed. It didn’t leave much of an impression the second time around and maybe that’s indicative of its overall value. 

12. Crash (2005) – Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon

I think Crash has developed an unfair reputation as a disgraceful BP winner. You could convince me that Brokeback Mountain should have taken home the hardware that year but I personally think Crash is a powerful, well-made film that deserves more respect than it gets these days.

11. The King’s Speech (2010) – Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter

If I’d had a vote last year (crossing my fingers that it’ll come through in time for next year’s voting), I, like most of you, would have thrown my support behind Inception or The Social Network. But if those two were eliminated from contention, I’d have no trouble jumping on this movie’s bandwagon. The dynamic between Firth and Rush is superb and while it may have been a bit hokey, I dig the speech in the final scenes.

…As you can see from the title of this post, Numbers 20-11 comprise only Part 1. Be sure to return tomorrow as we continue the countdown and debate with Part 2 (Numbers 10-1).

Agree so far? Disagree? Agree to Disagree? Leave a comment, let me know! I look forward to sharing with you the rankings of the additional 10 tomorrow!

-Brian G.


  1. The Academy’s decisions make about as much sense as the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame’s. The winners/inductees are never what the actual populace and fans would want. Because you’re right with Forrest Gump. It’s a great movie, but it’s no Shawshank. I love Tarantino to the point that he can make a movie of himself farting the dictionary and I’d think its the greatest film ever, but Shawshank was above and beyond even Pulp Fiction.

    TL;DR version- The Academy is stupid. The amount of actual fans and critics in it are overshadowed by the bigwigs and such. Or just pompous idiots who don’t know good films.


  2. I very rarely agree w/ Academy’s choices so most of the time I just shrug it off. I didn’t know Forrest Gump won over Shawshank… what? what? That is just crazy!! Shawshank may not be as ‘showy’ for a lack of a better word, but it certainly leaves a much more lasting impression even years later. I did like The King’s Speech winning Best Picture last year though, but I certainly won’t cry foul if Inception or Social Network ended up taking the trophy.


    • There are years/categories where I think the Academy is spot on. 2009 (The Hurt Locker), for example, was pretty solid all around in my mind. Then we get 2010 and Inception isn’t even nominated, etc. Not so consistent, haha.

      And yeah, I’m with you. I think King’s Speech catches a lot of flak for outreaching Social Network but on the whole, it’s a very good film. Thanks for the comment!


  3. You hate Forrest Gump? Yikes. I see nothing wrong with Gump winning BP. Its a movie that gets better with each viewing. Its a love story between the two main characters, yes, (and a damn good one at that), but its also a love story with America in the late 20th century, and that’s where the real strength of this movie shines through.

    Also, its too bad you are so biased against Titanic. Its a fantastic film which manages to capture the atmosphere just right and make you feel like you are actually aboard that sinking ship. Its truly an epic, the kind which is only truly felt when experienced in the theater.

    I can sympathize with your discontent over the other films in your list though.


    • See and I hate the “love story with America” part. Forrest and Jenny and everything that surrounds them doesn’t bother me and I always love Hanks. But that third act in which Forrest singlehandedly changes the course of American culture in about two dozen different ways…can’t stand it. Take that part out and it’s a better film for me. Still not better than Shawshank or Pulp, but an improvement. Thanks for the comment!


  4. Sticking to what I know, since I haven’t seen all the winners or nominees…

    I liked Forrest Gump, but I’m not sure I would call it Best Picture material. On the other hand, I haven’t seen Shawshank Redemption yet, so I don’t know whether it deserves its reputation or not. I do think this is one case where the Academy wasn’t going against the popular choice — Forrest Gump was a very successful film, the others have had more of an underground swell of support. Pulp Fiction was the epitome of a cult classic — it didn’t do a fifth as well as Gump in the box office, so this wasn’t a case of the Academy snubbing the film-goers’ choice — and to be honest, as much as I like it, and as well-done as it was, it’s exactly what it says it is: pulp fiction. It wouldn’t be considered Best Picture material in most years. That it was nominated is, frankly, more acclaim than I would have expected. I will say that I did see Quiz Show about the same time that I saw Forrest Gump, and personally I would have been inclined to give it the nod over Gump.

    And personally, while I haven’t seen the other nominees of its year, I didn’t think Crash was all that good. I can see why it was nominated and selected — it’s very artsy in its own way, and it has the type of “message” the Academy loves — but I found it more annoying than entertaining.


    • You’ve got to see Shawshank. There are very few films that I recommend to anyone no matter what (personal preferences, of course, should always be considered) but Shawshank is one of them.

      I respectfully disagree concerning Pulp Fiction. I’m not as big of a fan of that film as many others movie fans. But that’s a film that gets nominated (and deservedly so) in any year of release. You’re dead on with Quiz Show, though. It gets overlooked by just about everyone (including me) because of the year it opened but it’s darn good.

      Thanks for the comment!


      • Shawshank’s been on my to-see list for a long time. I’ll get to it one of these days.

        Pulp Fiction, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on. I know I’m in the minority in that I think it’s just “good”, not “great” (and while I know it’s often not the case, in an ideal world the Best Picture nominees would always be great). I’m not one of its detractors, though. It’s certainly a very enjoyable film.


      • I’m actually with you on this point Brian. I don’t really care for Pulp Fiction myself. Its just OK. And the amount of profanity overused detracts for me.I felt Tarantino could have done more with the film. But I can understand its following.


      • It’s definitely a polarizing film. I’ve always thought it’s very, very good but I’ve probably only seen it twice and not in a few years. My views on these films do change with age. Heck, I had MDB higher on the list at the beginning of this writing but changed it by the time I was done, haha.


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