The 25 Best Picture Oscar Winners Worth Watching

The Oscars are regarded as the highest honor anyone in the film industry can achieve and out of all the awards, Best Picture is regarded as the most important award to win. However, not all Best Picture winners are remembered as being the best movie of the year. After all, How Green Was My Valley won over Citizen Kane in 1942.

So when did the Academy Awards get the Best Picture right? And which ones should people actually see? We decided to narrow it down! Here are 25 Best Picture winners that are actually worth watching and have stood the test of time.

1. The Godfather

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and sitting on a bench in The Godfather.
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather. | Paramount Pictures

This movie is often referred to as one of the best movies ever made. It tells the story of a patriarch, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) who is aging and his son, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) who is reluctantly taking over the family crime business.

Marlon Brando looks unrecognizable in the role because the actor wanted his character to look like a bulldog, and so he wore a mouthpiece for the role. He gives a stunning performance even though he didn’t memorize his lines and was actually reading from cue cards throughout most of the movie.

The Godfather won Oscar awards for Best Picture, Best Lead Actor for Marlon Brando, and Best Screenplay. The movie is just as relevant today as it was when it was released. It’s definitely in the pop culture canon, and therefore, should be seen.

2. The Godfather: Part II

Michael Corleone holds Fredo's face at a party in The Godfather.
Michael Corleone holds Fredo’s face at a party in The Godfather Part II. | Paramount Pictures

It would be hard to believe that anyone who watched The Godfather would stop at the first movie. But just in case, we have to recommend the sequel. In the film, Michael Corleone expands his power over the family business. We also get flashbacks to Vito Corleone’s time in Italy and his rise to power. The movie actually took home more Oscars than the first film, winning six including one for Robert De Niro.

3. The Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal Lector with his face mask on in The Silence of the Lambs.
The Silence of the Lambs | Strong Heart/Demme Production

The thriller shows FBI cadet, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) trying to find a killer by getting help from an incarcerated serial killer. It’s not often that a thriller is able to get Oscar attention, let alone take home the big win. But this thriller stood out for its amazing performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster.

4. Gone with the Wind

Rhett Butler holding Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.
Rhett Butler holding Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. | Warner Bros.

The film adaptation of the book showed Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) falling in love during the Civil War. However, their relationship is pretty turbulent. O’Hara’s family owns a cotton plantation in Georgia, so their situation drastically changes during the Reconstruction period. The movie shows how the South changed and how that impacts our two main characters.

Gone with the Wind won eight Academy Awards and made Oscar history in 1940. It had a strong cast who were nominated for multiple Academy Awards, but only Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel were able to take one home.

Hattie McDaniel played Mammy, and she was the first black person to win an Academy Award. McDaniel certainly stood out in the film and deserved the win, however, the role pigeonholed her into stereotypical maid acting roles following Gone with the Wind.

This movie is definitely one that should be seen given the great script, which is still quoted to this day. The Technicolor also holds up and it’s a beautiful movie visually. While other Best Picture winners have been long forgotten, this film is at the forefront of many movie-lovers’ minds.

5. Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman talking in Casablanca.
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman talking in Casablanca. | Warner Bros.

The classic movie shows two former lovers being reunited at Casablanca during World War II. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has to choose between the woman he loves, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) or helping her escape with her husband who is fighting against the Nazis. In addition to Best Picture, the movie won Best Director and Best Screenplay in 1944.

Casablanca is great given how beautiful it is visually and how well it’s written. It’s also a clever metaphor for America deciding whether it should get involved in World War II. This is another Best Picture winner that holds up and is fondly remembered after all these years.

6. On the Waterfront

Marlon Brando stands in front of a group of men in On the Waterfront.
Marlon Brando stands in front of a group of men in On the Waterfront. | Columbia Pictures

As a mob boss, Johnny Friendly’s crimes start getting dug up and washed up boxer, Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) has to decide whether he wants to help take him down. Brando is often remembered for his work in The Godfather saga, but you should see his acting roles before that series.

The movie won eight Oscars including one for Brando for best actor. This is also a movie that is often quoted in pop culture, with “I coulda been a contender.” The movie is actually an allegory for the red scare and the trend of naming possible communists. Knowing that, makes the movie even more powerful.

7. West Side Story

Natalie Wood in West Side Story
Natalie Wood in West Side Story | United Artists

The musical takes the story of Romeo and Juliet and updates it with warring gangs and a theme of race in New York City. This time, the romance is between Maria, the younger sister of Bernardo who leads the Puerto Rican gang, The Sharks, and Tony, who is a former member of the rival gang, The Jets.

The movie won 10 of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for in 1962. The music is great, and the story is timeless. It’s also another Best Picture winner that didn’t just disappear after it won.

8. In the Heat of the Night

Virgil Tibbs and Gillespie in looking down at the camera In The Heat of the Night.
Virgil Tibbs and Gillespie in In the Heat of the Night. | Mirisch Company

Sidney Poitier plays the homicide detective, Virgil Tibbs who ends up working on a murder investigation in the Deep South. His work is made much more difficult, due to racism in the small town. This movie is certainly one of Poitier’s best, but it was Rod Steiger who won the award for Best Actor in 1968.

The drama of the story will pull you in and the movie is still quoted with, “They call me MISTER TIBBS!” The movie was such a hit that it led to a television show starring Carroll O’Connor.

9. Schindler’s List

Liam Neeson as Schindler sitting down at a desk looking at a man.
Liam Neeson as Schindler sitting down at a desk looking at a man in Schindler’s List. | Universal Pictures

The Steven Spielberg movie tells the true story of Oskar Schindler who protected his Jewish workforce during World War II in German-occupied Poland. The movie is almost entirely in black and white, but it does use color at certain moments.

It’s obvious how much work was put into capturing the experience of persecuted Jews in concentration camps along with Schindler’s own experiences. The movie is certainly a masterpiece that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.

10. Slumdog Millionaire

Jamal and Latika looking into each other's eyes in Slumdog Millionaire
Jamal and Latika looking into each other’s eyes in Slumdog Millionaire. | Warner Bros.

The drama shows Jamal who is a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? While we follow his time on the show, we go into his past of being raised in the slums. The movie is truly unique and fun. It’s one of the few romantic Best Picture winners that isn’t an allegory for something else. It’s just good storytelling that anyone can enjoy.

11. 12 Years a Slave

Tibeats leaning over Solomon in 12 Years a Slave.
Tibeats leaning over Solomon in 12 Years a Slave. | Regency Enterprises

Solomon Northup was a real New York freeman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1800s. The movie tells his heartbreaking story with the help of Northup’s own account for his experience in slavery. This movie stands out from other films that show the horrors of slavery because it is from the point of view of a real slave.

12 Years a Slave is visually stunning, due to the New Orleans setting and craftsmanship. However, it also has many horrifying moments due to the cruelty of the time. Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress and the film won Best Adapted Screenplay.

12. Moonlight

Juan holding Little while swimming the ocean in Moonlight
Juan holding Little while swimming the ocean in Moonlight. | A24

Moonlight tells the story of a young boy named Chiron, who is struggling to figure out his identity while growing up. The movie focuses on three parts of his life, touching on his identity and upbringing.

The movie is independent and therefore got less press than other Oscar nominees. But it made history by being the first movie with an all-black cast and an LGBT theme to win Best Picture. It is visually stunning and tells a touching story.

13. Platoon

Tom Berenger holding a gun in Platoon.
Tom Berenger holding a gun in Platoon. | MGM

A Vietnam soldier is caught between a good and evil sergeant. The movie is actually an autobiography for writer and director, Oliver Stone. Platoon truly tries to put you in the protagonist’s shoes and succeeds. It won four Oscars including Best Director, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.

14. The Sound of Music

The cast of The Sound of Music lined up signing.
The cast of The Sound of Music lined up signing. | Robert Wise Productions

The musical stars Julie Andrews who plays a former nun who becomes a governess to the children of a Naval officer and widower. The movie is based on the true story of a family who ended up escaping Nazi Austria.

Andrews is enchanting in the role and the kids and everyone else in the film is surprisingly able to match her talent.

15. My Fair Lady

Eliza Doolittle posing in her new clothes.
Eliza Doolittle posing in her new clothes. | Warner Bros.

The musical follows a professor who makes a bet that the can turn a flower seller into a high society woman. Audrey Hepburn stars as Eliza Doolittle, who is a delightful character. The movie is a feast for the eyes given the elaborate costumes and sets. The movie often gets lost in the shuffle among other classic musicals, but this one shouldn’t be missed.

16. Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur on a chariot pulled by horses in Ben-Hur.
Ben-Hur on a chariot pulled by horses in Ben-Hur. | MGM

The epic told the story of a Jewish prince who is betrayed and sold into slavery. The movie might not be as remembered as other Best Picture movies, but this film swept up 11 Oscars, which was a first. It’s a long movie, but it’s worth it given its highly regarded craftsmanship.

17. Gentleman’s Agreement 

Gregory Peck in Gentleman's Agreement.
Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement | 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

The movie shows a reporter who is pretending to be Jewish in order to write a story about anti-Semitism. Gregory Peck stars as the reporter. The 1948 Best Picture winner also won Best Director and Best Supporting Actress for Celeste Holm. People should definitely see this movie given that the premise is pretty unique and powerful.

18. The French Connection 

Jimmy and Buddy look back in a car in The French Connection.
Jimmy and Buddy look back in a car in The French Connection. | D’Antoni Productions

The police drama shows cops coming across a drug smuggling job with a French connection, which is another change of pace for the Oscars. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider play partners in the movie. The plot is thrilling and the movie is gritty. It ended up winning five Oscars.

19. The Deer Hunter

Michael holding a gun in The Deer Hunter.
Michael holding a gun in The Deer Hunter. | Universal Pictures

The movie shows the effects of the Vietnam War on American steelworkers. Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep starred in the movie. The film is intense and won five Oscars including one for Walken for Best Supporting Actor.

20. Unforgiven

Will Munny in Unforgiven
The character Bill Munny in Unforgiven. | Warner Bros.

The Clint Eastwood Western is about a gunslinger who is going to do one last job. He goes on a mission to find the people who slashed a prostitute’s face. Eastwood’s William “Bill” Munny teams up with other men in order to bring the villain to justice.

The movie got Eastwood two Oscars, one for directing and the other for producing. It’s certainly one of Eastwood’s best movies and is, therefore, a must-watch.

21. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Jack Nicholson sitting in a chair with cards in his hand in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest | United Artists

The drama shows a criminal who goes to a mental institution after pleading insanity. He struggles to try to live in an institution that doesn’t allow patients to have any freedom. The movie won five Oscars in 1976, which included an Oscar for both Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. The movie has an interesting plot, and you’ll be left trying to figure out what it all means in the end.

22. The Apartment

Fran fixing C.C. Baxter lapel flower in The Apartment.
Fran fixing C.C. Baxter’s lapel flower in The Apartment. | Mirisch Company

The movie is about a man who lets an executive use his apartment for trysts in hopes of moving up in the company. He ends up falling in love.

The movie stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Billy Wilder is a great filmmaker and therefore can’t be left out in the Best Picture talk. The 1960 movie will have you laughing and enjoying what this period in Hollywood had to offer.

23. Annie Hall

Annie and Alvy sitting on a bench together in Annie Hall.
Annie and Alvy sitting on a bench together in Annie Hall. | MGM

Woody Allen churns out movies regularly, so he has a long resume. But this movie is often referred to as his best. The film shows a relationship between an aspiring actress and a TV writer. The movie is funny and heavy with dialogue. It also leaves you laughing and helps audiences remember why Allen is so highly regarded in the film industry.

24. All About Eve

The cast of All About Eve talking.
The cast of All About Eve talking. | 20th Century Fox

Bette Davis is one of the greatest actresses of all time, and this is one of her best movies. She plays actress Margo Channing in the film, who comes across a fan named Eve, who she eventually thinks is trying to take over her life. The 1951 winner got six Oscars and is thought of as one of the best female-led pictures Hollywood has to offer.

25. Rocky

Rocky poses with his arms up in the air after he runs up steps.
Sylvester Stallone posing after running up the steps in Rocky. | United Artists

Sylvester Stallone has been in many terrible movies, but the one bright spot in his career is undoubtedly Rocky. The movie shows a small time boxer getting a chance to fight heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. The movie is about underdogs in general, since Rocky also falls in love with a woman who is underestimated.

The movie has an iconic training montage, great music, and commonly used quotes. It won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing. The film is definitely a change of pace when it comes to typical Best Picture winners and is probably more relatable to the average movie-watcher.

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice.

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