Academy Awards

Best Picture


Genre Biases
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Best Pictures Sections
Facts & Trivia (1) | Facts & Trivia (2) | Genre Biases | Winners Chart (part 1) | Winners Chart (part 2)
20th Century Best Pictures (ranked) (part 1) | 20th Century Best Pictures (ranked) (part 2)
Best Picture Milestones (multi-sections)

The 'Best Picture' Academy Awards
Genre Biases

There are obvious biases in the selection of Best Picture winners by the Academy. (Biases related to acting roles or characters are discussed in the Best Actor and Best Actress sections.) Films not considered to have the stature of a Best Picture are often not nominated. And in addition, most foreign-made or foreign-language potential nominees for Best Picture have been relegated to the sole Best Foreign Language Film category. [Note: Since 1973, only three foreign films - as of 2012 - earned a Best Picture nomination: Life Is Beautiful (1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Amour (2012).]

Most Likely to Be Nominated (or Win) For Best Picture: Serious dramas or social-problem films with weighty inspirational themes, biopics (inspired by real-life individuals or events), or films with literary pretensions are much more likely to be nominated (and win). Glossy, large-scale epic historical productions with big budgets (of various genres) have often taken the Best Picture prize. Likewise for studio pictures with big stars - they are much preferred over quirky independent films.

Least Likely to Be Nominated (or Win) For Best Picture: Action-adventures, family-oriented animation, popular "popcorn" movies, suspense-thrillers, science-fiction, superhero films, horror, comedies (including teen comedies), Westerns, foreign-language films, and spy thrillers are mostly overlooked, as are independent productions and children's films (although there have been a few exceptions).

Other Factors That Make it More Likely For a Film to Receive a Nomination: The release date of the film (late in the year is best), whether or not it was distributed by a major studio, and whether the actors, writers, and directors of the film have previous Oscar nominations. Another factor is the theme or content of the film -- which is represented by the film's genre and its major plot keywords (such as "Pulitzer Prize-winning" or "family tragedy" or "race relations").

Major Genre Categories
Description
Title Screen
Silent
Films


The first (and only) silent film to win 'Best Picture' was Wings (1927/28). The second, a modern-day mostly-'silent' film with a soundtrack, The Artist (2011), also won Best Picture.

Silents
Science-Fiction
Films


Science-fiction films don't win the Best Picture award, although they have often dominated in the Visual and Special Effects technical categories in recent years. Unheard of, two science-fiction films were nominated for Best Picture in 2009 (although there were 10 nominees): District 9 (2009) and Avatar (2009), and Inception (2010) was nominated the following year.

There were only a few nominated science-fiction films before 2009, such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Star Wars (1977) or E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Drama
Films


The most frequent Best Picture nominee and winner category is the category of drama, with many 'pure' examples noted here: Grand Hotel (1931/32), Cavalcade (1932/33), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Lost Weekend (1945), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), Hamlet (1948), All the King's Men (1949), All About Eve (1950), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), A Man For All Seasons (1966), Midnight Cowboy (1969), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Ordinary People (1980), Chariots of Fire (1981), Rain Man (1988), American Beauty (1999), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Crash (2005), Argo (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013).

Dramas
Comedy
Films


It has been rare that light comedy films win the Best Picture Oscar. The following have been the only 'comedies' that have won Best Picture: It Happened One Night (1934), You Can't Take It With You (1938), the musical comedy Going My Way (1944), Tom Jones (1963), The Sting (1973), and Annie Hall (1977).

There are other borderline or hybrid comedies, including The Apartment (1960), Terms of Endearment (1983), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Forrest Gump (1994), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and the dark comedy American Beauty (1999).


Comedies
Biopics

Films inspired by real-life individuals (especially when they face adversity) usually do very well in terms of nominations, and often win - especially if they are of epic proportion or are intense character studies. Often they are combined with other genre categories: there are musical biopics, epic biopics, dramatic biopics, war biopics, etc.

Winners have included: The Great Ziegfeld (1936), the first true biopic The Life of Emile Zola (1937), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Patton (1970), Chariots of Fire (1981), Gandhi (1982), Amadeus (1984), Out of Africa (1985), The Last Emperor (1987), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and The King's Speech (2010).


Biopics
Epics Films / Blockbusters

Long (well over 120 minutes), historical epics with big budgets and grand, large-scale production values have often been chosen: e.g., Wings (1927/28), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Ben-Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Godfather (1972), and The Godfather Part II (1974), and the recent winners Gandhi (1982), Amadeus (1984), Out of Africa (1985), The Last Emperor (1987), Dances With Wolves (1990), Forrest Gump (1994), The English Patient (1996), Titanic (1997), and Gladiator (2000).

Epics
War Films
Epics

War films, either epics or intimate dramas related to war-time, have done very well in Academy history.

The Best Picture war-themed winners include: Wings (1927/28), All Quiet on the Western Front (1929/30), Gone With the Wind (1939), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Casablanca (1942/43), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), From Here to Eternity (1953), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Patton (1970), The Deer Hunter (1978), Platoon (1986), Dances With Wolves (1990), Schindler's List (1993), Braveheart (1995), The English Patient (1996), and The Hurt Locker (2009).


War Film - Epic

War Drama
Musicals

Musical Best Picture winners are semi-rare and include only the following ten films: the first sound film to win Best Picture The Broadway Melody (1928/29), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Going My Way (1944), An American in Paris (1951), Gigi (1958), West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), Oliver! (1968) and Chicago (2002).

There were five musical Best Picture winners between 1958 and 1968. Four of the ten Best Pictures in the 1960s were musicals (all based on previous Broadway hits). The only musical to receive 13 nominations was Chicago (2002) -- with six wins, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress.




Musicals
Action-Adventure
Films


A very small number of pure adventure (or action) films have ever been voted Best Picture, including: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dances With Wolves (1990).

(Titanic (1997) was an action-adventure epic, as well as a disaster film and historical romance.)

Conversely, losers in the Best Picture category include lots of action-adventure film nominees, including: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Airport (1970), Deliverance (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Right Stuff (1983), The Mission (1986), The Fugitive (1993), and Apollo 13 (1995).


Adventure
Horror/Thriller
Films


The Exorcist (1973) was the only true horror film to be nominated for Best Picture in Academy Award history - until 1991.

Only one true 'horror' film has won Best Picture, The Silence of the Lambs (1991), although it has also been classified as a thriller. Also, Hitchcock's first US film and Best Picture winner Rebecca (1940) may be counted as the only winning suspense-thriller, and No Country For Old Men (2007) was a winning dramatic crime-thriller.

(Best Picture nominees in this suspense-thriller genre have included Suspicion (1941), Gaslight (1944), Spellbound (1945), and The Sixth Sense (1999).)


Horror

Suspense/Thrillers
Crime
Films


There are a few hybrid crime films that have won Best Picture, including the crime drama On the Waterfront (1954), In the Heat of the Night (1967), The French Connection (1971) - both a crime film and action-thriller, the two Francis Ford Coppola crime/drama sagas: The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather, Part II (1974), and Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006).

Notable Best Picture-nominated crime films include: The Racket (1928), Alibi (1928/29), I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932/33), Dead End (1937), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Bonnie And Clyde (1967), Chinatown (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Midnight Express (1978), Atlantic City (1981), Prizzi's Honor (1985), Mississippi Burning (1988), The Godfather: Part III (1990), GoodFellas (1990), Bugsy (1991), The Crying Game (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Fargo (1996), L.A. Confidential (1997), Traffic (2000), and Mystic River (2003).




Crime Epics
Mystery and Film Noir Films

Mysteries, and especially the nihilistic subgenre of film noir, seldom win Best Picture. Only one pure mystery has ever won Best Picture: In the Heat of the Night (1967).

Many mysteries and film noirs have been nominated for Best Picture, including: The Thin Man (1934), Citizen Kane (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Z (1969), Chinatown (1974), JFK (1991), The Fugitive (1993), L.A. Confidential (1997), and Gosford Park (2001).

Nominated genre-hybrid mysteries include Lost Horizon (1937) (fantasy), Rebecca (1940) (thriller), Suspicion (1941) (thriller), Gaslight (1944) (thriller), Spellbound (1945) (thriller), and The Sixth Sense (1999) (horror).

Mysteries and film noir often tend to do exceedingly well in the artistic performance categories (acting, writing, and directing) despite not earning Best Picture nominations. [Three prime examples of this: Laura (1944), Rear Window (1954), and Murder on the Orient Express (1974).]


Mystery
Western
Films


Although by the end of the 20th century, there were eleven Westerns nominated for Best Picture, only three have won the highest honor - Cimarron (1930/31), Dances With Wolves (1990), and Unforgiven (1992).

There have only been thirteen other nominated Westerns (in addition to the winners), although some are hybrids: In Old Arizona (1928), Viva Villa! (1934), Stagecoach (1939), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Giant (1956), The Alamo (1960), How the West Was Won (1963), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Brokeback Mountain (2005), and True Grit (2010).


Westerns
Fantasy Films

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) was the first (and only) fantasy film to win Best Picture. Fantasy-adventures also rarely win the Best Picture award, although they have often dominated in the Visual and Special Effects technical categories in recent years.

(For example, fantasy nominees have all lost, including A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Heaven Can Wait (1943), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Heaven Can Wait (1978), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Green Mile (1999), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).)



Fantasy
Animated
Films


Before 2001, the only animated film nominated for Best Picture was Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991). Because of the creation of the Best Animated Feature category in 2001, Beauty and the Beast (1991) was thought to be the ONLY animated film ever nominated for Best Picture, until Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) were also nominated.

Up (2009) was also the first computer (or CG)-animated film to be Best Picture-nominated and the first animated film to receive a Best Picture nomination since animated films received their own category in 2001. Winning films in this category are often huge blockbusters.


Animated

Children's
Films

(not including any animated films)

These are G-rated films specifically made for young kids (they are often appropriate for families and adults too).

They are rarely taken seriously, and therefore not often nominated for Best Picture, with the following exceptions: Skippy (1930/31), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Yearling (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Mary Poppins (1964), Doctor Dolittle (1967), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Babe (1995). Often, they are nominated (or win) for various music-related categories.


Children's
Sports
Films


Only a small number of sports/drama films have even received a nomination for Best Picture, let alone a Best Picture Oscar. Only three have won Best Picture in Oscar history: Rocky (1976), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Million Dollar Baby (2004).

Others that have received nominations include: The Champ (1931/32), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), The Hustler (1961), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Breaking Away (1979), Raging Bull (1980), Field of Dreams (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996), Seabiscuit (2003), and The Fighter (2010).


Sports
Romance
Films


Pure love stories (not including musicals) which often have strong romantic subplots are popular Best Picture winners and nominees during escapist periods in American history, such as the Depression Era and World War II, the 50's, and the turn of the modern century.

Romance films (often hybrids) that have won Best Picture include: Gone With the Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942), Marty (1955), Out of Africa (1985), The English Patient (1996), Titanic (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998), and Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

Light romantic comedies that have won Best Picture include: It Happened One Night (1934) and Annie Hall (1977). There are many examples of both romances and romantic comedies that have been nominated for Best Picture.


Romances

R-rated
Films

The first R-rated film to win Best Picture was The French Connection (1971) since the institution of the MPAA ratings system.

There were five consecutive R-rated Best Picture winners beginning in 2005, Crash (2005), The Departed (2006), No Country for Old Men (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and The Hurt Locker (2009).

X-rated
Films

The only X-rated film (later reduced to R in the following decade) to win Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy (1969). A Clockwork Orange (1971) was the only other X-rated film (since re-rated) nominated for Best Picture. Actor Marlon Brando and director Bernard Bertolucci were also Oscar nominees for an X-rated film (not re-rated since its release): Last Tango in Paris (1972).

British (UK)
Films

Films with a British perspective, or with British/US production have done fairly well in the Best Picture category.

Examples include the war-romance Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), Chariots of Fire (1981), Gandhi (1982) and The King's Speech (2010).

Hamlet (1948) was both the first British production and the first non-American or non-Hollywood (foreign-made) film to be presented with the industry's top honor.


Best Picture Nominees by Genre (Chart)
From 1927/8 to 2001
(Rounded to Nearest Percent)

Genre
358 Nominees
74 Winners
Total: 432 films
Drama
49%
39%
47%
Comedy
18%
14%
17%
Historical/Epic
10%
16%
11%
Musical
8%
11%
8%
Action-Adventure
6%
5%
6%
War
5%
8%
5%
Suspense
3%
3%
3%
Western
2%
4%
2%

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