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)


See also Filmsite's Top 100 Films by Genre Type and another detailed version of Top Films By Genre.

Best Picture Genre Biases
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.

For example, most foreign-made or foreign-language potential nominees for Best Picture have usually been relegated to the Best Foreign Language Film category, a newly-formed category for non-English speaking films that was first awarded for 1956 films (at the 1957 Academy Awards ceremony). Since then, only a few foreign-language or foreign-made films have earned a Best Picture nomination: Z (1969, Fr./Alg.), The Emigrants (1971, Swe.), Cries & Whispers (1972, Swe.), Il Postino (1994, It.), Life Is Beautiful (1997, It.), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Taiwan/HK), Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, Jp./US), Babel (2006, US/Mex.Fr.), and Amour (2012, Fr.).


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, although that trend has begun to change in recent years.
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").

Best Picture Genre Biases
Major Genre Categories
Description and Examples
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 (a co-French and US production) with a soundtrack, The Artist (2011, Fr./US), 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, and often veer toward dramatic thrillers.

There have only been a few nominated science-fiction films before 2009 - and none of them have won the top prize:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, UK) was not even nominated for Best Picture.

Then, it was unheard of that two science-fiction films were nominated for Best Picture in 2009 (although there were 10 nominees):

  • District 9 (2009)
  • Avatar (2009)

Some would also include these pre-2009 films: hybrids of sci-fi films:

Other sci-fi films nominated since 2009 have included these few, although some purists would not include all of them:

  • Inception (2010)
  • Gravity (2013)
  • Her (2013)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  • The Martian (2015)
  • Arrival (2016)

Some have claimed that Best Picture-winner The Shape of Water (2017) was a sci-fi film, but it was really a romantic fantasy.

Recently, so-called "superhero" films (often massive blockbusters) have never been Best Picture nominees, and have mostly been relegated to technical and Visual/Special Effects categories, where they have found some success and Oscar wins.

Drama
Films


The most frequent Best Picture nominee and winner category has been the category of drama (many have also been social-issue films), with many 'pure' examples noted here:

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:

There are other borderline or hybrid-comedies (mixed with serious dramatic elements, known as serio-comedy) that have won Best Picture, including:

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, historical or epic biopics, dramatic biopics, war biopics, etc.

Biopic winners of the Best Picture Academy Award have included:

  • The Great Ziegfeld (1936) - a musical biopic
  • The Life of Emile Zola (1937) - the first true biopic winner
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • A Man for All Seasons (1966) - an historical-literary biopic
  • Patton (1970) - a war biopic
  • Chariots of Fire (1981) - a sports-drama biopic
  • Gandhi (1982) - an historical-epic biopic
  • Amadeus (1984) - a musical biopic
  • Out of Africa (1985)
  • The Last Emperor (1987) - an historical-epic biopic
  • Braveheart (1995) - an historical-epic biopic
  • A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  • 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 as Best Picture, including:

Recent winners among epics have included:

  • Gandhi (1982)
  • Out of Africa (1985)
  • The Last Emperor (1987)
  • Schindler's List (1993)
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Braveheart (1995)
  • The English Patient (1996)
  • Titanic (1997)
  • 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 have included:


War Film - Biopic

War Film - Drama
Musicals

Musical Best Picture winners are semi-rare and have included only the following ten films (with the total number of Oscars in parentheses):

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 musical to receive the most nominations was La La Land (2016) at 14 nominations - with six wins (but not Best Picture), followed by 13 nominations for 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 as Best Picture, including:

  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) - an historical-adventure
  • The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
  • Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
  • Dances With Wolves (1990), a western-adventure film
  • Titanic (1997), a multi-hybrid, an action-adventure epic, as well as a disaster film and historical romance

Conversely, lots of action-adventure nominees/losers in the Best Picture category have included:


Adventure
Horror/Thriller
Films


Although it has mostly been classified as a thriller and crime-drama, Jonathan Demme's film may take the claim of being the only 'horror' movie to win Best Picture:

The first true horror movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award was:

It's amazing that a tremendous number of seminal horror-thriller films, including Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Cat People (1942), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), The Haunting (1963), Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Carrie (1976), The Omen (1976), Halloween (1978), Alien (1979), The Shining (1980), Poltergeist (1982), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Fly (1986), and Misery (1990) - among others, were NOT nominated for Best Picture. [Note: Some of the above did receive nominations in other Oscar categories, with some winners among them.]

Also, Hitchcock's first US film and Best Picture winner Rebecca (1940) may be counted as the only winning suspense-thriller, although it has also been classified as a romantic-drama plus mystery film.

No Country For Old Men (2007) was a winning dramatic western crime-thriller.

Best Picture nominees in the suspense-thriller (and/or horror) genre have included:


Horror
Suspense-Thrillers
Crime
Films


There have been only a few crime films (all hybrids) that have won Best Picture:

Notable Best Picture-nominated crime films (often considered dramas) have included:




Crime Epics
Mystery and
Film Noir Films


Mysteries, and especially the nihilistic subgenre of film noir, do not win Best Picture. Only one murder-mystery film has ever won Best Picture, although it was really a hybrid crime-drama-thriller and civil-rights social issue film:

Two of Hitchcock's suspenseful Best Picture-nominated, noirish, romantic mystery thrillers were:

  • Suspicion (1941)
  • Spellbound (1945)

Many other film noirish mysteries, thrillers and dramas have been nominated for Best Picture, although a number of them are composite hybrids, including:

  • The Thin Man (1934) - a crime-mystery comedy
  • Citizen Kane (1941) - a mystery drama
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941) - a film noir detective mystery
  • Double Indemnity (1944) - a noirish crime drama
  • Gaslight (1944) - a film-noirish mystery-crime thriller
  • Witness for the Prosecution (1957) - a courtroom mystery-crime drama
  • Anatomy of a Murder (1959) - a courtroom mystery-crime drama
  • Z (1969, Fr./Alg.) - an historical mystery-crime-thriller drama
  • Chinatown (1974) - a neo-noirish detective crime mystery
  • JFK (1991) - an historical mystery-thriller and drama
  • L.A. Confidential (1997) - a dramatic mystery-crime-thriller
  • The Sixth Sense (1999) - a mystery-thriller and drama
  • Gosford Park (2001) - a dramatic comedy mystery
  • Mystic River (2003) - a dramatic mystery-crime-thriller
  • Michael Clayton (2007) - a dramatic mystery-crime-thriller

Crime-mysteries and film noirs often tend to do exceedingly well in the artistic performance categories (acting, writing, and directing) despite not earning Best Picture nominations. Seven prime examples have included:


Mystery
Western
Films


Only four Westerns have won the highest honor:

  • Cimarron (1930/31)
  • Dances With Wolves (1990)
  • Unforgiven (1992)
  • No Country For Old Men (2007) - a dramatic western crime-thriller

There have only been nineteen other nominated Westerns (in addition to the winners) for Best Picture, although many were hybrids. Many would not consider some of these films as ' true' westerns:

  • In Old Arizona (1928) - a romance western
  • Viva Villa! (1934) - a biopic western
  • Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) - a comedy romance in a western setting
  • Stagecoach (1939)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) - a dramatic western
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) - an adventure western
  • High Noon (1952)
  • Shane (1953)
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) - a musical western
  • Friendly Persuasion (1956) - an historical western drama
  • Giant (1956) - an epic, dramatic western
  • The Alamo (1960)
  • How the West Was Won (1963)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) - a biographical crime-western with some comedy
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005) - a romantic drama in a western setting
  • True Grit (2010)
  • Django Unchained (2012)
  • The Revenant (2015) - a dramatic adventure western
  • Hell or High Water (2016) - a crime drama in a western setting
Westerns
Fantasy Films

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) has been the first (and only) true fantasy film to win Best Picture.

Also, the whimsical fantasy romantic-drama (hybrid) The Shape of Water (2017) has also won Best Picture.

Fantasy-adventures rarely win the Best Picture award, although they have often dominated in the Visual and Special Effects technical categories in recent years.

Many fantasy Best Picture nominees (some were hybrids) have lost, including:



Fantasy
Animated
Films


Before 2001, the only animated film nominated for Best Picture was:

  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991)

After the creation of the Best Animated Feature category in 2001, Beauty and the Beast (1991) was predicted to be the ONLY animated film ever nominated for Best Picture, until two other animations were also nominated for Best Picture:

  • Up (2009) - the first animated film to receive a Best Picture nomination since animated films received their own category in 2001; it was also the first computer (or CG)-animated film to be Best Picture-nominated
  • Toy Story 3 (2010)

Winning films in this category of films 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). Often, they are nominated (or win) for various music-related categories..

They are rarely taken seriously, and therefore not often nominated for Best Picture, with the following exceptions:

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 sports films (all dramas as well) have won Best Picture in Oscar history:

  • Rocky (1976)
  • Chariots of Fire (1981, UK)
  • Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Others that have received Best Picture nominations have included:


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 at the turn of the modern century. There are many examples of both romances and romantic comedies that have been nominated for Best Picture.

Romance films (often hybrids with dramas or other categories) that have won Best Picture have included:

Light romantic comedies that have won Best Picture have included:

Romances
Chick Flicks

"Chick Flicks" (or 'womens' pictures') have been around since the earliest days of cinema. The term generally refers to a sub-category of films that generally fall in the genres of Drama, Melodrama, or Romance (see above), although they can appear in many other genre categories as well.

Many so-called 'womens' pictures' have won the Best Picture Academy Award, including these examples:





Chick Flicks

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 six consecutive R-rated Best Picture winners beginning in 2005:

  • Crash (2005)
  • The Departed (2006)
  • No Country for Old Men (2007)
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  • The Hurt Locker (2009)
  • The King's Speech (2010)

Another recent streak of six consecutive R-rated Best Picture winners include:

  • Argo (2012)
  • 12 Years A Slave (2013)
  • Birdman (2014)
  • Spotlight (2015)
  • Moonlight (2016)
  • The Shape of Water (2017) - (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language)

X-rated
Films

The only X-rated film (later reduced to R in the following decade) to win Best Picture was:

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), but it did not have a Best Picture nomination:

  • Last Tango in Paris (1972)

British (UK)
Films

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

Following is a list of the Best Picture-winning UK films (often co-produced with the US):

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 (and Winners) by Genre
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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