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The 10 greatest Best Picture winners according to IMDb

Like all awards bodies, the Oscars are imperfect. The movies they have awarded Best Picture range from great to truly terrible, and there’s a whole dearth of options in between. Regardless of whether the Oscars are great at their job, though, they undeniably create a conversation that allows film fans to root for their favorites, and root against films they think are undeserving.

While the Oscars are one measure of the quality of the film, user ratings are certainly another. IMDb has one of the most widely known lists in the film game, and while that list is controversial in and of itself, it’s worth considering what the overlap is between it and the actual Oscar winners. As it turns out, there are a number of Best Picture winners that are also among the best movies ever made, according to IMDb users.

An "Oscars Week" badge on a still from Gladiator (2000).
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather
100 %
Genre Drama, Crime
Stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
It’s probably not a huge surprise, but The Godfather is worthy of every bit of praise it receives. In the 50 years since its release, it’s had a tremendous impact on American movies, and it also remains a great movie to watch and rewatch ad nauseum. Telling the story of Vito Corleone and his son Michael, who reluctantly joins the mafia and finds himself pulled deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld, The Godfather is an elemental story of family ties and corruption, and it features one of the best acting ensembles ever assembled. The film has been parodied endlessly in the years since it was released, and it’s to the movie’s immense credit that it doesn’t lose any of its power despite its cultural ubiquity.
THE GODFATHER | 50th Anniversary Trailer | Paramount Pictures

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

The Godfather: Part II
90 %
Genre Drama, Crime
Stars Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
The first sequel to ever win Best Picture, The Godfather: Part II was so undeniable that awarding another movie would’ve seemed wrong (and it was released in the same year as Chinatown, a bona fide classic). The sequel picks up with Michael at the head of the Corleone family, and chronicles his increasingly brutal tactics and his confrontation with the U.S.. government. The movie’s truly ingenious narrative decision, though, is to also tell the story of Vito’s rise as a criminal overlord in the early 20th century. Robert De Niro gives a star-making performance playing a younger version of the character, something that most actors likely wouldn’t have attempted given how iconic Marlon Brando’s performance in the first film was. The Godfather: Part II is every bit as good as its predecessor, as hard as that may be to believe, and some people (including film critic Pauline Kael) believe it to be even better.
The Godfather: Part II (1974) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Schindler's List (1993)

Schindler's List
Genre Drama, History, War
Stars Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg has only won Best Picture a single time, and it was for one of the most serious-minded projects of his career. Telling the story of Oskar Schindler, a ruthless capitalist who becomes a member of the Nazi Party and builds a factory near a concentration camp at the start of World War II, the film is one of the definitive stories about the Holocaust. Schindler staffs his plant with Jews, in part out of expedience, and then realizes that his decision to do so is saving their lives. By the film’s end, he has dedicated himself to saving as many Jews as possible, and is faced with the enormity of the Holocaust. He couldn’t save nearly enough of them, and in spite of his goodness, he was still just one man. Schindler’s List is a brutal movie, and it can be a bit sentimental at times, but it’s hard to deny the sheer power of it.
Schindler's List 25th Anniversary - Official Trailer - In Theaters December 7

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
94 %
Genre Adventure, Fantasy, Action
Stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler
Directed by Peter Jackson
You can debate whether Return of the King is actually the best Lord of the Ringsmovie until the cows come home, but its victory at the Oscars was a triumphant moment for Peter Jackson, who created one of the greatest trilogies in the history of cinema. Return of the King is just the conclusion of that story, but it’s widely beloved in spite of its multiple endings and incredibly lengthy running time. The sheer scope and scale of what Jackson accomplished on The Lord of the Ringsstill feels almost unparalleled, and it seemed impossible that the Academy wouldn’t recognize that at basically every level. Return of the King is one of three movies to win 11 Oscars, tying the record, so it shouldn’t be a shock to see it represented here.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Official Trailer - Sean Astin Movie HD

Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump
82 %
Genre Comedy, Drama, Romance
Stars Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
A genuine phenomenon at the time of its release, the legacy of Forrest Gump is a little bit strange. The movie, which tells the story of a simple country boy who grows up to have run-ins with major historical figures, is an odd premise on its face, but the lovely sentiments behind the movie are hard to be too cynical about. Tom Hanks won his second consecutive Oscar for his portrayal of Forrest, and the movie made wonderful use of a wide variety of filmic techniques in order to insert Hanks into old footage seamlessly. Not everything about Forrest Gump is perfect, but it’s a movie that, for many, feels quintessentially American. It’s a story of a young man who comes from nothing and finds tremendous success, thanks chiefly to his good heart and his willingness to try anything that comes his way.
FORREST GUMP | Official 25th Anniversary Trailer | Paramount Movies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
84 %
Genre Drama
Stars Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito
Directed by Miloš Forman
The 1970s were a time of hopelessness and rebellion, and perhaps no Best Picture sums those ideas up better than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Based on the Ken Kesey novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Randle McMurphy, a man who is transferred from a prison to a psychiatric hospital in order to undergo an evaluation. Eventually, McMurphy, played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson, discovers that the hospital is even more restrictive than prison, and he begins to lash out, creating a war that comes to affect all of the hospital’s patients. The movie is about what it means to fight for your own free will, and how hopeless that fight can sometimes be in the face of cruel systems and people designed to keep you in your rightful place. It’s not hopeful, exactly, but it is brutally honest.
One flew over the cuckoo's nest - Trailer - HQ

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs
85 %
Genre Crime, Drama, Thriller
Stars Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Conventional thrillers don’t typically become overwhelming Oscar favorites, but then, conventional thrillers usually aren’t as jaw-droppingly great as The Silence of the Lambs. Starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in two instantly iconic performances, The Silence of the Lambs follows a junior FBI agent as she consults with a captured serial killer in order to solve a case. The movie is equally invested in the mystery at its heart and the psychology behind each of its core characters, and part of what makes it so thoroughly gripping is that those things never seem in conflict. Director Jonathan Demme was one of the most deeply humane filmmakers in the history of cinema, and in Silence of the Lambs, he’s able to keep that human touch, even while he’s telling a pretty perverse story.
The Silence of the Lambs Official Trailer #1 - Anthony Hopkins Movie (1991) HD

Parasite (2019)

96 %
Genre Comedy, Thriller, Drama
Stars Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 film is among the most unlikely Best Picture winners to triumph in recent decades, but it’s also one of the best movies to take the top prize. Telling the story of a poor family that slowly cons its way into the lives of richer counterparts, the film is ultimately about the ways in which the rules of capitalism pit people against each other, often leading to tragedy. While those ideas are weighty, Parasite plays from its first moments like a thriller that never takes itself too seriously. It’s filled with wonderful performances, including a truly heartbreaking one from one of Song Kang-Ho, one of Bong’s most frequent collaborators. Parasite is the kind of visionary movie that only one man could have made. And thank goodness he did.
Parasite [Official Trailer] – In Theaters October 11, 2019

Gladiator (2000)

67 %
Genre Action, Drama, Adventure
Stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Directed by Ridley Scott
In the early 2000s, no movie star was bigger than Russell Crowe, and Gladiator was his defining achievement. The film stars Crowe as a once powerful general who is set to inherit a role as emperor of Rome, only to be sold into slavery after his family is murdered by the emperor’s son. From there, he becomes a star in the gladiator arena and a threat to the son’s hold on power. Gladiator is big and bombastic, but it also features some of the best filmmaking of Ridley Scott’s legendary career. The film is, above all else, an action movie, and it’s impressive that the Academy was willing to recognize something that leads with set pieces. Gladiator was an enormous hit, and it was proof that the Oscars could agree, every once in a while, with a mass audience on what makes a great movie.
GLADIATOR | Official Trailer | Paramount Movies

The Departed (2006)

The Departed
85 %
Genre Drama, Thriller, Crime
Stars Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese has made at least five movies that deserved to win Best Picture, but the only time he’s ever actually taken the prize is for The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Featuring an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and Jack Nicholson, The Departed marks Scorsese’s return to the crime genre, and he mostly pulls it off. The film is about a cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a crime lord’s gang and another cop who’s in that criminal’s pocket. It’s a thrilling game of cat and mouse, and while it may not be the most serious film Scorsese ever made, it’s one of his most entertaining. There are things about The Departed, including Nicholson’s performance, that are still divisive, yet everyone agreed that Scorsese absolutely deserved to take home the Oscar that year as way to honor his impressive body of work.
The Departed (2005) Official Trailer - Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson Movie HD

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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