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10 best Oscar-winning movies ever, ranked (and where to watch them)

John Cazale and Al Pacino star in "The Godfather Part II", directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Paramount Pictures

This weekend, the 96th Academy Awards will name a new winner for Best Picture. And while we suspect that Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer will walk away with the top prize, there’s always room for an upset. The truth is that there are plenty of great movies that didn’t win Best Picture, including Citizen Kane, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

We’ve recently shared our list of the worst movies to win Best Picture, so now it’s time to reveal our picks for the 10 best Oscar-winning movies of all time. There may be some disagreement with the order in which we placed these films, but few could convincingly argue that they aren’t among the greatest movies ever made.

10. On the Waterfront (1954)

Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.
Columbia Pictures

Marlon Brando was already an established actor before On the Waterfront, but this is the movie that turned him into a cinematic legend. Brando plays Terry Malloy, a former boxer who has never gotten over how his career ended in disgrace. While working as a longshoreman for a mobster, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), Terry is tricked into being complicit in the murder of Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner), a man who dared to testify against Friendly.

Joey’s sister, Edie Doyle (Eva Marie Saint), seeks justice for her fallen brother, which shames Terry into confessing his role after he emotionally bonds with her. Even then, Terry fears the consequences of crossing Friendly, but he can only be pushed so far before he starts pushing back.

Rent or buy On the Waterfront on Prime Video.

9. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Peter O'Toole and Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia.
Columbia Pictures

When it comes to epic movies, few films have ever come close to topping director David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, which was based on the real-life exploits of T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole). During the First World War, Lawrence is sent by the British military to assess whether Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) can successfully lead his rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Rather than simply staying on the sidelines, Lawrence fights alongside Faisal and wins the respect of the Arab warriors.

As the war drags on, Lawrence feels his loyalty to his country and his newfound comrades tested when their agendas pull away from each other. But eventually, even Lawrence will have to pick a side as the British hide their plans to claim part of Arabia for their own empire.

Rent or buy Lawrence of Arabia on Prime Video.

8. Amadeus (1984)

Tom Hulce in Amadeus.
Orion Pictures

Most of the discussion about the Best Picture winners of the ’80s is about the movies that didn’t win. Raging Bull, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Big Chill, Dead Poets Society, and Field of Dreams were all nominated, and they all came up short at the Academy Awards despite being some of the greatest films of the decade. But in 1984, the Academy got it right when Amadeus was named Best Picture.

This is one of the few films with two nominees for Best Actor, with the prize ultimately going to F. Murray Abraham for his towering performance as composer Antonio Salieri. Despite Salieri’s own musical talents, he feels overwhelming rage and jealousy towards Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce, the other Best Actor nominee in this film), an ungodly genius with an over-the-top personality and enough vices to send him to an early grave … assuming Salieri doesn’t kill him first.

Rent or buy Amadeus on Prime Video.

7. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men.
Miramax Films

The Coen brothers didn’t win an Academy Award for Fargo, but just over a decade later, the duo finally got their Oscar gold for adapted screenplay, directing, and Best Picture for No Country For Old Men. Javier Bardem also won Best Supporting Actor for his chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh, a hitman widely regarded as one of the all-time great movie villains.

Chigurh is hired to retrieve drug money from a deal gone bad that winds up in the hands of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who doesn’t want to give up the cash even when his life is on the line. Tommy Lee Jones plays Ed Tom Bell, an aging sheriff who feels overwhelmed by the violence that Chigurh leaves in his wake. This is haunting crime story and one of the best films of the 21st century.

Watch No Country For Old Men on Paramount+.

6. The French Connection (1971)

Gene Hackman in The French Connection.
20th Century Studios

There’s a car chase sequence in The French Connection that is so riveting that it’s almost more famous than the rest of the film. Director William Friedkin creates incredible tension as Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) recklessly tries to keep up with an elevated train to catch a hitman, Pierre Nicoli (Marcel Bozzuffi), before he can get away.

Popeye and his partner, Detective Buddy “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider), are NYPD cops on the trail of Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), who plans to smuggle a great deal of heroin into the United States. When Popeye gets too close to the drugs, Charnier’s personal assassin, Nicoli, tries to take him out. However, Nicoli severely underestimates Popeye’s willingness to do whatever it takes to bring them down.

Watch The French Connection on Max.

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

Liam Neeson in Schindler's List.
Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg was already considered one of the all-time great directors before Schindler’s List, but this film may be his most important work to date. A pre-action hero Liam Neeson stars as Oskar Schindler, a German war profiteer who makes his fortune just as World War II fully gets underway. With the help of his right-hand man, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), Schindler bribes Nazi officials into letting him divert Jewish workers to his factory instead of sending them to concentration camps.

When faced with the horrifying scope of the Nazi atrocities, Schindler changes his focus to saving as many lives as possible, even if it means giving up all of the wealth that he’s acquired. Yet that sacrifice may not be enough for Schindler to live with the enormous burden of what he witnessed.

Rent or buy Schindler’s List on Prime Video.

4. Unforgiven (1992)

Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Before he became a director, Clint Eastwood made his name in Hollywood in a series of unforgettable spaghetti westerns, including The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Decades later, Eastwood returned to the Western genre with Unforgiven, which he helmed and headlined as William Munny. Fifteen years after the Civil War, Munny is a former outlaw who struggles to provide for his children.

A would-be gunslinger calling himself the Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) and William’s friend, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), coax Munny out of retirement to claim the bounty on cowboys who disfigured a prostitute, Delilah Fitzgerald (Anna Thomson). Standing in their way is Sheriff “Little” Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman), a man who doesn’t care if Delilah gets justice or not. This battle of wills can end in only one way, with plenty of blood spilled on both sides.

Watch Unforgiven on Tubi.

3. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II.
Image via Paramount Pictures / Image via Paramount Pictures

Is The Godfather Part II better than the first film? That’s a hotly debated question even 50 years after the sequel’s release. Both movies rank among the greatest films ever. Unlike the first movie, The Godfather Part II takes place in two timeframes. Robert De Niro plays a young Vito Corleone in the flashback sequences set in the 1910s and 1920s, while Al Pacino plays Vito’s grown son, Michael Corleone, in 1958 and beyond.

Michael’s side of the story is particularly compelling as he attempts to solidify his hold on the family business while coming to the realization that he’s been betrayed by someone close to him. There’s only one true solution for all of Michael’s problems, and it usually involves his enemies meeting grisly fates.

Watch The Godfather Part II on Paramount+.

2. The Godfather (1972)

Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
Paramount Pictures

As great as The Godfather Part II is, we’ve ranked it just slightly below the original because The Godfather is a towering achievement all by itself. Francis Ford Coppola brought Mario Puzo’s crime epic to life thanks to the incredible performances of Pacino as Michael, Marlon Brando as Vito, and the rest of the impeccably well-cast performers.

In the mid-40s, Vito’s refusal to take the Corleone family’s business into narcotics reveals that the other crime families plan to do so with or without Vito’s approval. After Vito narrowly survives an attempt on his life, his youngest son, Michael, is thrust into the family business. Michael never wanted to be a killer, but he’ll have to get his hands dirty to become the leader that the Corleone family needs in their most desperate hour.

Watch The Godfather on Paramount+.

1. Casablanca (1943)

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman share an intimate moment in Casablanca.
Warner Bros. Pictures

There are aspects of Casablanca that haven’t aged well, but the same could be said of any film over eight decades old. Regardless, Casablanca’s story and performances have withstood the test of time. It should also be noted that this is the most enduring World War II movie that was actually made and released during the war.

Humphrey Bogart gave his most iconic performance as Rick Blaine, a cynical man waiting out the war by running his own bar in the neutral city of Casablanca. A world of possibilities opens up for Rick when he is given two Nazi letters of transit that could be worth a fortune. Shortly thereafter, Rick is reunited with his former lover, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), and her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Victor is a resistance fighter who badly needs the transit papers to escape from the Nazis, but Rick is less than eager to help the couple until Ilsa tells him why she had to leave and reminds him of the love they once shared.

Casablanca isn’t just one of the all-time classics, it’s the best film awarded Best Picture at the Oscars. Nothing else comes close.

Watch Casablanca on Max.

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Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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