For film fans, choosing from the history of Oscar best picture winners offers a cornucopia of delicacies.
Like any buffet, there are some things you might want to avoid: “Crash” and “The Broadway Melody” are akin to some sketchy veggies that don’t look entirely pleasing. Still, with 92 mostly splendid dishes served, there’s bound to be some stuff you can dig into, from classic musicals (“My Fair Lady” and “Gigi”) and war epics (“The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Platoon”) to Southern-fried charms (“Gone with the Wind,” naturally) and strange tastes (“The Silence of the Lambs”).
In honor of the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards (ABC, 8 ET/PT), we’re celebrating the greatest of the greatest in Oscar’s long history in “no guts, no glory” style. (In other words, sorry not sorry to die-hard devotees of “Titanic,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Ben-Hur” and other notables that didn’t make the cut.)
So take the gun, leave the cannoli and strap in for the best 25 best picture winners, ranked.
25. ‘The Departed’ (2006)
Martin Scorsese finally snagged a best director Oscar for the twisty, star-studded and very rewatchable crime thriller with Matt Damon as a mob mole, Leonardo DiCaprio as an undercover cop and Jack Nicholson as a fearsome gangster.
24. ‘My Fair Lady’ (1964)
Who cares if Audrey Hepburn didn’t get to do most of her own singing? She’s an absolute gem as cockney Brit Eliza Doolittle given a high-class makeover – courtesy of Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins – in the showtune-filled tweak of the stage play “Pygmalion.”
23. ’12 Years a Slave’ (2013)
Steve McQueen’s pre-Civil War drama is not an easy watch at all but still an important one. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as a free Black man tricked into servitude and Lupita Nyong’o wows as an enslaved woman brutalized by a cruel master (Michael Fassbender).
22. ‘Chicago’ (2002)
Two jazz-era convicts (Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones) try to find fame, even behind bars, in this electric A-list musical – a rare one that treats its numbers as dream sequences rather than folks weirdly breaking into song every five minutes.
21. ‘From Here to Eternity’ (1953)
While Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s infamous kiss on the beach is the iconic moment, the drama is filled with romantic story lines, some bittersweet, as it follows soldiers stationed in Hawaii in 1941 unaware of the looming tragedy to come.
20. ‘The Apartment’ (1960)
Fun fact: The romantic dramedy doubles as a holiday film! Jack Lemmon is an office drone who lends out his place for his boss (Fred MacMurray) to take mistresses, until he falls hard for an elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine) meant to be a Christmas Eve hookup.
19. ‘Rocky’ (1976)
Almost every underdog sports drama of the past 45 years is compared to Sylvester Stallone’s boxing classic. It still holds up, too, as both an exceptional romantic tale and a gripping drama about an improbable success story who doesn’t throw away his shot.
18. ‘It Happened One Night’ (1934)
Charming and pretty sexy for its time, Frank Capra’s romantic comedy is all about its two fantastic leads – Clark Gable’s out-of-work journalist and Claudette Colbert’s runaway heiress – going from meet-cute to winning each other’s hearts (and yours, too).
17. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (1930)
One of the most powerful anti-war films ever. Director Lewis Milestone’s drama shows the carnage of World War I battle through the eyes of soldiers inspired to enlist due to patriotism but who later become disillusioned and question the point of it all.
16. ‘Spotlight’ (2015)
Based on a real-life exposé, this generation’s “All the President’s Men” features Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams as crusading Boston Globe journalists who investigate child abuse by local priests and a shady Catholic Church cover-up.
15. ‘West Side Story’ (1961)
Get past the finger-snapping 1950s dance warfare of the Jets and the Sharks and you’ll be all in for the wondrous Romeo-and-Juliet love story of Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) powered by phenomenal songs and a fiery Rita Moreno.
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14. ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939)
Like other Hollywood classics, the Civil War epic brings up righteous objections for modern audiences, especially with its depiction of Black people and slavery. At the same time, it’s hard to knock the sheer big-screen spectacle or its central unrequited romance.
13. ‘Moonlight’ (2016)
Barry Jenkins’ multilayered character study is a piece of beautiful elegance, with great turns from Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes about an African American man struggling to find his identity and sexuality across three time periods.
12. ‘Parasite’ (2019)
Bong Joon-ho’s exquisitely crafted social thriller, the first foreign-language film to win best picture, takes on class warfare – with a poor Korean family cleverly worming their way into the lives of a wealthy clan – in a manner that sticks with you far beyond the credits.
11. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962)
Movies don’t get much more sweeping than this majestic historical drama, which proved influential to later filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Peter O’Toole amazes as the title British officer, torn between his homeland and his new Arabian allies.
10. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (1975)
Milos Forman’s classic straddles the line between hilarious and serious business in chronicling the goings-on at a mental institution. And Jack Nicholson’s pitch-perfect as a patient locked in a battle of wills with a tyrannical nurse (Louise Fletcher).
9. ‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974)
Some folks like the original better, others dig the outstanding prequel/sequel. The performances stand out here, with Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone taking the reins of the crime family interspersed with his father (Robert De Niro) coming up in Hell’s Kitchen.
8. ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
“The Exorcist,” “Jaws” and “Get Out” didn’t wintheir respective best picture races, so “Lambs” is still the freakiest best picture ever, with an unnerving Anthony Hopkins as cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter and a tremendous Jodie Foster as FBI rookie Clarice Starling.
7. ‘The French Connection’ (1971)
Gene Hackman is aces as the no-nonsense narcotics detective Popeye Doyle on the case of a French heroin smuggler, and, armed with an all-time cool car chase through Brooklyn, William Friedkin’s fast-paced cop thriller is the epitome of the genre.
6. ‘Amadeus’ (1984)
The over-the-top biopic focuses on the hedonistic life and early death of Mozart (Tom Hulce), a cackling dude with endless vices and musical talent. It’s great fun for those allergic to stuffy period pieces yet still has some meat to its narrative to go with the frills.
5. ‘All About Eve’ (1950)
In one of her greatest roles, Bette Davis plays a Broadway star fretting about her age (at 40!). She gets an equal foil in Anne Baxter as a supremely ambitious understudy, and the film’s cutting exploration of ageism and celebrity ego remain fascinating.
4. ‘On the Waterfront’ (1954)
A New Jersey boxer-turned-longshoreman (played by a brilliant Marlon Brando) who “coulda been a contender” instead becomes embroiled in the mob murder of a friend, steps up against corruption, and navigates the complications of a blooming romance.
3. ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)
Spielberg’s black-and-white Holocaust tale about hope and kindness, told through the lens of an empathetic German businessman (Liam Neeson), brings new respect for those who lived during this haunting chapter in world history.
2. ‘Casablanca’ (1942)
Armed with World War II intrigue, humor and some schmaltz, the beloved tale of an expatriate nightclub owner (Humphrey Bogart) who tries to remain neutral in war until love and righteousness walk through his doors and back into his life is indeed timeless.
1. ‘The Godfather’ (1972)
The sprawling gangster epic centered on the Corleone crime family is simply masterful, from the acting (chef’s kiss to both Brando and Pacino as two generations of mafia dons) to a narrative filled with violence, betrayal, drama and emotion worth every bit of its three-hour run time.