10 Films That Should Have Won Best Picture

Despite an ever-growing community of film lovers who question the relevancy of the Academy Awards, the Oscar for Best Picture is still widely regarded as the highest honor a film can receive. With any award there will be contention over the winner, and the Best Picture category is perhaps one of the most consistently debated awards around. Sometimes, the academy gets it right, such as in 2003 when they gave the award to Peter Jackson’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; other times, they get it totally wrong. While there are many complicated factors that go into the decision-making process for choosing a winner, many film fans can agree that the Academy has made some questionable decisions over the years and given the wrong film the award on a number of occasions. Here is a list of the 10 Films that should have won Best Picture.

10. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

It’s difficult to appreciate now given how ingrained these films have become in our culture, but Peter Jackson’s first Lord of the Rings film was massively important. Jackson did what many thought was impossible by successfully converting J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy series to film, and he went one step further by making a film that was better than it had any right to be. The Fellowship of the Ring is equal parts action epic and emotional character drama and is a much better film than Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, which took home the top prize that year. Thankfully, Jackson got the Best Picture win on his third try with 2003’s Return of the King, but Fellowship is, in its own way, just as good as that film and should have won in 2002.

9. Munich (2005)

The first of 3 Spielberg films to appear on this list, 2005’s Munich is one of his more underrated, despite receiving a Best Picture nomination. Both Munich and Crash, the film that beat it, cover bold and controversial subject matter; the difference is that Munich actually has something to say, while Crash is simply shocking for shocking’s sake, and considered racist by some critics. Munich did a much better job of tackling emotionally-charged racial issues, as it depicts a group of Jewish agents who retaliate against terrorists who committed the infamous 1972 Munich Massacres and come to question whether their violent retaliation is justified. A case could also be made for Brokeback Mountain, another nominee, being the film that should have won; regardless, Crash is not as good as either film, and did not deserve the win that year.

8. Star Wars (1977)

This is sure to be a controversial entry. On the one hand, Star Wars is an absolutely ground-breaking film that had an enormous impact on filmmaking and countless childhoods. On the other hand, the film that won Best Picture in 1978, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, is an undisputed classic that also deserved the win. It’s difficult to compare the films and say which one is better, as they are both classics for different reasons. All the same, the fact that Star Wars was even nominated is noteworthy, given that the Academy has historically not been kind to sci-fi films or blockbusters. Settling for runner-up to Annie Hall isn’t the worst turnout. Still, it seems odd that a film as important as Star Wars did not win Best Picture, and in hindsight, it should have edged out Allen’s film.

7. Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Stanley Kubrick is one of the best directors of all time, yet somehow none of his films ever won Best Picture. He got close with 1964’s Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb (usually shortened to just Dr. Strangelove), a political satire that poked fun at Cold War hysteria at a time when it was at its highest. It lost to My Fair Lady, a musical starring Julie Andrews that is undeniably a great film. However, Dr. Strangelove is a more important film; it is regarded as the best political satire film ever made and has remained a fixture of pop culture for 50 years and counting. It’s one of Kubrick’s best films and the closest he ever got to winning Best Picture, making it all the more disappointing that it didn’t win.

6. Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese began his long career of getting repeatedly snubbed by the Academy for the Best Picture Oscar with 1976’s Taxi Driver, but 1980 was the first year where it was a huge oversight (Taxi Driver lost to the unstoppable Rocky).  Raging Bull fell to Ordinary People, the directional debut of legendary actor Robert Redford. While it is a good film in its own right, it is hardly ever talked about in discussions of great films. Raging Bull, on the other hand, is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made and is a standout favorite among Scorsese’s staggeringly high quality filmography. In addition, Robert DeNiro turned in one of his best performances as washed-up boxer Jake LaMotta (he famously gained 70 pounds in 4 months to play the older version of LaMotta). With career-best filmmaking and acting from Scorsese and DeNiro, respectively, not awarding Raging Bull Best Picture is one of the Academy’s biggest oversights.

5. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Hollywood was in the midst of a love affair with Tom Hanks when Pulp Fiction was released in 1994. Having won the Best Actor award for Philadelphia in 1994, Hanks would win again for Forest Gump, which coincidentally beat out the superior Pulp Fiction for Best Picture. Forest Gump is an enjoyable film, but with every passing year its structure and hollow feel-good tale look increasingly passé and bland. Pulp Fiction, in contrast, remains electrifying and innovative 20 years after its release. With Fiction, director Quentin Tarantino established himself as one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation and helped usher in a new era of whip-smart directors making bold new films.  Gump’s win over Pulp Fiction is a famous example of the Academy’s tendency to overlook brave, new filmmaking in favor of familiar dramatic films.

4. Citizen Kane (1941)

Frequently cited as the best film ever made, it may come as a shock to some that Citizen Kane did not win Best Picture at the 1942 Academy Awards. While the film that did win, John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley, was well-appreciated at the time, history has elevated Kane to a much higher position. The problem was that, in 1942, Citizen Kane was rather controversial. Orson Welles wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which was a thinly-veiled depiction of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. The film presented a very unflattering depiction of Hearst, which infuriated the newspaper man to the point where he actively tried to destroy every copy of the film. Luckily, he was unsuccessful, but he did enough damage to the film to all but ensure it did not receive the recognition it deserved by the Academy that year.

3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Widely regarded as the best adventure film ever made and one of Spielberg’s best films, Raiders of the Lost Ark gave birth to the popular Indiana Jones franchise and is almost as significant as Star Wars helping define blockbuster filmmaking.  Like it often does, the Academy chose to give the award to a traditional drama in the form of Chariots of Fire, a historical drama focused on two runners in the 1924 Olympics. Although Chariots of Fire is a perfectly fine drama, it pales in comparison to the importance and quality of Raiders. By adopting and improving upon the conventions of 1930s serial adventure films, Spielberg created a film that has become ingrained in our popular culture (who can forget the giant boulder scene or the Nazi face-melting?) and one of the best films ever made.

2. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Widely considered to be one of the Academy’s most egregious mistakes, Spielberg’s expertly crafted World War II film Saving Private Ryan was the favorite to win the top prize, but was upset by the romantic-comedy Shakespeare in Love. Shakespeare in Love is a great film in its own right, but the Academy definitely made the wrong choice in overlooking Spielberg’s film. Saving Private Ryan is the most well-made war film ever; its opening 20 minute depiction of the Normandy beach assault is considered to be the most realistic depiction of warfare ever put on film. Simply put, Saving Private Ryan is a much more important film than Shakespeare in Love and one of Spielberg’s finest. Its loss was controversial back in 1999 and is still considered one of the biggest upsets in Best Picture history.

1. Goodfellas (1990)

Of all the controversial Best Picture decisions, this one may be the biggest. Goodfellas is considered by many to be Scorsese’s best film and frequently appears in top 10 films of all time lists. Kevin Costner’s passion project, Dances With Wolves, never gets the level of recognition that Goodfellas receives and yet somehow it won over Scorsese’s masterpiece. Of course, Scorsese finally got his Best Picture win in 2006 with The Departed, but this film should have won first. This Academy decision is so hotly contested that many film fans outright dismiss Dances With Wolves out of spite, which is unfair as it is a very good film in its own right. That being said, it is almost universally agreed that Goodfellas is the film that should have won, making it the #1 film that should have won Best Picture.


Nick S