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You voted — here's a ranking of the top movies ever to win an Oscar for best picture

Pop Culture Happy Hour listeners voted on the top movies of all time to win best picture at the Oscars.

SHARE You voted — here's a ranking of the top movies ever to win an Oscar for best picture
Scene stills of Titanic, Parasite, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Godfather.

Scene stills of Titanic, Parasite, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Godfather.

We argue every year about what should win best picture, and what will win best picture — but what about the best best picture? We turned to our listeners with a poll to set all the best picture winners against each other to reach a final, Thunderdome-style result. Recency bias! Nostalgia! Familiarity and unfamiliarity! All kinds of forces collided as our listeners chose their 15 favorite best picture winners (each person got to vote for five), and we’re here to count them all down.

15. Amadeus (1984)

Amadeus may be the prototypical sprig of Oscars catnip: a heavily fictionalized historical drama fueled by thundering lead performances from F. Murray Abraham (as Antonio Salieri) and Tom Hulce (as his brilliant-but-doomed tormentor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). But damned if it isn’t grandly appointed, richly thought-provoking catnip. Nearly 40 years after its release, Amadeus still informs countless conversations about genius, envy and the horrors of being second-best. – Stephen Thompson

14. West Side Story (1961)

Since the announcement of Steven Spielberg’s remake a few years ago, I’ve noticed a lot more pointed critiques and flat out dismissals of the 1961 original film, and its Broadway inspiration. Sure, Natalie Wood is woefully miscast, Rita Moreno wore brownface for her Oscar-winning role as Anita, and the characters as written are as thin as the blades that fell Bernardo and Riff at the rumble ... and yet, its cultural imprint seems unlikely to be erased anytime soon. The show has lived on as long as it has in countless school productions and several revivals largely (mostly?) because of this movie and the hold it maintains on American imaginations, for better and for worse. – Aisha Harris

13. Forrest Gump (1994)

Wait, I thought collectively we’d all agreed this movie is Bad, Actually – saccharine, slight, a frustratingly watered down and apolitical take on history ... No? Hm, well, I guess nostalgia remains a helluva drug; the movie itself is already stuffed with corn-fed heaps of it, and nearly 30 years since its release, it’s become a nostalgic artifact of its own. It’s still not hard to stumble across it on cable TV, and aside from Woody the cowboy, this simple guy may turn out to be Tom Hanks’ most enduring character. – Aisha Harris

12. No Country for Old Men (2007)

Has there ever been a Best Picture winner more brutal and nihilistic than No Country for Old Men? I suppose a case could be made for The Silence of the Lambs, but with this film, the Coen Brothers took themes they’d explored in movies like Fargo and Blood Simple – the implacable nature of violence, human helplessness in the face of fate – and distilled them into the unforgettable figure of Javier Bardem’s laconic, relentless hitman Anton Chigurh. – Glen Weldon

11. All About Eve (1950)

If you haven’t seen this film in a while, you might have forgotten how bracingly fresh and fierce it remains, how every line of dialogue uttered by George Sanders as theater critic Addison DeWitt drips pure green poison. Broadway star Margo Channing is the role of Bette Davis’ life, and Anne Baxter serves you wide-eyed innocence and scheming vindictiveness, in turn – and sometimes, miraculously, both at once. – Glen Weldon

10. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Duh, right? The ascendance of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone as the heir to his father’s throne is the stuff that masterful epics are made of. Meld that with a hop back in time, via the striking performance of Robert De Niro as the young Don Vito Corleone, and you’ve got one of the greatest movies ever made, period. The generational contrasts, the historical context, the astounding tragedy of it all (“I know it was you, Fredo”). Really, what more can be said that hasn’t already been said? – Aisha Harris

9. Titanic (1997)

Titanic might have fared better in the popular imagination if it had not won best picture. Its huge popularity, its catch-phrase-able script, and best picture? It’s the kind of omnipresence that can transform a film from beloved to “ugh” in a hurry. But Titanic is still a swoonily romantic, technically intricate spectacle with two star-making performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet — plus, it created the “was there room for Jack on that door?” debate that lives on to this day. – Linda Holmes

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

Look: The logistics alone should send this film to #1. Think about it: From a brass tacks, film production perspective alone, this movie – the capstone to Peter Jackson’s trilogy adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s sweeping saga of high fantasy and hairy feet – is a towering achievement. Think of the sheer work required to channel the technical and artistic skills of so many thousands of people into a single endeavor. Think of the huge amount of international, interdisciplinary communication, coordination and integration involved. Think of how just the line-item in the budget for elf-ears alone would choke a Mumakil. – Glen Weldon

7. The Sound of Music (1965)

The songs! The children! The escape from war! The Baroness, who really cannot be blamed for wishing she had brought her harmonica! The Sound of Music is the movie musical that defines the genre for a lot of people (some of whom love it and some of whom ... do not). And for all its schmaltzy sweetness, it packs a surprisingly sexy punch in the burgeoning relationship between Maria and Captain von Trapp. It even has hero nuns! It’s no surprise to find it’s one of our listeners’ ... favorite things. (I’m sorry.) –Linda Holmes

6. The Godfather (1972)

Not every movie that’s so deeply embedded in pop culture has been able to withstand the test of time. (Ahem, Gone With the Wind.) But The Godfather remains fresh, with credit due to its timeless themes, stacked cast, and sheer cinematic quotability. Even if you’ve never seen this film before, you’ve seen it before, because it’s touched nearly every facet of life (including politics) of the last 50 years. Proof that sometimes, the Oscars do get it right. – Aisha Harris

5. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The phrase “cannibalistic serial killer” doesn’t turn up in the synopses of most best picture winners, but The Silence of the Lambs isn’t just any horror movie. It’s a psychological thriller headlined by Oscar-winning performances from Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, who makes a meal (sorry) of some of the film’s juiciest bits of dialogue. The portrayal of serial killer Buffalo Bill hasn’t aged well, but the deeply uneasy relationship at the film’s center haunts audiences to this day. – Stephen Thompson

4. Schindler’s List (1993)

The cultural significance of Schindler’s List extends well beyond its Oscars pedigree: Steven Spielberg’s film, which tells the story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, also helped spark a worldwide reckoning around the Holocaust while many of its survivors were still alive to tell their stories. It’s also a sublimely made film, thanks in part to stunning cinematography (by Janusz Kamiński), an unforgettable score (by John Williams) and riveting performances from Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, among others. – Stephen Thompson

3. Moonlight (2016)

Yes, best pictures can be about spectacle, bombast, “dreams made of shadow and light,” etc. But in the right hands, they can also explore something as deeply personal and shockingly intimate as identity, as in this searchingly empathetic film written and directed by Barry Jenkins, which follows a queer Black boy through his adolescence and manhood. Every frame is shot through with the ache of melancholy, a desperate yearning for connection, and the main character’s exhausting self-vigilance to keep anyone from seeing him for who he is. Not for nothing, it also supplied us with the most memorable Oscar-night moment in recent memory. – Glen Weldon

2. Casablanca (1943)

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid form a haunted love triangle in a Moroccan World War II purgatory full of faint promise, deadly peril and a song that can’t stop conjuring old, hard memories. Virtually every line of Casablanca has long been etched in the cultural firmament, serving as the source material for many generations’ worth of callbacks and references. Yet the film hasn’t lost its relevance or emotional pull, as its story of refugees, uncertainty and war continues to reverberate. – Stephen Thompson

1. Parasite (2019)

Not only is Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite a brilliant satire and a twisty story that’s practically two movies in one; it was one of the most satisfying best picture victories ever. If you wanted the Oscars to move past the dutiful, boring wins that some years had brought, the idea of Parasite actually taking the trophy was just about the best thing you could hope for. Together with Moonlight winning a couple of years earlier, it really started to seem like the wonderful films you wished could win best picture actually could. – Linda Holmes

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