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

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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+.
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.
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.
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.
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+.
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+.
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.
The 2024 Oscars are here, and it’s not too hard to predict who will emerge victorious next Sunday. Oppenheimer is poised to sweep the ceremony, with projected wins for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. Barbie, meanwhile, will win Best Song, while Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse will likely snag Best Animated Feature.
There’s one category, however, that remains a bit of a toss-up. This year’s Best Actress race has five intriguing nominees, and while I won’t predict who will win, I will list who deserves to win, from least to most, and explain why their performances either failed to move me or still keep me thinking about them months after I’ve watched them.
Let’s face it: the Oscars aren’t for everyone. Even some movie fans can’t stand all the superficial pageantry, the endless thanking of people you haven’t heard of, and the inane interviews that occur on a red carpet that’s probably more expensive than your house.
Want some alternatives? You can do worse than watch some movies on Hulu. In fact, you should watch the five movies on the list below. Some are past Oscar nominees, some were box office hits, and all of them are a guaranteed fun time.
Here’s a hard truth: the Oscars aren’t for everyone. The speeches, the inane interviews, the chintzy dance numbers — it’s a bloated ceremony that is as off-putting to some people as it is appealing to others.
If you’re one of those people who isn’t going to be watching the 2024 Oscars, you probably need some suggestions for what to do instead. And you can do worse than watch some movies on Max. You should watch the three movies on the list below. One is a 2023 hit starring a Dune: Part Two lead actor, another is an underrated fantasy, and the last is a modern comedy classic.
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