The Oscars aren’t the most beloved awards ceremony in the movie world, but it’s still arguably the biggest and most talked about (at least for Western countries). The biggest prize at any Oscar ceremony is always Best Picture, and while some winners aren’t as well-known as others, most earn a place in movie history for winning alone.
The following 10 Best Picture winners all go one step further when it comes to historical significance. Each represents a significant “first” for the Oscars, and in various ways, all are unique winners of the Oscars top prize. They’re by no means the only Culturally or Historically Significant Best Picture winners; only some of the most notable when it comes to evaluating which winners have moved the film industry forward the most.
“The Wounded Locker” (2008)
The Hurt Locker is a film about the members of a demining team during the war in Iraq and the dangerous work they have to defuse explosives. The film expertly makes viewers feel the tension the characters would feel, and the way war proves to be an adrenaline rush that draws some individuals in – not despite the danger, but because of it – in fact as well. an interesting and dark character study.
The main reason The Hurt Locker is a significant Best Picture winner is that this is the first time a female filmmaker – Catherine Bigelow — directed a Best Picture winner, with Bigelow also taking home Best Director. It took over 80 years to happen, so it’s been a long time coming. Since Bigelow’s victory, two other films directed by women have won Best Picture: nomadland (2020) and Coda (2021).
“In the Heat of the Night” (1967)
A crime drama about two cops tasked with solving a murder case in a southern US town, In the heat of the Night won Best Picture in a year when the American film industry was beginning to change significantly. Films were becoming grittier, more mature, and more open to covering topical themes in greater detail, with In the heat of the Night the depiction of topics like racism and murder being important in this regard.
It was also the first Best Picture winner to feature a black man in the lead role. This man was Sidney Poitier, who also made history as the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role several years earlier. For its lead actor and the themes he explored, In the heat of the Night was a historically significant Best Picture winner.
“12 Years of Slavery” (2013)
A difficult to watch but essential film about slavery, 12 years of slavery is one of the most powerful Best Picture winners in recent memory. The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northupwho was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s, enduring slave service for over a decade before writing a memoir of his experience, on which the film ended up being based.
Certainly, no Best Picture winner before or since has dealt with the subject of slavery in such an honest and unwavering way. In addition, 12 years of slavery made history as the first winner of best picture directed by a black filmmaker, Steve McQueen. However, while McQueen and five other black filmmakers were nominated for best director, it remains an Oscar that has yet to go to a black filmmaker.
“On the Waterfront” (1954)
At the water’s edge doesn’t immediately jump out as a Best Historically Significant Picture winner, but it certainly has elements that made it unique for its time. The film is a crime drama about a young man who works for a corrupt union boss who runs his town’s docks, and what happens when that man – played by Marlon Brando in one of his best roles – standing up to the corruption that surrounds him.
Its story is vital and alarming, and it has a certain amount of grit and realism that sets it apart from Best Picture winners made before 1954. It also has an added element of authenticity through its acting, with the famous (or sometimes infamous) of Brando. method acting leading to a performance like no other that had truly been seen before he burst onto the scene.
‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969)
Whereas In the heat of the Night paved the way for darker adult-themed movies that won Best Picture, midnight cowboy was the one that solidified the maturation of the Best Picture Oscar. It’s a simple – and often sad – story about two hustlers who find solace in each other in an otherwise harsh and indifferent world they both dream of escaping from.
When it comes to mature content, no Best Picture winner before 1969 had pushed the boundaries as much as midnight cowboy. Although not graphic by today’s standards, the fact that one of the main characters turned out to be a male prostitute was shocking for its time. To date, it’s the only X-rated film to win Best Picture.
‘Mrs. Miniver’ (1942)
Rather than pushing some kind of boundary of meaning any kind of first precision, Mrs Miniver stands as a major Best Picture winner for what it was about and when it came out. It was the first Best Picture winner to deal with World War II and was released right in the middle of the global conflict, which lasted from 1939 to 1945.
This makes Mrs Miniver a fascinating film to watch for historical reasons, as it gives insight into how people felt about World War II as the conflict raged. Many Best Picture winners after Mrs Miniver would also take place during World War II (including the next victor, casablanca), but few would feel as immediate or grounded as the one who tackled the war first.
It’s fair to say that Parasite rocked the film industry when it was released in 2019. While Bong Joon Ho was a director adored by moviegoers and critics alike, Parasite made him a household name, as this dark and highly intense film about class conflict and the violence of economic inequality really struck a chord not just in South Korea, but around the world.
His success continued into awards season as well, being one of the big winners of the Oscars, taking home several awards including Best Picture. This makes it the first non-English language film to win Best Picture and the first winner funded entirely by a non-English speaking country. As a Best Picture winner who has done much to raise the profile of world cinema, this is a very significant winner.
‘The Godfather: Part II’ (1974)
The Godfather: Part II continues the story of the Corleone crime family, now led by Michael, the son of the first film’s boss. the original Godfather was a huge hit, and itself a Best Picture winner, with Part II feeling as if it lives up to, if not surpasses, its predecessor.
Quite simply, The Godfather: Part II is a significant winner as it was the first sequel to win Best Picture. He also cemented The Godfather series as the only film series to have two of its entries win Best Picture…and impressively, its director, Francis Ford Coppolareleased another film in 1974 which won the Palme d’Or.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003)
As The Godfather: Part II shows, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King can’t be considered the first sequel to win Best Picture (if you consider it a sequel in the first place). This third and final part of the epic the Lord of the Rings The trilogy was important for another reason, however.
The Oscars rarely seem to recognize genre films when it comes to awarding Best Picture, so it’s remarkable that The king’s return was the first fantasy film to win Best Picture. It was a long time coming, and hopefully a sci-fi movie can finally win one day too.
Why should I wings count as a major Best Picture winner in Oscar history? Well, quite simply, this silent romance/war epic about two World War I fighter pilots who both love the same woman is considered the first Best Picture winner in the nearly 100-year history of the ceremony.
Interestingly, the first Oscar ceremony also stands out. It was the first and only time that two films received a similar “Best Picture” award, with wings winner “Outstanding Image”, and the equally compelling Sunrise: A Song of Two Humanswinning the one and only prize for“Best unique and artistic image.”
NEXT: The 2012 Oscars 10 Years On: Ranking The Top Nominees From Worst To Best
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The 10 Best Oscar-Winning Movies That Made Cinema History – GameSpot