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The Best Picture Winner The Year You Were Born

Since the Academy Awards' first ceremony in 1929, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has honored, arguably, the top cinematic achievement every year with the Best Picture award. As of 2017, the Academy has nominated 537 films for its highest accolade. Let's take a look at just some of the 89 Best Picture winners, those from the years 1972 to 1998—which include both landmark movie masterpieces and some surprising Oscar upsets along the way.  

1972: The French Connection

In 1972, William Friedkin's gritty and realistic crime thriller The French Connection won the Oscar for Best Picture. The film stars Gene Hackman as violent and unpredictable Detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle and Roy Schneider as his more affable partner, Buddy "Cloudy" Russo. The film chronicles the true story of two NYPD narcotics detectives who took down a drug ring, seizing nearly 100 pounds of heroin in the bust. The French Connection cleaned up at the 44th Academy Awards. Friedkin took home Best Director, and Hackman won Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of the extremely unlikable Detective Boyle.

Other nominees: A Clockwork Orange, Fiddler on the Roof, The Last Picture Show, Nicholas and Alexandra

1973: The Godfather

After Francis Ford Coppola launched his epic three-part mobster masterpiece with 1972's The Godfather, it quickly earned widespread acclaim. This landmark film stars Marlon Brando as the titular character Vito Corleone, who heads up a fictional New York Mafia family. The crime dynasty's heir is his son Michael (Al Pacino), who grows into the patriarchal role within the family, and within its "business," during the course of the movie. The Godfather won both Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Marlon Brando also won Best Actor, but he famously refused to accept the award, boycotting the ceremony and sending Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather to decline the Oscar on his behalf.

Other nominees: Cabaret, Deliverance, The Emigrants, Sounder

1974: The Sting

Paul Newman and Robert Redford teamed up to play a pair of 1930s-era con men for the crime dramedy The Sting. The grifters plan a complicated scheme to pull off a "big con," choosing a vicious crime boss (Robert Shaw) as their victim. As they try to relieve the mobster of his money, the pair must also do their best to evade the FBI agents and policemen that are sniffing down their trail. While George Lucas managed to nab his first Academy Award nomination this same year for American Graffiti, it wasn't enough to beat The Sting—which won Best Director and Best Picture.

Other nominees: American Graffiti, Cries and Whispers, The Exorcist, A Touch of Class

1975: The Godfather Part II

Considering that Francis Ford Coppola easily won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1973 for The Godfather, it shouldn't be surprising that its sequel was equally well received. The Godfather Part II continued the tale and Coppola's win streak. Many fans of this crime film franchise believe that the second installment was even better than the first. The Godfather Part II had some stiff competition from Chinatown, Roman Polanski's excellent neo-noir thriller starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Both films were nominated for 11 Oscars, but The Godfather Part II came out on top, winning in six categories—including Best Picture.  

Other nominees: Chinatown, The Conversation, Lenny, The Towering Inferno

1976: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Miloš Forman, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will be forever remembered as one of the best American films of all time. Nicholson plays Randle McMurphy, a criminal who fakes mental illness to avoid prison. At the asylum where he's sent, McMurphy stirs things up among the patients and immediately gets on the bad side of the strict Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Over budget (at just $4.4 million) and over schedule, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest became a worldwide box office success and ran away with five Oscars at the 48th Academy Awards—including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

Other nominees: Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon, Jaws, Nashville

1977: Rocky

When Sylvester Stallone first wrote the screenplay to Rocky, he likely had no idea what a success it would be. Starring the then-unknown Stallone and shot in just 28 days, Rocky became a sleeper hit, grossing over $100 million in the U.S. alone and spawning a number of successful sequels (and even a second franchise with the Creed films). Rocky tells the feel-good story of an aspiring boxer from Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa, who finds love while preparing to face world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in a title bout. Rocky won both Best Director and Best Picture—beating out such strong contenders as Taxi Driver and Network for Hollywood's top honors.

Other nominees: All the President's Men, Bound for Glory, Network, Taxi Driver

1978: Annie Hall

In 1978, George Lucas fell short at the Oscars yet again, with Star Wars losing out to Woody Allen's thoughtful and witty Annie Hall. A bittersweet romantic comedy starring Allen, opposite Diane Keaton, Annie Hall helped launch the careers of several other prominent actors, including Jeff Goldblum, Sigourney Weaver, and John Glover. Although Allen lost out to Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl for Best Actor, Annie Hall swept nearly all the other major categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.

Other nominees: The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars, The Turning Point

1979: The Deer Hunter

Michael Cimino's compelling and disturbing war drama The Deer Hunter gives audiences a haunting glimpse of the effects of the Vietnam War on friends Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Steven (John Savage). Meryl Streep also appears in her breakout role as Nick's love interest, Linda. Although it garnered nine Oscar nominations, The Deer Hunter was a flawed film that also earned criticism for its loose editing and the inclusion of a contrived and inaccurate Russian Roulette scene. Nonetheless, it won five Academy Awards—including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor.

Other nominees: Coming Home, Heaven Can Wait, Midnight Express, An Unmarried Woman

1980: Kramer vs. Kramer

In the drama Kramer vs. Kramer, workaholic Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) is forced to reevaluate his priorities in life after his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) walks out on him, leaving him to raise their son Billy alone. Over a year later, Joanna returns to claim her son and a bitter custody battle ensues. Dustin Hoffman's method acting techniques on the set of Kramer vs. Kramer—including slapping Streep and goading her about her recently deceased boyfriend—probably wouldn't fly today. While Kramer vs. Kramer had some tough competition from Apocalypse Now and Breaking Away, it managed to nab five Oscars—including Best Picture.   

Other nominees: All that Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Norma Rae

1981: Ordinary People

Robert Redford pulled off a coup when his directorial debut, Ordinary People, won Best Picture instead of Martin Scorsese's classic biopic Raging Bull. This dramatic film stars Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore as a couple who struggle to cope after one of their sons dies in an accident, and the other son (Timothy Hutton) attempts suicide. Trapped in denial, Moore's character refuses to acknowledge the issues her family faces. While Mary Tyler Moore was beaten out for Best Actress by Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter, Hutton took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Redford got the nod for Best Director.

Other nominees: Coal Miner's Daughter, The Elephant Man, Raging Bull, Tess

1982: Chariots of Fire

Even if you've never seen the classic sports biodrama Chariots of Fire, you're probably familiar with its extremely famous theme song. Starring Ben Cross and Ian Charleson, Chariots of Fire tells the tale of two runners from very different backgrounds and their lives in the years leading up to the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Chariots of Fire earned critical praise and remains a classic sports drama today. It was nominated for seven Oscars and ended up winning four of them, beating out other strong contenders for Best Picture like Reds and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Other nominees: Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Reds

1983: Gandhi

While many excellent American films were released in 1982, a British and Indian production beat them all out for Best Picture at the 55th Academy Awards. Even E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial could not stand up to the dramatic firepower of Gandhi. This epic historical drama was directed by David Attenborough and features Ben Kingsley, in his first starring role, as the beloved and polarizing titular character. The film takes audiences on a biographical journey through the Indian civil rights leader's life, from his young adulthood to his death by assassination in 1948.

Other nominees: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Missing, Tootsie, The Verdict

1984: Terms of Endearment

Adapted from a novel by Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry and helmed by the now-legendary James L. Brooks, Terms of Endearment is a dramedy focusing on the 30-year evolution of the relationship between Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). The film also boasts a strong supporting cast, including Jack Nicholson, John Lithgow, Danny DeVito, and Jeff Daniels. The movie offered just the right mix of comedy and tragedy for Academy voters. It ended up with 11 nominations, winning in five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (MacLaine), and Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson).

Other nominees: The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Right Stuff, Tender Mercies

1985: Amadeus

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest director Miloš Forman scored another 11 nominations—and eight wins—at the 57th Academy Awards in 1985 for his latest effort, Amadeus. This period drama offers a fictionalized account of the life of celebrated composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and his relationship with former colleague and secret rival Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). Confined to an insane asylum, Salieri admits to murdering Mozart and confesses his tale to a priest. At the Academy Awards, Amadeus wiped the floor with the competitors—winning Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and five other Oscars.    

Other nominees: The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, A Soldier's Story

1986: Out of Africa

Meryl Streep cemented her legacy as one of Hollywood's top leading ladies of the '80s with her appearance opposite Robert Redford in Sydney Pollack's epic romantic drama Out of Africa. Based on the autobiography and other memoirs of author Karen Blixen, this period drama set in 1930s Nairobi focuses on the life of a wealthy Danish woman (Streep) who moves to Africa and enters a complicated love affair with a local big-game hunter (Redford). Out of Africa took home the prize for Best Picture along with six other wins.

Other nominees: The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Prizzi's Honor, Witness

1987: Platoon

After scoring its first Best Picture win with Amadeus in 1985, Orion Pictures returned to the Hollywood forefront with its release of Oliver Stone's classic anti-war drama Platoon. Based upon Stone's own experiences as an infantryman in the Vietnam War, Platoon stars Charlie Sheen as PFC Chris Taylor and Tom Berenger as the cynical and cold-blooded Staff Sergeant Barnes. Taylor is shaken by the horrors of war and by the misdeeds of his superior officer. Platoon won four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.

Other nominees: Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, A Room with a View

1988: The Last Emperor

When Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci was developing his dramatic biopic The Last Emperor, several studios turned down the chance to distribute the film. Those Hollywood executives were surely kicking themselves later, after the film cleaned up at the 60th Academy Awards. The movie was based primarily on the autobiography of Puyi (John Lone), the Last Emperor of China. It chronicles Puyi's life from his ascent to the throne as a child to his imprisonment and "re-education" at the hands of the Communist Chinese government in the 1950s. At the Oscars, The Last Emperor won all nine awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

Other nominees: Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory, Moonstruck

1989: Rain Man

The Best Picture winner of 1989 was the road trip dramedy Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise as abrasive and egotistical Charlie Babbitt and Dustin Hoffman as his autistic savant brother, Raymond. After Charlie's estranged father passes away, he learns that he has an older brother. In a selfish attempt to get control of his father's estate, Charlie kidnaps Raymond from a mental institution. However, Charlie's priorities in life change during their cross-country road trip. Along with Rain Man's win for Best Picture, Dustin Hoffman also won the Oscar for Best Actor.

Other nominees: The Accidental Tourist, Dangerous Liaisons, Mississippi Burning, Working Girl

1990: Driving Miss Daisy

Based upon a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Driving Miss Daisy follows a 25-year period in the lives of Miss Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) and her black chauffeur Hoke (Morgan Freeman). After Miss Daisy wrecks her car, the wealthy and feisty Jewish widow initially resents having a chauffeur forced on her by her son (Dan Aykroyd). However, her attitude changes as she becomes friends with Hoke whilst the two deal with each other and suffer prejudice amid the Civil Rights era. Driving Miss Daisy was nominated for nine Oscars. Although director Bruce Beresford was snubbed in the Best Director category, the film ended up with four awards, including Best Picture and Best Actress.

Other nominees: Born on the Fourth of July, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot

1991: Dances With Wolves

Kevin Costner scored big when his epic western film Dances With Wolves was nominated for a massive 12 Oscars. Costner directed, produced, and starred in the adventure drama, which was based on Michael Blake's novel of the same name. Dances With Wolves tells the story of Union soldier John Dunbar, who takes a lonely assignment to a western frontier outpost where he comes into contact with a tribe of Sioux. Dances With Wolves won Best Picture and six other Oscars, and the Sioux Nation even adopted Costner as an honorary member because of his film's lasting impact.

Other nominees: Awakenings, Ghost, The Godfather Part III, Goodfellas

1992: The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs swept the Academy's top honors in five major categories. Based on the book of the same name by Thomas Harris, this thriller masterpiece stars Anthony Hopkins as psychiatrist-turned-psychopath Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as intrepid FBI trainee Clarice Starling. Starling is assigned to interview the cannibalistic Lecter in an attempt to gain information that might lead to the arrest of a serial killer known for skinning his female victims. After winning Best Actor for his portrayal of Lecter, Hopkins went on to reprise the role in both Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002).

Other nominees: Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK, The Prince of Tides

1993: Unforgiven

After Dances With Wolves single-handedly revitalized interest in Westerns, director Clint Eastwood's revisionist drama Unforgiven continued the resurgence of the genre. Eastwood and Morgan Freeman star in the film as gunfighters who temporarily abandon their retirement to hunt down two cowboys in exchange for a reward. However, the local sheriff (Gene Hackman) wants no vigilantes in his town and sets out to catch the gunfighters before they can finish the job. Eastwood won both Best Picture (in his role as producer) and Best Actor for Unforgiven, while Hackman went home with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Other nominees: The Crying Game, A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman

1994: Schindler's List

The Best Picture winner at the 66th Academy Awards was the profoundly moving black-and-white masterpiece, Schindler's List. Director Steven Spielberg also won Best Director for the epic documentary-style film. Schindler's List tells the true story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a industrialist German Nazi Party member who becomes an unlikely hero of World War II. After witnessing the atrocities committed by his countrymen, Schindler changes his profiteering ways—eventually spending his entire fortune to save nearly 1,200 of his Jewish factory workers from the Nazi extermination camps.

Other nominees: The Fugitive, In the Name of the Father, The Piano, The Remains of the Day

1995: Forrest Gump

Based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump chronicles several decades in the life of the good-natured but slow-witted titular character, played by Tom Hanks. In the present day, Gump, sharing a bench with strangers at a bus stop, tells his amazing and unlikely life story—including his experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam war, as a champion international ping-pong player, and as a shrimp boat captain. Much of the film focuses on his complicated relationship with love interest Jenny Curran (Robin Wright). Not only did Forrest Gump run away with the Oscar for Best Picture, Tom Hanks also scored his second Best Actor award for his role in the film.

Other nominees: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption

1996: Braveheart

After Mel Gibson released his period war drama Braveheart, the movie generated criticism for its highly fictionalized account of the life of 13th-century Scottish warrior William Wallace. Gibson produced, directed, and starred in Braveheart; Gibson played Wallace alongside Angus Macfadyen as Robert the Bruce and Patrick McGoohan as the despicable King Edward I ("Edward Longshanks"). Despite the many historical inaccuracies, Gibson's film was a runaway success at the box office and ended up being a surprise contender at the 68th Academy Awards. Braveheart managed to beat out stiff competition from Apollo 13 and Il Postino to win Best Picture, Best Director, and three other Oscars.

Other nominees: Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino: The Postman, Sense and Sensibility

1997: The English Patient

Three years after receiving an Oscar nomination for Schindler's List, English actor Ralph Fiennes landed his second nomination for his starring role in Anthony Minghella's romantic war drama The English Patient. The movie opens on a makeshift Italian hospital ward where the badly burned Count László Almásy (Fiennes) suffers from partial amnesia. Under gentle questioning from a nurse (Juliette Binoche) and an injured Canadian soldier (Willem Dafoe), Almásy gradually recalls his past—including his passionate and tragic love affair with Katharine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas). The English Patient was nominated in 12 categories, winning nine Oscars.

Other nominees: Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Secrets & Lies, Shine

1998: Titanic

Leonardo DiCaprio became an international household name after starring in James Cameron's epic romantic drama, Titanic. The film offers a fictionalized account of events aboard the ill-fated luxury liner that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912, killing more than 1,500 passengers. DiCaprio plays penniless artist Jack Dawson, who falls in love with the wealthy Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) during the voyage. The tragic love story between Jack and Rose charmed audiences around the world, and Titanic brought home over $2 billion dollars at the box-office—a record that would stand until Cameron broke it again with 2010's Avatar. Titanic also cleaned up at the 70th Academy Awards with 14 Oscar nominations and 11 wins.

Other nominees: As Good as it Gets, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential