Academy Award Best Pictures
ACADEMY of
MOTION PICTURE
ARTS and SCIENCES

Best Pictures - Genre Biases

Note: Oscar® and Academy Awards® and Oscar® design mark are the trademarks and service marks and the Oscar© statuette the copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This site is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Note: The films that are marked with a yellow star are the films that
"The Greatest Films" site has selected as the 100 Greatest Films.




Best Pictures Sections
Facts & Trivia (1) | Facts & Trivia (2) | Genre Biases | Winners Chart (part 1) | Winners Chart (part 2)

Best Pictures Genre Biases:

There are obvious biases in the selection of Best Picture winners by the Academy. (Biases related to acting roles or characters are discussed in the Best Actor and Best Actress sections.) Serious dramas or social-problem films with weighty themes, bio-pictures (inspired by real-life individuals or events), or films with literary pretensions are much more likely to be nominated (and win) than "popcorn" movies. Action-adventures, suspense-thrillers, Westerns, and comedies are mostly overlooked (although there are exceptions), as are independent productions and children's films. The glossy, large-scale epic productions with big budgets (of various genres) often win the Best Picture prize:

Silent
Films


The only silent film to win 'Best Picture' was Wings (1927/28).
Drama
Films


The most frequent Best Picture nominee and winner category is the drama genre, with just a few pure examples noted here: Grand Hotel (1931/2), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Lost Weekend (1945), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), Hamlet (1948), All the King's Men (1949), All About Eve (1950), Midnight Cowboy (1969), and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979).
Comedy
Films


It is rare that light comedy films win the Best Picture Oscar. The following are the only 'comedies' that have won Best Picture: It Happened One Night (1934), You Can't Take It With You (1938), Going My Way (1944), Tom Jones (1963), The Sting (1973), and Annie Hall (1977). There are other borderline or hybrid comedies, including The Apartment (1960), Terms of Endearment (1983), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and American Beauty (1999).
Biopics

Films inspired by real-life individuals (especially when they face adversity) usually do very well in terms of nominations, and often win - especially if they are of epic proportion. Often they are combined with other genre categories: there are musical biopics, epic biopics, dramatic biopics, war biopics, etc. Winners have included: The Great Ziegfeld (1936), The Life of Emile Zola (1937), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Patton (1970), Chariots of Fire (1981), Gandhi (1982), Amadeus (1984), The Last Emperor (1987), and A Beautiful Mind (2001).
Epics Films / Blockbusters

Long (well over 120 minutes), historical epics with big budgets and grand, large-scale production values are normally chosen: e.g., Wings (1927), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Gone With the Wind (1939), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Ben-Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Godfather (1972), and The Godfather Part II (1974), and the recent winners Gandhi (1982), Amadeus (1984), Out of Africa (1985), The Last Emperor (1987), Dances With Wolves (1990), Forrest Gump (1994), The English Patient (1996), Titanic (1997), and Gladiator (2000).
Epics
(War Films)


War films of epic proportion have done very well in Academy history, although there have been only a few of them among the Best Picture winners: Wings (1927/28), All Quiet on the Western Front (1929/30), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Patton (1970), The Deer Hunter (1978), Platoon (1986), Schindler's List (1993), and Braveheart (1995). War dramas that have won include: Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and From Here to Eternity (1953).
Musicals

Musical Best Pictures are semi-rare and include the following: Broadway Melody (1928/29), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Going My Way (1944), An American in Paris (1951), Gigi (1958), West Side Story (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), Oliver! (1968) and Chicago (2002). There were five musical Best Picture winners out of eight nominees between 1958 and 1969. Four of the ten Best Pictures in the 1960s were musicals (all based on previous Broadway hits). The only musical to receive 13 nominations was Chicago (2002) -- with six wins, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress.

Action-Adventure Films

A very small number of pure adventure films have ever been voted Best Picture, including: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dances With Wolves (1990). [Titanic (1997) is an action-adventure epic, as well as a disaster film and historical romance.] Conversely, losers in the Best Picture category include lots of action-adventure film nominees, including: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Airport (1970), The Towering Inferno (1974), Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), The Right Stuff (1983), and The Fugitive (1993).
Horror/Thriller
Films


Only one true 'horror' film has won Best Picture, The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Also, Hitchcock's first US film and Best Picture winner Rebecca (1940) may be counted as the only suspense-thriller. [Best Picture nominees in this suspense-thriller genre have included Suspicion (1941), Gaslight (1944), Spellbound (1945), and The Sixth Sense (1999). The Exorcist (1973) was the only horror film to be nominated for Best Picture in Academy Award history - until 1991.

Crime
Films


There are a few hybrid crime films that have won Best Picture, including On the Waterfront (1954) - a crime drama, The French Connection (1971) - both a crime film and action-thriller, the two Francis Ford Coppola crime/drama sagas: The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather, Part II (1974), and Martin Scorsese's The Departed (2006). Notable Best Picture-nominated crime films include The Racket (1928), Dead End (1937), Bonnie And Clyde (1967), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Midnight Express (1978), Atlantic City (1981), Prizzi's Honor (1985), The Godfather: Part III (1990), GoodFellas (1990), Bugsy (1991), The Crying Game (1992), and Pulp Fiction (1994).


Mystery and Film Noir Films

Mysteries, and especially the nihistic subgenre of film noir, seldom win Best Picture. Only one pure mystery has ever won Best Picture: In the Heat of the Night (1967). Many mysteries and film noirs have been nominated for Best Picture, including: The Thin Man (1934), Citizen Kane (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Z (1969), Chinatown (1974), JFK (1991), The Fugitive (1993), L.A. Confidential (1997), and Gosford Park (2001). Genre-hybrid mysteries include Lost Horizon (1937) (fantasy), Rebecca (1940) (thriller), Suspicion (1941) (thriller), Gaslight (1944) (thriller), Spellbound (1945) (thriller), and The Sixth Sense (1999) (horror). Mysteries and film noir often tend to do exceedingly well in the artistic performance categories (acting, writing, and directing) despite not earning Best Picture nominations. [Three prime examples of this are Laura (1944), Rear Window (1954), and Murder on the Orient Express (1974).]
Western
Films


Although by the end of the 20th century, there were eleven Westerns nominated for Best Picture, only three have won the highest honor - Cimarron (1930/31), Dances With Wolves (1990), and Unforgiven (1992). There have only been eight nominated Westerns (in addition to the winners): In Old Arizona (1928/29), Stagecoach (1939), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), Giant (1956), How the West Was Won (1963), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) was the first (and only) fantasy film to win Best Picture. Fantasy-adventure and sci-fi films also rarely win the Best Picture award, although they have often dominated in the Visual and Special Effects technical categories in recent years. (For example, nominees The Wizard of Oz (1939), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Heaven Can Wait (1943), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Dr. Strangelove, Or: (1964), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Star Wars (1977), Heaven Can Wait (1978), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) have all lost.)
Animated
Films


Before 2001, the only animated film nominated for Best Picture was Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991). Because of the creation of the Best Animated Feature category in 2001, Beauty and the Beast (1991) may ultimately be noted as the ONLY animated film ever nominated for Best Picture. Winning films in this category are often huge blockbusters.

Children's
Films

(not including any animated films)

These are G-rated films specifically made for young kids (they are often appropriate for families and adults too). They are rarely taken seriously, and therefore not often nominated for Best Picture, with the following exceptions: The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Yearling (1946), Mary Poppins (1964), Doctor Dolittle (1967), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Babe (1995). Often, they are nominated (or win) for various music-related categories.
Sports
Films


Only a small number of sports - drama films have even received a nomination for Best Picture, let alone a Best Picture Oscar. Only three have won Best Picture in Oscar history: Rocky (1976), Chariots of Fire (1981), and Million Dollar Baby (2004). Others that have received nominations include: The Champ (1931), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), The Hustler (1961), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Breaking Away (1979), Raging Bull (1980), Field of Dreams (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996), and Seabiscuit (2003).
Romance
Films


Pure love stories (not including musicals) which often have strong romantic subplots are popular Best Picture winners and nominees during escapist periods in American history, such as the Depression Era and World War II, the 50's, and the turn of the modern century. Romance films (often hybrids) that have won Best Picture include: Gone With the Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942), Marty (1955), Out of Africa (1985), The English Patient (1996), Titanic (1997), and Shakespeare in Love (1998). Light romantic comedies that have won Best Picture include It Happened One Night (1934) and Annie Hall (1977). There are many examples of both romances and romantic comedies that have been nominated for Best Picture.

R-rated
Films

The first R-rated film to win Best Picture was The French Connection (1971).

X-rated
Films

The only X-rated film (later reduced to R) to win Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy (1969). A Clockwork Orange (1971) was the only other X-rated film (since re-rated) nominated for Best Picture. Actor Marlon Brando and director Bernard Bertolucci were also Oscar nominees for an X-rated film (not re-rated since its release): Last Tango in Paris (1972).

British (UK)
Films

These films include those with a British perspective, or with British/US production, such as Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Tom Jones (1963), and Chariots of Fire (1981). Hamlet (1948) was both the first British production and the first non-American or non-Hollywood (foreign-made) film to be presented with the industry's top honor.

 

Best Picture Nominees by Genre (Chart)
From 1927/8 to 2001
(Rounded to Nearest Percent)

Genre
358 Nominees
74 Winners
Total: 432 films
Drama
49%
39%
47%
Comedy
18%
14%
17%
Historical/Epic
10%
16%
11%
Musical
8%
11%
8%
Action-Adventure
6%
5%
6%
War
5%
8%
5%
Suspense
3%
3%
3%
Western
2%
4%
2%

 


Previous Page Next Page