Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

30 Best Picture Winners You Can Stream Right Now

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Picking any given year’s Oscar winners is far from an exact science. Of the nearly 90 movies that have been named Best Picture since the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, there’s no clear-cut recipe for what makes a successful film. In the past 10 years alone, we’ve seen a quirky crime drama (No Country for Old Men), a gritty war flick (The Hurt Locker), a black-and-white silent film (The Artist), an inspiring slavery epic (12 Years a Slave), an experimental meditation on the life of an actor (Birdman), and a moving chronicle of a young man growing up in Miami at three stages of his life (Moonlight) all claim the Academy’s top prize. And as the 90th Academy Awards are sure to add yet another distinctive film to that list, there’s still time for you to bone up on Best Pictures past. Here are 30 Best Picture winners you can stream right now.

1. WINGS (1927)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

William Wellman’s romantic war drama, about a love triangle involving two WWI fighter pilots and one Clara Bow, holds the distinction of being named the Academy’s very first Best Picture winner.

2. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

At nearly four hours long, Victor Fleming’s adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book—about the tumultuous love life of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), the ultimate Southern Belle—is the longest film to be named Best Picture.

3. CASABLANCA (1942)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes, Filmstruck

Like Gone With the Wind before it, Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca—about an American expat (Humphrey Bogart) running a nightclub in Morocco, and occasionally dabbling in some less legal business ventures, who bumps into a lost love (Ingrid Bergman)—is one of those films that any card-carrying cineaste must watch at least once in his or her life (or risk misquoting it, as so many others do).

4. MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)

Where to watch it: iTunes, Amazon, HBO

Since the X rating was done away with in 1990, Midnight Cowboy—John Schlesinger’s trippy buddy movie about a wannabe gigolo and a small-time criminal trying (and failing) to make a name for themselves with New York City's Upper East Side ladies—will forever be known as the only X-rated film to be named Best Picture.

5. THE GODFATHER (1972)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix

Francis Ford Coppola didn’t invent the mob crime genre, but he may as well have. More than 40 years after its original release, The Godfather remains a quintessential film—and not just in terms of its own genre. If your most recent viewing(s) of the movie have been on network television, you owe it to yourself—and the art of cinema as a whole—to set aside three hours of quiet time to bask in its mastery.

6. THE GODFATHER: PART II (1974)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix

In 1975, The Godfather: Part II became the first sequel to win the Oscar for Best Picture. And rightfully so. Coppola’s continuation of the Corleone family’s saga managed to capture all of the brilliance of the first film, while adding new layers of complexity to the story. Unfortunately, the same cannot exactly be said for the third entry in the trilogy.

7. ROCKY (1976)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Rocky is the script that Sylvester Stallone purports to have written in three days. It’s also the script that he refused to sell without having himself attached as the lead, even though he was destitute. Sly stuck to his guns and the rest is movie history. The story of a washed-up boxer who somehow almost manages to beat the champ is perhaps the greatest American-made David vs. Goliath story in Hollywood history. The film turned Stallone into an A-list name and earned him nods for both writing the film and starring in it. 

8. AMADEUS (1984)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Amadeus, much like the music of the man it is named for, gets better with age. The lavish film tells the tragic story of musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his spiral into the depths of obsession and insanity at the hands of his nemesis, fellow composer Antonio Salieri. As life often imitates art, F. Murray Abraham (Salieri) beat out Tom Hulce (Mozart) for the Best Actor Oscar.

9. PLATOON (1986)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

More than a decade after the Vietnam War ended, Hollywood was still reluctant to delve into its subject matter. But Oliver Stone changed that with Platoon, a semi-autobiographical account of the psychological and moral issues a young soldier (Charlie Sheen) faces after abandoning his privileged life to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. Army.

10. RAIN MAN (1998)

Where to watch it: iTunes, Amazon

Prior to Rain Man, no one knew much, if anything, about autism. Barry Levinson’s film brought the condition into the public consciousness, even if it did show it in a quirky light. The film is a classic road movie that follows Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) and his unassuming—and only recently discovered—brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) as they watch The People’s Court and buy underwear at Kmarts across the country.

11. DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Dances With Wolves—which follows Civil War Lt. John Dunbar’s assimilation into the Sioux tribe—was the first Western to win the Academy’s most prestigious award since 1931’s Cimarron. Star Kevin Costner also took home the gold for directing, but missed out on the Best Actor award (he was bested by Jeremy Irons, who won for Reversal of Fortune).

12. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Director Jonathan Demme made genre history when The Silence of the Lambs became the first (and so far only) horror movie to be named Best Picture. It’s also one of only three films to win all Big Five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (for Anthony Hopkins), and Best Actress (Jodie Foster).

13. UNFORGIVEN (1992)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

One of only three westerns to be named Best Picture (the aforementioned Dances With Wolves and Cimarron being the other two), Unforgiven stars Clint Eastwood (who also directed the film) as Bill Munny, an erstwhile shootist who is brought out of retirement to collect on one last bounty.

14. FORREST GUMP (1994)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

“Run, Forrest, run!” is as firmly entrenched in the popular lexicon as any other famous movie quote—as are many other of this film’s catchphrases (there were enough to fill a book, apparently). And part of the thanks for that goes to Tom Hanks, who earned a consecutive Best Actor Oscar (following 1993’s Philadelphia) for playing the film’s namesake, who has an uncanny ability to inadvertently shape history, from teaching Elvis how to move his pelvis to blowing the lid on the Watergate break-in.

15. BRAVEHEART (1995)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Braveheart’s hair, makeup, costuming, and production design departments more than make up for the film’s lack of historical accuracy. Featuring some of the finest mullets and war paint ever put on celluloid, Braveheart recounts the life of Scottish legend William Wallace and his struggle against the truculent Longshanks (King Edward I of England). The movie culminates in perhaps the most memorable disembowelment scene in recent film history.

16. THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

In case you’ve forgotten, this is the movie that ostensibly introduced the world to the "suprasternal notch." Largely through flashbacks, The English Patient recounts a torrid love affair between a cartographer (Ralph Fiennes) and a seemingly happily married woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) who find themselves thrown together in a surveying expedition circa WWII.

17. TITANIC (1997)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Girl meets boy. Girl gets boy. Girl loses boy to icy, underwater grave by way of the Titanic disaster. That old story. This was the film that catapulted Leonardo DiCaprio to stardom amidst the cacophony of collective screams let out by the world’s 13-year-old female population. Remember when director James Cameron infamously (if not nerdily) intoned, “I’m the king of the world!” during his Best Director Oscar acceptance speech? That happened.

18. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Shakespeare In Love tells the story about that time Shakespeare lost and then regained his mojo. Gwyneth Paltrow took home the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the Bard’s muse, and Dame Judi Dench notched a Best Supporting award for her role as Queen Elizabeth I, even though she only appeared on the screen for eight minutes—and in the same year that Cate Blanchett was nominated for playing the same character in Elizabeth, no less.

19. AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

American Beauty’s tagline states, “Look Closer.” That just about sums it up as this film digs beneath the flimsy surface of a seemingly placid and pristine suburban neighborhood and turns it on its head. The film, which was Sam Mendes’s directorial debut, also gave the world new respect for windblown pieces of garbage.

20. GLADIATOR (2000)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator marked Russell Crowe’s first (and so far only) Best Actor victory. It tells the story of Maximus, a Roman general who is betrayed, sold into slavery, and forced to fight as—you guessed it—a gladiator.

21. A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

A Beautiful Mind, the first collaboration between Ron Howard and Russell Crowe, tells the true story of famed mathematician John Nash and his struggle with schizophrenia. In addition to its Best Picture win, the film took home Oscars for Best Director (Ron Howard), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Connelly), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Though nominated for Best Actor, Crowe lost to Denzel Washington for Training Day.

22. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Though it’s debated by fans whether the third installment in Peter Jackson’s lauded The Lord of The Rings trilogy is truly the best of the three films, what’s not in dispute is that it was the last film. And as such, the epic three-film endeavor—as a whole—demanded recognition from the Academy. The Return of The King mounted the biggest sweep in Oscar history, winning all 11 awards for which it was nominated (which, surprisingly, did not include a single acting nod).

23. THE DEPARTED (2006)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

After seven nominations and no wins, Martin Scorsese finally earned a long-overdue Best Director statuette for 2006’s The Departed, an English language retelling of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs. The film was loosely based on infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, and chock full of bad Boston accents (plus very real Boston accents, courtesy of Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg).

24. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)

Where to watch it: iTunes, Amazon

Adapted by the Coen brothers from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country For Old Men is a quintessential American story of greed, violence, and disillusionment. Less about the plot and more about the chase, the film garnered the Coens Oscars for Best Picture, Best Directing, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and Javier Bardem was named Best Actor for his terrifying performance as Anton Chigurh.

25. THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

Where to watch it: Amazon, Netflix, Hulu

In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to be named Best Director for her work on The Hurt Locker, an unrelenting look at the psychology of warfare, as seen through the eyes of an American bomb squad in Iraq.

26. THE KING’S SPEECH (2010)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

From laughing stock to maestro of one of Great Britain’s finest public addresses, The King’s Speech tells the true story of King George VI’s triumph over stuttering. The film took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth), and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler).

27. THE ARTIST (2011)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Director Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist is only the second silent film to win the Oscar for best picture (1927’s Wings, the Academy's first Best Picture winner, is the other). A love story about a silent film star’s journey toward obscurity in the midst of the “talkie” revolution, The Artist also turned its star, Jean Dujardin, into the first-ever French actor to take home a Best Actor trophy.

28. ARGO (2012)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Ben Affleck directed and starred in this true story about a fabricated sci-fi movie production that was used to free six Americans hiding in Tehran during the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis. Argo took home awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing, but did not notch a victory for its director. (Incidentally, it was producer George Clooney who was supposed to be at the film’s helm; when his Ides of March ran into scheduling conflicts, he handed the project over to Affleck.)

29. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Based on actual events, 12 Years A Slave is the amazing story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Filmmaker Steve McQueen made history with the film in 2014 when he became the first black producer to receive a Best Picture Oscar and the first black director behind the camera of a Best Picture-winning film.

30. BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (2014)

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

When Alejandro González Iñárritu won the Best Director Oscar for The Revenant in 2016, it marked his second in a row, following 2015's win for Birdman, which tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), an over-the-hill actor who tries to prove his worth as a thespian by starring in his own theatrical production of a Raymond Carver story. Unfortunately, Riggan cannot escape his past—which haunts him in the form of a superhero in a bird suit.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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