With the Oscars hyped to the point where the recipient of each year’s Best Film award is regarded as the best movie of the preceding year, it’s interesting to see that most Best Films of the last twenty-five years do reap the benefits of winning one of those shiny gold statuettes – the exceptions being Crash (2005) and The Hurt Locker (2009). These two have failed to crack the $100,000,000 million mark (in fact The Hurt Locker hasn’t even cracked the $50,000,000 million mark), a surprising outcome considering the quality of both movies.
For every other movie it’s been a tale of critical kudos and box office glory. Here then are the top 10 Best Film Oscar winners of the past twenty-five years in terms of international box office returns. But before you start scrolling down, stop for a moment and try and pick the movies you think are in the list (a clue: the top two are incredibly easy to guess). Whatever ten movies you come up with, it’s likely there’ll be one or two that will surprise you.
NOTE: All figures are courtesy of the good folks at boxofficemojo.com.
10 – A Beautiful Mind (2001) – $313,542,341
Ron Howard’s biopic of the late John Nash Jr featured a sterling performance from Russell Crowe, but it’s story of mental illness and a central character whose genius with mathematics may have depended on said same illness was heavily dependent on some narrative trickery and a visual approach that did its best to mirror the conflict going on inside Nash’s mind. That said, the movie is absorbing and doesn’t try to treat Nash with unnecessary sympathy, a rare thing indeed when the movies try to deal with real life disabilities.
9 – Schindler’s List (1993) – $321,306,305
Despite being best known (still) for his more populist movies, Steven Spielberg’s examination of the nature of heroism in the face of unspeakable evil (memorably incarnated by Ralph Fiennes) is still the director’s most affecting movie, and on many levels his best. Shot in black and white to heighten the horrific nature of the atrocities carried out by the Nazis, this is one of the few movies that can burrow under your skin and stay there for days afterward.
8 – American Beauty (1999) – $356,296,601
It’s hard to think of now, but this was Sam Mendes’ first movie – and what a debut! Featuring career best performances from all concerned, writer Alan Ball’s excoriating dissection of American suburban life still has the power to astound that it had on its first release. With some of the most lyrical and inventive visual moments of any movie – who can forget those falling rose petals, or that carrier bag? – this is a modern classic pure and simple.
7 – Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – $377,910,544
Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the novel by Vikas Swarup was a surprise winner at the Oscars, but it’s tale of perseverance against seemingly overwhelming odds, and the pursuit of love, is so well constructed and acted by its young cast that it can be forgiven for the occasional lapse into sentimentality. With its infectious score courtesy of A.R. Rahman, and authentic Mumbai locations, it’s a feelgood movie that can be enjoyed over and over again.
6 – The King’s Speech (2010) – $414,211,549
There were other, better movies up for the Best Film Oscar in 2011 – The Social Network (2010) and Black Swan (2010) to name but two – but it was this recounting of an Australian speech therapist’s efforts to enable the then King of England, George VI, to speak in public despite his stutter that took the honours. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are both excellent, and the scenes between them are masterclasses in screen acting, but the movie’s emotional core is thrust too often into the spotlight for any subtlety to maintain its hold.
5 – Dances With Wolves (1990) – $424,208,848
Famously beating GoodFellas (1990) (which still gets some people’s backs up even now), what was considered to be Kevin Costner’s folly is in actual fact a very good movie, and one that rewards on repeat viewings. Best seen in its extended, four hour cut, this is still the best representation of the way of life of the American Indian yet committed to screen, and a valedictory salute to a culture that has been subsumed by greed and corruption.
4 – Gladiator (2000) – $457,640,427
The picture that reintroduced the phrase sword and sandals back into the movie lexicon, Ridley Scott’s bold reimagining of Ancient Rome and the glories of the Coliseum remains an extraordinary visual experience. With yet another commanding performance from Russell Crowe, this big budget homage to the epics of the Fifties and Sixties boasts a stand out sequence in the recreation of the Battle of Carthage, superb photography by John Mathieson, and is endlessly thrilling.
3 – Forrest Gump (1994) – $677,945,399
Twenty-one years on and Robert Zemeckis’ finest hour still has the ability to bewitch and amuse and make viewers gratefully sad as Mrs Gump’s boy takes us on a tour of American 20th century history, and his search for his one true love. Tom Hanks deservedly won an Oscar for his portrayal of Forrest Gump, but there are plenty of other great performances to be savoured, as well as – for then – some amazing special effects work.
2 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) – $1,119,929,521
The conclusion to Peter Jackson’s mammoth adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy is the ne plus ultra of fantasy movie making. Sprawling and yet detailed, expansive and yet intimate, this is breathtaking in its scope and the confidence Jackson, his crew and his cast have in what they’re doing and what they’ve achieved. Too many endings? Who cares, when they give you the chance to stay just a little bit longer in Middle Earth?
1 – Titanic (1997) – $2,186,772,302
No surprises here, with James Cameron’s brash, epic retelling of the most famous maritime disaster in history an object lesson in marrying a somewhat tepid romance with cutting edge special effects, and all in the service of extreme verisimilitude. Still, whatever your view on the movie as a whole, what can’t be denied is the sheer scale of the enterprise, the incredible momentum built up once the ship strikes the iceberg, and Cameron’s overwhelming sense of spectacle.