The Academy Award for Best Picture is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to producers working in the film industry and is the only category in which every member is eligible to submit a nomination. Best Picture is considered the most important of the Academy Awards, as it represents all the directing, acting, music composing, writing, editing and other efforts put forth into a film. Consequently, Best Picture is the final award of every Academy Awards ceremony. The Grand Staircase columns at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, where the Academy Awards ceremonies have been held since 2002, showcase every film that has won the Best Picture title since the award's inception. As of the 86th Academy Awards nominations, there have been 512 films nominated for the Best Picture award.
At the 1st Academy Awards ceremony (for 1927 and 1928), there were two categories that were seen as equally the top award of the night: Outstanding Picture and Unique and Artistic Production, the previous being won by the war epic Wings, and the latter by the art film Sunrise, both the awards were intended to honor different and equally important aspects of superior filmmaking. The following year, the Academy dropped the Unique and Artistic Production award, and decided retroactively that the award won by Wings was the highest honor that could be awarded. Though the award kept the title Outstanding Picture for the next ceremony, the name underwent several changes over the years as seen below, the last being in 1962 when it became Best Picture.
Originally the production company was presented the award until 1950 whereupon all credited producers were able to receive the award. This rule was modified in 1998, when a three-producer limit was applied due to all five producers of Shakespeare in Love receiving the award.
As of 2014, the "Special Rules for the Best Picture of the Year Award" limit recipients to those who meet two main requirements:
those three or fewer producers who have performed the major portion of the producing functions
The rules permit "bona fide team[s] of not more than two people to be considered to be a single 'producer' if the two individuals have had an established producing partnership for at least the previous five years and as a producing team have produced a minimum of five theatrically-released feature motion pictures during that time.
The Academy can make exceptions to the limit, as when Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack were posthumously among the four producers nominated for The Reader. As of 2014 it is the Producers Branch Executive Committee that makes such exceptions, only in "rare and extraordinary circumstance[s]."
On June 24, 2009, AMPAS announced that the number of films nominated in the Best Picture award category would increase from five to ten, starting with the 82nd Academy Awards (2009). The expansion was a throwback to the Academy's early years in the 1930s and 1940s, when eight to twelve films were nominated. "Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going to allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize," AMPAS President Sid Ganis said in a press conference. "I can't wait to see what that list of 10 looks like when the nominees are announced in February." At the same time, the voting system was switched from first-past-the-post to instant runoff voting (also known as preferential voting). Two years after this change, the Academy revised the rule again so that the number of films nominated was between 5 and 10; nominated films must earn either 5% of first-place rankings or 5% after an abbreviated variation of the single transferable vote nominating process used for nominations in other major categories. Bruce Davis, the Academy executive director at the time, stated, "A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn't feel an obligation to round out the number."
Other points of contention include the lack of animated films being nominated (Disney's Beauty and the Beast became the 1st film to get nominated, and Disney-Pixar's Up and Toy Story 3 were nominated after the Academy expanded the number of nominees); no science fiction film has won despite a number of successful nominees; only one fantasy film has won the award The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003; and only two comedies (Shakespeare in Love, 1998; and The Artist, 2011) have won in the last 30 years. Also to date, there has yet to be a documentary nominated for Best Picture.
Notably, the only remake to win is The Departed, though a few other winners, such as Mutiny on the Bounty and Ben-Hur, were heavily inspired and influenced by previous films of the same name, they were nevertheless adaptations of the same novel.
No Best Picture winner has been lost, though a few such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Lawrence of Arabia exist only in a form altered from their original, award-winning release form, usually due to editing for reissue (and subsequently partly restored by archivists) while other winners and nominees such as Tom Jones and Star Wars are widely available only in subsequently altered versions. The 1928 film The Patriot is the only Best Picture nominee that is lost.The Racket, also from 1928, was believed lost for many years until a print was found in Howard Hughes' archives. It has since been restored and shown on Turner Classic Movies. Also, the only surviving complete prints of 1931's East Lynne and 1934's The White Parade exist within the UCLA film archive.
In the list below, winners are listed first in the colored row, followed by the other nominees. Except for the early years (when the Academy used a non-calendar year), the year shown is the one in which the film first premiered in Los Angeles County, California; normally this is also the year of first release, but it may be the year after first release (as with Casablanca and, if the film-festival premiere is considered, Crash). This is also the year before the ceremony at which the award is given; for example, a film exhibited theatrically during 2005 was eligible for consideration for the 2005 Best Picture Oscar, awarded in 2006. The number of the ceremony (1st, 2nd, etc.) appears in parentheses after the awards year, linked to the article on that ceremony. Each individual entry shows the title followed by the production company, and the producer.
For the first ceremony, three films were nominated for the award. For the following three years, five films were nominated for the award. This was expanded to eight in 1933, to ten in 1934, and to twelve in 1935, before being dropped back to ten in 1937. In 1945 it was further reduced to five. This number remained until 2009, when the limit was raised to ten and later adjusted in 2011, to vary between five and ten.
For the first six ceremonies, the eligibility period spanned two calendar years. For example, the 2nd Academy Awards presented on April 3, 1930, recognized films that were released between August 1, 1928, and July 31, 1929. Starting with the 7th Academy Awards, held in 1935, the period of eligibility became the full previous calendar year from January 1 to December 31.
A : The official name of the award from 1927/28 to 1928/29 was Outstanding Picture.
B : The official name of the award from 1929/30 to 1940 was Outstanding Production.
C : The official name of the award from 1941 to 1943 was Outstanding Motion Picture.
D : The official name of the award from 1944 to 1961 was Best Motion Picture.
E : The official name of the award since 1962 has been Best Picture.
F : There were two categories that were seen as equally the top award at the time: "Outstanding Picture" and Unique and Artistic Production where the winner for the latter was Sunrise (production company: Fox; producer: William Fox). This category was dropped immediately after the first year of the Academy Award and the former category was retroactively seen as the top award.