The Academy Award for Best Picture is one of the Academy Awards presented annually since the awards debuted in 1929, 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 and vote on the final ballot. The actors or actresses in the film will not accept this award unless he or she produced the film.
Best Picture is considered the premier award of the Academy Awards, as it represents all the directing, acting, music composing, writing, editing, and other efforts put forth into a film production. Since 1973, it is the final award presented at the 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 2017, there have been 537 films nominated for Best Picture.
At the 1st Academy Awards ceremony (for 1927 and 1928), there were two categories of awards that were each considered the top award of the night: Outstanding Picture and Unique and Artistic Picture, the previous being won by the war epic Wings, and the latter by the art film Sunrise. Each award was intended to honor different and equally important aspects of superior filmmaking.
The following year, the Academy dropped the Unique and Artistic Picture 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. Since 1962 it has been called the Best Picture award.
Until 1950, this award was presented to a representative of the production company. That year the protocol was changed so that the award was presented to all credited producers. This rule was modified in 1998 to apply a limit of three producers receiving the award, after the five producers of Shakespeare in Love had received the award.
As of 2014[update], 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 the late Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack were posthumously included among the four producers nominated for The Reader. As of 2014 the Producers Branch Executive Committee determines such exceptions, noting they take place only in "rare and extraordinary circumstance[s]."
The Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director have been closely linked throughout their history. Of the 88 films that have been awarded Best Picture, 62 have also been awarded Best Director. Only four films have won Best Picture without their directors being nominated: Wings (1927/28), Grand Hotel (1931/32), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), and Argo (2012). The only two Best Director winners to win for films that did not receive a Best Picture nomination were during the early years of the awards: Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights (1927/28), and Frank Lloyd for The Divine Lady (1928/29).
On June 24, 2009, AMPAS announced that the number of films to be 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 each year. "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. Bruce Davis, the Academy executive director at the time, said, "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 genres of film that have received few or no nominations or awards. Only three animated films have been nominated (Disney's Beauty and the Beast, (1991) and Disney-Pixar's Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) were nominated after the Academy expanded the number of nominees) and none have won. No science fiction film or superhero film has won (none of the latter has been nominated); only one fantasy film has won (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003). No light comedies have won since the 1970s. No documentary (eligible in a separate category) has been nominated for Best Picture. This excludes Chang, which was nominated in the 'Unique and Artistic Production' category in the 1927/28 awards.
Like the Academy Awards in general, the 'Best Picture' awardees have been criticized for disproportionately recognizing films about white men over those of women and/or non-white people.
The Artist (with the exception of a single scene of dialogue, and dream sequence with sound effects) was the first silent film since Wings to win Best Picture. It was the first silent nominee since The Patriot. It was the first Best Picture winner to be shot entirely in black-and-white since 1960's The Apartment. (Note: Schindler's List, the 1993 winner, was predominantly black-and-white but it did contain some color sequences).
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. This has usually been due to editing for reissue (and subsequently partly restored by archivists). Other winners and nominees, such as Tom Jones and Star Wars, are widely available only in subsequently altered versions. The Broadway Melody originally had some sequences photographed in two-color Technicolor. This footage survives only in black and white.
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, however, 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.
Until 1950, the Best Picture award was given to the production company; from 1951 on, it has gone to the producer or producers. The Academy used the producer credits of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) until 1998, when all five producers of Shakespeare in Love made speeches after its win. A three-producer limit has been applied some years since. There was controversy over the exclusion of some PGA-credited producers of Crash and Little Miss Sunshine. The Academy can make exceptions to the limit, as when Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack were posthumously among the four nominated for The Reader. However, now any producer on a film is nominated for Best Picture, so the limit of producer nominees is completely dropped.
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.