Since 2010 the Academy Award Winner for ‘Best Picture’ has been a film taking place in the distant past. ‘The King’s Speech’ took place in the 1940s, ‘The Artist’ covered the late 1920s and early 1930s, and last year’s winner ‘Argo’ took place in the 1970s. Is there any correlation between when a film takes place and whether or not the Academy may elect it as the best?
From 2004-2009 the ‘Best Picture’ winners were all films that took place in the present day. In 2003 the winner was ‘The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ which although took place in a less modern time period, also took place in Middle Earth, a place that does not exist.
After that though, there is a string of three films from the past. Taking place in Ancient Rome was 2000’s winner ‘Gladiator.’ In 2001 we saw another Russell Crowe film win, this one taking place in the 1940s, ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Finally in 2003 the streak became a trilogy when the musical ‘Chicago’ took the nod.
The 1990s had plenty of ‘Best Picture’ winners from our history:
1998 – Shakespeare in Love
1997 – Titanic
1996 – The English Patient
1995 – Braveheart
1994 – Forrest Gump (took place in the 1950s-present day)
1993 – Schindler’s List
1992 – Unforgiven
1990 – Dances with Wolves
Only in 1999 with ‘American Beauty’ and 1991 with ‘Silence of the Lambs’ was there a film taking place entirely within 30 years of when it was released. ‘Forrest Gump’ of course could fall anywhere since it relied heavily on history to tell its story.
The 1980s also had a few ‘Best Picture’ films taking place in the past.
1987 – The Last Emperor
1986 – Platoon
1985 – Out of Africa
1984 – Amadeus
1982 – Gandhi
1981 – Chariots of Fire
When we move back to the 1970s, the films taking place in the past are recent enough. The 1978 winner ‘The Deer Hunter’ spanned from the late 1960s until the present day. The 1975 winner ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is another winner that took place only about ten years prior. Both ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Godfather Part II’ take place in the 1940s and 1950s, respectively. The only other historical ‘Best Picture’ winners from the decade were ‘The Sting’ and ‘Patton.’
The trend of historical films winning ‘Best Picture’ continues all the way back until the beginning of the Academy Awards. Classics like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Ben-Hur’, ‘Hamlet’ and others were winners taking place in a more antiquated time.
So does a film taking place in the past with a historical connotation have a better chance at winning ‘Best Picture’? Not necessarily. Although it happens very frequently it never means the film is any better than one taking place in the present. The historical pictures that win are always strong and the fact they that took place in the past is just a coincidence. Their stories needed to be told and they happened to be ones from a long time ago.
To see a full list of winners, check out the Academy Awards History