Oscar history: Will Alejandro G. Inarritu become first director with back-to-back Best Picture winners?

In the 87-year history of the Oscars, no director has had their films win Best Picture two years running. But that could all change with Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu‘s “The Revenant.” He directed last year’s Best Picture champ “Birdman” and took home three Oscars himself for writing, directing and producing. He has the potential to pick up two more trophies this year for producing and directing. 

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Inarritu is only the 18th director to have his films nominated for Best Picture for at least two years in a row. Nine of these claimed the big prize but no director has had back-to-back Best Picture wins.  “The Revenant” is a strong contender in both Picture (second to “Spotlight”) and Director (second to George Miller for “Mad Max: Fury Road”). 

Let’s take a look back at the other directors who made Oscar history. 

Two directors saw their films nominated for Best Picture for three years running: William Wyler (“The Letter,” “The Little Foxes” and “Mrs. Miniver”) from 1940-42 and Peter Jackson with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (“The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King”) from 2001-03.

“Mrs. Miniver” and “Return of the King” were the only ones of those six that won the top Oscar. Wyler’s “The Letter” lost to Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Rebecca” and “The Little Foxes” to John Ford‘s “How Green Was My Valley.”Jackson’s first “Lord of the Rings” film lost to Ron Howard‘s “A Beautiful Mind” and his second to Rob Marshall‘s “Chicago.”

Frank Capra is the only director to have pulled off this double act twice. He first did it with “Lady for a Day” in 1932/33 (lost to Frank Lloyd‘s “Cavalcade”) before helming Best Picture champ “It Happened One Night” in 1934. He directed the 1938 Best Picture winner “You Can’t Take it With You” and was back with “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” in 1939, which was defeated by Victor Fleming‘s adaptation of “Gone With the Wind. “

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The others that have reached this pinnacle are:

Lewis Milestone
“All Quiet on the Western Front” in 1929/30 [winner]
“The Front Page” in 1930/31; lost to Wesley Ruggles’s “Cimarron”

Michael Curtiz
“Yankee Doodle Dandy” in 1942; lost to William Wyler’s “Mrs. Miniver”
“Casablanca” in 1943 [winner]

Henry King
“The Song of Bernadette” in 1943; lost to Michael Curtiz’s “Casablanca”
“Wilson” in 1944; lost to Leo McCarey’s “Going My Way”

Leo McCarey
“Going My Way” in 1944 [winner]
“The Bells of St. Mary’s” in 1945; lost to Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend”

Billy Wilder
“Double Indemnity” in 1944; lost to Leo McCarey’s “Going My Way”
“The Lost Weekend” in 1945 [winner]

Fred Zinnemann
“The Nun’s Story” in 1959; lost to William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur”
“The Sundowners” in 1960; lost to Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment”

Robert Wise
“The Sound of Music” in 1965 [winner]
“The Sand Pebbles” in 1966; lost to Fred Zinnemann’s “A Man For All Seasons”

Norman Jewison
“The Russians are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” in 1966; lost to Fred Zinnemann’s “A Man For All Seasons”
“In the Heat of the Night” in 1967 [winner]

Mike Nichols
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1966; lost to Fred Zinnemann’s “A Man For All Seasons”
“The Graduate” in 1967; lost to Norman Jewison’s “In the Heat of the Night”

Sidney Lumet
“Dog Day Afternoon” in 1975; lost to Miloš Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
“Network” in 1976; lost to John G. Avildsen’s “Rocky”

Steven Spielberg
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981; lost to Hugh Hudson’s “Chariots of Fire”
“E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982; lost to Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi”

James Ivory
“Howard’s End” in 1992; lost to Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”
“The Remains of the Day” in 1993; lost to Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”

Lasse Hallström
“The Cider House Rules” in 1999; lost to Sam Mendes’s “American Beauty”
“Chocolat” in 2000; lost to Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator”

Clint Eastwood
“Mystic River” in 2003; lost to Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
“Million Dollar Baby” in 2004 [winner]

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Photo Credits: “Birdman” (Fox Searchlight); “The Revenant” (Fox).

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