Mel Gibson has scored a critical and commercial success with “Hacksaw Ridge,” his comeback film as a director. This riveting World War II drama tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector working as a medic who refused to carry a weapon. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving dozens of lives during the Battle of Okinawa.
As per the predictions of our Oscar experts, the film is a strong contender both above and below-the-line. Indeed, “Hacksaw Ridge” could well reap a Best Picture bid. And, should it prevail, it will be the 17th war movie to do so in the 88-year history of the Academy Awards.
It’s no surprise that war movies have done so well at the Oscars. They provide everything a voter would want to see for range, impact, and empathy: heroism, toughness, surprise, suffering, and death. Let’s take a look back at the 16 such films to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Be sure to cast your vote for the best of the best in our poll at the bottom of the post.
At the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1928, the Best Picture winner was “Wings.” It defeated “The Racket” and “Seventh Heaven.” The film was about two World War I fighter pilots in love with the same woman. It only had one other nomination that year and won for Best Engineering Effects.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” was the champ in 1930, defeating “The Big House,” “Disraeli,” “The Divorcee,” and “The Love Parade.” The film, based on Erich Remarque‘s novel, is a harrowing account of World War I seen from the eyes of the German soldiers. Besides the top prize, its only other Oscar win was for Director (Lewis Milestone). Its two losses were for Cinematography and Screenplay.
Adapted from one of the best-selling novels of all time by Margaret Mitchell, “Gone with the Wind” is a romantic, historical tale set during the American Civil War on a Southern plantation. It won the Academy Award as Best Picture of 1939, defeating “Dark Victory,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Love Affair,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Ninotchka,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Wuthering Heights.” Its seven other Oscar victories were for Director (Victor Fleming), Actress (Vivien Leigh), Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Film Editing. Its five losses were for Actor (Clark Gable), Supporting Actress (Olivia de Havilland), Original Score, Sound, and Visual Effects.
An unassuming woman in rural England is the main character in “Mrs. Miniver,” but it is how her life is touched by World War II in various ways that forms the plot. It won the Academy Award as Best Picture of 1942, defeating “The Invaders,” “King’s Row,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Pied Piper,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Random Harvest,” “The Talk of the Town,” “Wake Island,” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Its overall tally was six Oscars: Picture, Director (William Wyler), Actress (Greer Garson), Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright), Cinematography, and Screenplay. Its losses were for Actor (Walter Pidgeon), Supporting Actor (Henry Travers), Supporting Actress (May Whitty), Film Editing, Sound, and Special Effects.
One of the all-time classics, “Casablanca,” won at the 1943 Academy Awards. It defeated “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “The Human Comedy,” “In Which We Serve,” “Madame Curie,” “The More the Merrier,” “The Ox-Bow Incident,” “The Song of Bernadette,” and “Watch on the Rhine.” Set during World War II, the movie is about a man who must choose between a past lover or helping her new husband escape Morocco to fight the Nazis. The film only won three Oscars: Picture, Director (Michael Curtiz), and Screenplay. It lost out for Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Cinematography, Film Editing, and Original Score.
The 1946 film “The Best Years of Our Lives” focused on three U.S. servicemen readjusting to life back at home after World War II. It won the Academy Award as Best Picture, defeating “Henry V,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Razor’s Edge,” and “The Yearling.” Its six other Oscar wins were for Director (William Wyler), Actor (Fredric March), Supporting Actor (Harold Russell), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, and Original Score. Its only loss that year was for Sound.
Adapted from James Jones‘ best-selling novel, “From Here to Eternity” was about three soldiers stationed in Hawaii and the events leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack before World War II. It prevailed as Best Picture of 1953, defeating “Julius Caesar,” “The Robe,” “Roman Holiday,” and “Shane.” It won eight Oscars out of 13 nominations, including Picture, Director (Fred Zinnemann), Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra), Supporting Actress (Donna Reed), Cinematography, Film Editing, Screenplay, and Sound. Its losses were for Actor (Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster), Actress (Deborah Kerr), Costume Design, and Original Score.
While a fictional tale, “The Bridge on the River Kwai” was based on true-life events surrounding British prisoners at a Japanese prison camp during World War II. It prevailed with seven of eight bids in 1957: Picture, Director (David Lean), Actor (Alec Guinness), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Original Score. Its only loss was for Supporting Actor (Sessue Hayakawa). For Best Picture, it defeated “Peyton Place,” “Sayonara,” “12 Angry Men,” and “Witness for the Prosecution.”
The sprawling British epic “Lawrence of Arabia” was the Best Picture of 1962, defeating “The Longest Day,” “The Music Man,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was the true story of T.E. Lawrence and his experiences in Arabia during World War I. It won a total of seven Academy Awards: Picture, Director (David Lean), Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Original Score, and Sound. It lost out for Actor (Peter O’Toole), Supporting Actor (Omar Sharif), and Adapted Screenplay.
“Patton” was a biopic of U.S. General George S. Patton and his World War II exploits. It won as 1970’s Best Picture, defeating “Airport,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “Love Story,” and “M*A*S*H.” While George C. Scott won Best Actor, he refused the honor citing his disapproval of the voting system. The film also won for Best Director (Franklin Schaffner), Art Direction, Film Editing, Original Screenplay, and Sound. It lost for Cinematography, Original Score, and Visual Effects.
Set during the Vietnam War, “The Deer Hunter” told the stories of three steelworkers at home and in the war. It won in 1978 as Best Picture, defeating “Coming Home,” “Heaven Can Wait,” “Midnight Express,” and “An Unmarried Woman.” In addition, it prevailed for Director (Michael Cimino), Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Film Editing, and Sound. Out of nine overall bids, it lost for Actor (Robert De Niro), Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.
“Platoon” took the top prize as 1986 Best Picture against “Children of a Lesser God,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “The Mission,” and “A Room with a View.” It was about the loss of innocence during the Vietnam War and was centered around a U.S. infantryman played by Charlie Sheen. It triumphed in four races: Picture, Director (Oliver Stone), Film Editing, and Sound. It lost out as Supporting Actor (Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay.
“Schindler’s List” finally brought Steven Spielberg his first two Oscars in 1993 as both director and producer of this Best Picture winner.The black-and-white film told the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman during World War II who employed many Jewish refugees and saved their lives in the process. It defeated “The Fugitive,” “In the Name of the Father,” “The Piano,” and “The Remains of the Day” for Best Picture and also won Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Original Score. It lost Actor (Liam Neeson), Supporting Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound.
The 1995 Oscar winner as Best Picture was “Braveheart,” which defeated “Apollo 13,” “Babe,” “Il Postino,” and “Sense and Sensibility.” The film told the true story of William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior in the First War of Scottish Independence. Out of 10 overall Academy Award nominations, it won for Picture, Director (Mel Gibson), Cinematography, Makeup, and Sound Editing. The losses were for Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, Original Screenplay, and Sound Mixing.
“The English Patient” won the Oscar as Best Picture of 1996, defeating “Fargo,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Secrets and Lies,” and “Shine.” Based on Michael Ondaatje‘s novel, it is set before and during World War II and tells the tale of a critically burned man who relates his life story to a nurse. It triumphed nine times at the Academy Awards, including Picture, Director (Anthony Minghella), Supporting Actress (Juliette Binoche), Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, and Sound. It lost for Actor (Ralph Fiennes), Actress (Kristin Scott Thomas), and Adapted Screenplay (Minghella).
The most recent war movie to win Best Picture was “The Hurt Locker” in 2009, which defeated “Avatar,” “The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “An Education,” “Inglorious Basterds,” “Precious,” “A Serious Man,” “Up,” and “Up in the Air.” Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film was about a three-man bomb disposal team in the Iraq War. It prevailed at the Oscars in six out of nine categories (Picture, Director, Film Editing, Original Screenplay, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing). It lost Actor (Jeremy Renner), Cinematography, and Original Score.
Be sure to make your Oscar predictions. How do you think “Hacksaw Ridge” will fare with academy voters? Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how this film is faring in our Oscar odds. You can keep changing your predictions right up until just before nominations are announced on January 24 at 5:00 am PT/8:00 am ET. Be sure to read our contest rules. And join in the fierce debate over the Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our forums.