The 1980s were a big era for the “epic” movie winning Best Picture at the Oscars. “Chariots of Fire,” “Gandhi,” “Out of Africa,” “Platoon” and “The Last Emperor” all share that grand-scale style of film that tends to be rewarded decade after decade at the Oscars. The ’80s also included just as many intense character studies winning Best Picture, including “Ordinary People,” “Terms of Endearment” and “Amadeus,” while others were on the lighter side, like “Rain Man” and “Driving Miss Daisy.”
In this divisive decade, which Best Picture-winning film remains your favorite? Let us take a look back on each winner and be sure to vote in our poll below.
“Ordinary People” (1980) — “Ordinary People,” Robert Redford‘s directing debut, has gotten a bad rap over the years for beating Martin Scorsese‘s “Raging Bull,” but it remains one of the most moving films to win Best Picture. The film tells the story of the Jarrett family and their struggle to get over the death of their eldest son, particularly for surviving son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton). “Ordinary People” was nominated for six Oscars and won four, for Best Picture, Director for Redford, Supporting Actor for Hutton and Adapted Screenplay.
“Chariots of Fire” (1981) — While now more known for its iconic “Titles” theme by Vangelis, Hugh Hudson‘s “Chariots of Fire” truly represents the Academy’s love for grandeur in its top category. This historical drama centers on two runners training to compete in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. The film earned four Oscar wins from seven nominations, including Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Costume Design and Original Score.
“Gandhi” (1982) — “Gandhi” was the next historical epic to win Best Picture, centering on the legendary Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi, played by Ben Kingsley. The film chronicles his journey to become the leader of India’s movement for independence from Britain’s reign over the country. “Gandhi” was nominated for a whopping 11 Oscars and took home eight, including Best Picture, Director for Richard Attenborough, Actor for Kingsley, Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design and Film Editing.
“Terms of Endearment” (1983) — The quintessential mother-daughter film, “Terms of Endearment” is one of few female-led films without a male co-lead to win Best Picture. The tearjerking film tells the tale of the fraught relationship between Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter Emma (Debra Winger) and their various loves and losses. The movie won five Oscars from 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Director for James L. Brooks, Actress for MacLaine, Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson and Adapted Screenplay.
“Amadeus” (1984) — While not exactly true to history, “Amadeus” is nonetheless one of the most rousing biopics to win Best Picture. About the legendary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and rival composer Antonio Salieri‘s (F. Murray Abraham) jealousy over the former’s talent, the film takes liberties in crafting a compelling character study about the highs and lows of being an artist. The film won eight Oscars from 11 noms: for Best Picture, Director for Milos Forman, Actor for Abraham, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup and Sound.
“Out of Africa” (1985) — “Out of Africa” was the next sweeping epic to win Best Picture. The film stars Meryl Streep as Baroness Karen von Blixen, who lives in Kenya where she has a passionate love affair with Denys (Robert Redford), a local big-game hunter. The movie earned seven Oscars from 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Director for Sydney Pollack, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Original Score and Sound.
“Platoon” (1986) — Oliver Stone‘s harrowing drama “Platoon” is one of the defining films about the Vietnam War. Centering on Private First Class Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), the film delves into the horrific barbarities inherent in war, memorably accompanied by the haunting “Adagio for Strings.” From eight nominations “Platoon” earned four Oscars, for Best Picture, Director for Stone, Film Editing and Sound.
“The Last Emperor” (1987) — Another Best Picture-winning epic came in the form of “The Last Emperor,” about the tumultuous life of Puyi, the titular last emperor of China. The film explores Puyi’s entire life, from his coronation as a toddler to his eventual political imprisonment to his quiet final days. “The Last Emperor” won all nine of its Oscar nominations, including: Best Picture, Director for Bernardo Bertolucci, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score and Sound.
“Rain Man” (1988) — “Rain Man” is one of the rare cases of a film winning Best Picture and also being the #1 film of the year at the box office. The crowd-pleasing dramedy is about young yuppie Charlie (Tom Cruise) whose father leaves his fortune to his other son, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic savant who has a knack for counting cards. The movie earned four Oscars from eight nominations, for Best Picture, Director for Barry Levinson, Actor for Hoffman and Original Screenplay.
“Driving Miss Daisy” (1989) — Bruce Beresford‘s “Driving Miss Daisy” was another crowd-pleasing film to win Best Picture, telling the story of elderly white woman Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) and her decades-long friendship with her black chauffeur, Hoke (Morgan Freeman), amid the racial tensions of the Deep South. The film won four Oscars from nine nominations, for Best Picture, Actress for Tandy, Adapted Screenplay and Makeup. It is one of four films to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination.