The winner of Best Picture at the Oscars is perhaps the most debated award in showbiz, considering it is hailed as the most important one. Everyone has a year where they feel the Academy got it wrong, and another year where they hit the nail on the head. The 2000s were rife for debate, with epic showdowns like “The Hurt Locker” vs. “Avatar,” “Million Dollar Baby” vs. “The Aviator” and of course, “Crash” vs. “Brokeback Mountain.”
Enough time has passed where Oscar nuts can now look back on the 2000s with some perspective and separate the wheat from the chaff. The decade included wins for medieval epics like “Gladiator” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” magical crowd-pleasers like “Chicago” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” and surprisingly just one biopic, “A Beautiful Mind.” Meanwhile, half of the decade’s winners are violent dramas with a message — “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash,” “The Departed,” “No Country for Old Men” and “The Hurt Locker.”
So which Best Picture winner is your absolute favorite of the 2000s? Reexamine each film and then be sure to vote in our poll below.
“Gladiator” (2000) — Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” is a classic kind of Best Picture winner, a historical epic filled to the brim with gorgeous production design, meticulously-designed costumes and bold performances. The film stars Russell Crowe as Maximus, a respected Roman general who is selected to be the heir to the Emperor instead of the Emperor’s son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), which leads to an epic battle in which Maximus must prove his worth by winning gladiator games at Rome’s Colosseum. The film was nominated for 12 Oscars and took home five, including Best Actor for Crowe.
“A Beautiful Mind” (2001) — “A Beautiful Mind,” the second Best Picture winner in a row to star Russell Crowe, was another typical winner in this category — the sentimental biopic. This one centers on John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who is asked to be a codebreaker for the Pentagon. This leads to Nash developing paranoid schizophrenia, causing much trouble between him and his wife (Jennifer Connelly). “A Beautiful Mind” won four Oscars, including Best Director for Ron Howard and Best Supporting Actress for Connelly, from eight nominations.
“Chicago” (2002) — “Chicago,” directed by Rob Marshall, was the first musical since 1968’s “Oliver!” to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Voters were not able to resist the old razzle dazzle of Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) as a pair of accused murders who seek exoneration from the enterprising attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). An adaptation of the 1975 Broadway show, “Chicago” took home six Oscars from 13 nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Zeta-Jones.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) — “The Return of the King,” Peter Jackson’s epic conclusion to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, was the first and still only fantasy film to win Best Picture. The movie features Frodo (Elijah Wood) finally reaching Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) battle Sauron’s evil forces. Earning 11 Oscars from 11 nominations, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” tied the record for most Oscar wins in history, the very definition of a juggernaut Best Picture winner.
“Million Dollar Baby” (2004) — Clint Eastwood offered his take on the boxing genre with “Million Dollar Baby,” a harrowing drama about Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a waitress who hopes to be a big-time boxer. Eastwood co-stars as her trainer, Frankie Dunn, who must help Maggie find happiness even when things take a turn for the worse. After losing to films like “The Aviator” and “Sideways” in precursor races, “Million Dollar Baby” swept in at the last minute and won where it counted, winning four Oscars from seven nominations, including Best Director for Eastwood, Best Actress for Swank and Best Supporting Actor for Morgan Freeman, as Frankie’s confidant “Scrap Iron.”
“Crash” (2005) — “Crash” has become one of the most maligned Best Picture winners, in part because it beat Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed queer romance “Brokeback Mountain.” The film has an all-star cast that includes Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe and Ludacris, whose characters’ lives all intersect and contain elements of overt racism. The movie took home three Oscars from five nominations, including Best Original Screenplay for director Paul Haggis and co-writer Robert Moresco.
“The Departed” (2006) — “The Departed” was Martin Scorsese’s long overdue coronation at the Oscars. The Boston-set crime drama stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Jack Nicholson in a cat-and-mouse game between the Irish mob and the police to discover moles and infiltrators secretly planted in each group. “The Departed” won four of its five Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Scorsese, at long last, and Best Adapted Screenplay for William Monahan.
“No Country for Old Men” (2007) — Joel and Ethan Coen’s Western morality tale “No Country for Old Men” was the second consecutive “cat-and-mouse” thriller to win Best Picture. Josh Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who discovers $2 million in cash and decides to keep it for himself, only to find the psychotic hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) chasing after him, hellbent on getting the money back. The Coen brothers earned Oscars for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay while Bardem won Best Supporting Actor — four Oscars in total from eight nominations.
“Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) — “Slumdog Millionaire” was a return to feel-good, easy-to-love Best Picture winners. While not necessarily light — the film features young Jamal Malik growing up in a slum and getting involved in child trafficking — there is a feeling of hope that persists throughout, leading to his stint on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” One of the most unique Best Picture winners, “Slumdog Millionaire” won eight Oscars from 10 nominations, including Best Director for Danny Boyle and Best Adapted Screenplay for Simon Beaufoy.
“The Hurt Locker” (2009) — The ultimate story of David beating Goliath was Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” with its small budget and $14 million box office, winning over “Avatar,” James Cameron’s fantasy epic that became the highest grossing movie of all time. Bigelow’s film chronicles the life of U.S. Army Ranger William James (Jeremy Renner) and his Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in the Iraq War, and all the psychological effects that result from their life-threatening job. From nine nominations “The Hurt Locker” earned six Oscars, most notably Best Director for Bigelow, who became the first woman to win the award.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in this and the other top races. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories. Then take a look at the most up-to-date odds before you make make your Oscar nomination predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23.