Movies That Won the ‘Big Five’ Oscars (& Others That Came Close)


The Oscars began in 1929, and since its inception, there have only ever been 3 films in history to sweep all 5 major awards categories. The five major categories are Best PictureBest Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress.

Why is Oscar buzz so important? Simply put, Oscars mean big business … even a Best Picture nomination can increase box office sales exponentially. Just look at 2015’s Cream which made 65% of its $ 36 million in box office sales after its Best Picture nomination was announced. Similarly, in the year 2000, American Beauty made 43% of its $ 130 million box office earnings after it was announced as a Best Picture contender.

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It is an accomplishment in itself to win any one of the Big Five categories at the awards, let alone all five at once, especially since so many worthwhile films go unnoticed by the Academy altogether. What did these movies do right that lead to their triumph? The one common denominator amongst each of the 3 films is the lead actor and lead actress are in opposition to one another. This in a sense makes each act a stand-alone performance, rather than one of them playing more of a supporting role to the other. Of course, the expertly adapted screenplays, superior direction, and general likability of the film certainly contributed as well. Here is the list of movies that won the “Big Five” Oscars and a few others that came close.

Related: Explained: The Difference Between the Oscar’s Best Picture and the Audience’s Favorite Ones


It Happened One Night (1934)


it-happened-one-night-ellie-peter
A Frank Capra Production

Frank Capra directs this witty romantic comedy, which subsequently became the blueprint for all to follow. It stars Claudette Colbert as spoiled socialite Ellie Andrews and Clark Gable as Peter Warne the wayward newsman who uses her exclusive story to win back his job. The pair travel to New York City together where Ellie is headed to see her husband (which is more of a jab at her disapproving father than a real romance) and butt heads every step of the way, but also come to realize they can not live without each other. It Happened One Night is the first movie in history to have won all “Big Five” Oscars. Interestingly, both lead actors were nominated for 3 awards throughout their careers but took home their sole trophy for It Happened One Night.


One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (1975)


One Flew over the cuckoos nest
Fantasy Films

One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest is based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same name. In the film, Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a convict who is transferred from a prison farm to a mental institution for observation. McMurphy assumes the psych ward will be an easy ride compared to the farm; however, he is mistaken. The tyrannical Nurse Ratchet is a ruthless disciplinarian who keeps her patients in line through means of abuse, medication, and electroshock therapy. Randle is unwilling to kowtow to the authority which puts them at odds for most of the movie. Best Director winner Milos Forman also won Best Director for 1984’s Amadeus which won four of five of the major awards. The Netflix series Ratched is based on Kesey’s source material as well.


Silence of the Lambs (1991)


Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins Silence of the Lambs
Strong Heart Productions

The screenplay for Silence of the Lambs was adapted from Thomas Harris’s novel of the same name. The film recounts the story of a serial killer called “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine), who the FBI is actively pursuing. Young FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist turned cannibalistic killer, in hopes that Lecter will profile Buffalo Bill. Agent Starling visits Lecter at the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In a game of quid pro quo, Starling exchanges personal details of her life for help with the investigation. As Starling and Lecter gain rapport, he gives her pertinent information about the killer bringing her closer to him than she had imagined. Anthony Hopkins took home the Best Actor trophy despite having only 16 minutes of screen time throughout the film. The movie inspired the spin-off series, Clarice.


The Kings Speech (2010)


the-kings-speech
Momentum Pictures

The Kings Speech won four of five of the major categories, missing only Best Actress. The film did very well at the box office as well, earning $ 414 million worldwide. Based on the true account of King George VI and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, it recounts how Logue helped the King overcome a terrible stammer and the friendship that developed between the two men as a result.

American Beauty (2000)


american-beauty-big-5-oscars

While the premise of the movie is no doubt problematic — especially in light of abuse allegations against star Kevin SpaceyAmerican Beauty remains a beautifully written satire on suburban life. It follows Lester Burnham (Spacey) as a middle-aged man who becomes disenchanted with his home and work life and yearns for fresh experiences. As such, Burnham begins living life on his terms despite the consequences. While nominated for all the prestigious five awards, American Beauty walked away with four of them: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor.

Gone with the Wind (1939)


Scarlet O'hara and Mammy Gone with the Wind
Selznick International Pictures

Gone with the Wind is an epic civil war drama centered on spoiled debutant Scarlett O’Hara (Vivian Leigh). The film follows her throughout her tribulations during the Civil War and reconstruction era and her turbulent love affairs with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Warning: The film is presented as originally released in 1939 and portrays a romanticized view of the South at that point in history. The film glorifies slavery and is sympathetic to the confederate cause. The film was nominated for all the major five awards, and ultimately took home four of them: Best Picture (at that time it was Outstanding Production), Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

Forrest Gump (1994)


Forrest-Gump
Paramount Pictures

Forrest Gump is a heartfelt drama chronicling the life of an intellectually challenged boy into manhood. Having been raised by his mother to believe he is no different from his peers, Forrest lives his life as such. The film follows his adventures throughout life and the people and experiences he encounters along the way. One steadfast companion throughout his life and the film is his childhood friend Jenny who is battling her inner demons. Forrest Gump had a slow start at the box office earning nearly half its production budget ($ 55 million) during opening weekend. After 7 months in theaters, however, its earnings had increased to $ 330 million (domestically), making Forrest Gump one of the most popular sleeper hits of all time.

Related: Tom Hanks Helped Pay For Some Forrest Gump Scenes Out Of His Own Pocket

La La Land (2017)


La-La-Land-2
Summit Entertainment

The most recent movie nominated for all five of the major awards was La La Land in 2016. Despite being nominated for all 5 categories, it only won Best Actress and Best Director. The film stars Ryan Gosling as jazz pianist Sebastian who falls in love with aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone). The film follows the pair as they fall in love while simultaneously trying to reconcile their career aspirations. In what is quite possibly the most awkward moment in Oscar history, La La Land was mistakenly announced as the Best Picture winner due to an envelope blunderwith the rightful winner being Moonlight.

Honorable Mention: A Star is Born (2018)


Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in a star is born
Warner Bros.

In the fourth iteration of the Hollywood classic, A Star is Born Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine a seasoned rock star winding down his career. While on tour, he discovers – and subsequently falls in love with — struggling singer / songwriter Ally played by Lady Gaga. Just as Ally’s career is taking off and their relationship is in full bloom, Jackson begins a losing battle with his inner demons. The film was nominated for all 5 of the major categories but was edged out by the competition on all accounts. It deserves a place on the list as it marks Cooper’s directorial debut and Gaga’s breakthrough role. Not to mention it is a Hollywood staple.



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