While there’s a tendency for critics and moviegoing audiences to mentally separate big-budget blockbusters from the kind of movies associated with the Oscars, they’re often not so different.
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Not only are ‘blockbusters’ like Black Panther and Joker occasionally honored at the Academy Awards, but the increased public profile they afford their nominees often result in hugely inflated interest at the box office.
Updated on March 29th, 2022, by Rhys McGinley: The Academy Awards is not known for its rewarding high-profile blockbusters and genre pieces with Best Picture nominations, much less Best Picture wins. Look at the likes of The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, or Spider-Man: No Way Home, none of which got a Best Picture nomination when they very well could have. However, there are a good handful of Best Picture winners that have absolutely crushed at the box office, many earning ways over $200 million, two even managing to reach the titanic achievement of $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
15 Shakespeare In Love (1998)
Box Office: $289,317,794
For a long, while it was kind of cool to hate on Shakespeare In Love, a romantic period drama that follows William Shakespeare as he finds his muse in the form of Gweneth Paltrow’s Viola.
The movie, however, is critically acclaimed overall and did a wonderful job at cleaning up not only at the box office – meaning nearly $300 million from a $25 million budget – but at the Oscars. It rather wrongly beat out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture and took home six other Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Actress.
14 The Departed (2006)
Box Office: $291,463,034
Somehow, someway, Martin Scorsese only has one Oscar to his name, with that Oscar someway coming from his remake of Infernal Affairs, The Departed – a great movie that is far from Scorsese’s best work.
Following the story of an undercover agent and a spy opposing one another from inside the other’s organization, the film is full of great performances and on-the-nose imagery and tripled its $90 million budget at the box office. The film beat out the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and Letters From Iwo Jima for the big award at the 79th Academy Awards.
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13 A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Box Office: $313,542,341
Following Russel Crowe in his award-winning turn as asocial genius John Nash, A Beautiful Mind won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but may not be the most memorable that the award has to offer.
The movie did very well at the box office but did nowhere near the amount of its fellow Best Picture nominee Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, which has stood the test of time better than this moving, well-crafted true story. that takes a good look into mental illness
12 Chicago (2002)
Box Office: $306,776,732
The hit crime musical, Chicago, got itself six Academy Awards at the 2003 ceremony and also did a pretty great job at the box office, taking in over $300 million alongside all of its awards and fan adoration.
The Broadway adaptation follows Velma and Roxie, each of whom is a killer, as they vie for fame amidst the media circus of their murder cases. The movie is a great spectacle at the very least and managed to beat out the likes of The Pianist, The Two Towers and Gangs Of New York for the Best Picture prize.
11 Green Book (2018)
Box Office: $321,752,656
Criticized by many for its twee, saccharine look at race relations in the 1960s, Green Book’s Best Picture win was baffling at the 91st Academy Awards, beating out the likes of BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, and Roma at the ceremony.
Nevertheless, it clearly struck a chord with the Academy – as well as audiences in general – earning itself an impressive 8.2 on IMDb and 78% on Rotten Tomatoes while raking in $328.6 million worldwide.
10 Schindler’s List (1993)
Box Office: $322,161,245
While the Academy is often criticized for shockingly and wrongfully handing films like Green Book the award for Best Picture, it does get it right on occasion (at least in terms of picking a winner amongst the nominees they chose), such as when Schindler’s List won the award in 1994.
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Following the story of Oskar Schindler as he begins to save his Jewish employees amidst World War II. Based on the novel Schindler’s Ark, Stephen Spielberg’s sprawling drama has raked in a lot of money at the box office, and won itself seven Oscars, including both Best Director and Best Picture.
9 Rain Man (1988)
Box Office: $354,825,435
Considering it was released back in 1988, Rain Man’s incredible performance at the box office is a feat made even more impressive given that its $354.8 million gross doesn’t even account for inflation.
Telling the story of two estranged brothers who come together in the wake of their father’s death, Barry Levinson’s classic comedy-drama has since achieved iconic status, with its central performances from Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman standing out as the movie’s highlight.
8 American Beauty (1999)
Box Office: $356,296,601
Marking one of the most impressive directorial debuts of all time – both critically and financially – 1999’s American Beauty was the first film from Sam Mendes, who’d go on to direct modern classics Skyfall and 1917.
Pairing a smart, layered script with gorgeous cinematography and striking visuals, Kevin Spacey’s Oscar-winning performance serves as the centerpiece of American Beauty, which explores themes of identity, sexuality, frustration, repression, and the meaning of beauty in a poignant fashion. The movie clearly struck a chord with audiences, too, grossing over $350 million worldwide.
7 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Box Office: $378,410,542
Something of a phenomenon when it was released back in 2008, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire chronicles the tragic life of a poverty-stricken Indian boy, Jamal, and explores how he came to be a winning contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
With a star-making lead performance from Dev Patel (who did not get an acting nomination in this Best Picture winner), as well as a memorable soundtrack and a tremendous script, Slumdog Millionaire received a staggering eight Academy Awards and was an unexpected box office hit, grossing almost $380 million worldwide.
6 Dances With Wolves (1990)
Box Office: $424,208,848
The directorial debut of actor Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves, sees Costner’s Lt. John J. Dunbar befriend a tribe of Sioux after he’s posted in the remote Fort Sedgwick, bringing him into conflict with his fellow officers.
With an impressive seven Oscar wins under its belt, Dances with Wolves far surpassed its predicted popularity, grossing $424.2 million worldwide and becoming instantly iconic in the process. In addition to its touching story and great performances, the movie’s beautiful score and stunning cinematography were praised by critics.
5 The King’s Speech (2010)
Box Office: $427,374,317
One of the most highly acclaimed Best Picture winners of the past ten years, The King’s Speech earned an impressive twelve Oscar nominations at the 83rd Academy Awards.
Telling the story of King George VI’s struggle to overcome his stammer with the help of a vocal coach, The King’s Speech’s tight script, attention to detail and triumphant performances were among the very best of the year, resulting in one of the most memorable – and profitable – Best Picture winners in a long time. In saying that, The King’s Speech garnered nowhere near the amount of money as some other Best Picture nominees in the 2010s.
4 Gladiator (2000)
Box Office: $465,380,382
Arguably the definitive – and best – sword-and-sandals movie ever made, Ridley Scott’s epic masterpiece Gladiator follows Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe, who’s betrayed by the cruel Emperor Commodus, who usurps his own father as the ruler of Rome.
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Refusing to kneel to Commodus, Maximus’ family is killed, and he’s soon sold into slavery – where he rises in the ranks as a fierce, vengeful gladiator. Earning just shy of half a billion dollars at the box office, as well as five Academy Awards, Gladiator is undoubtedly a modern classic.
3 Forrest Gump (1994)
Box Office: $678,226,133
Famously beating out all-time greats Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption for Best Picture at the 1995 Academy Awards, the infinitely quotable Forrest Gump rubbed salt in the wound by eclipsing both pictures at the box office – earning more than double what the other two made combined.
The movie follows the life of its titular character, whose good nature and unwavering optimism has a tremendous ripple effect on some of the 20th Century’s most important historical events.
2 The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
Box Office: $1,146,346,214
The culminating chapter of what’s quite possibly the greatest movie trilogy ever made, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was rewarded for the entire series’ accomplishments at the 76th Academy Awards, where it took home a record-breaking eleven statues in every category for which it was nominated.
With the fantasy genre typically being snubbed by the Academy, The Return of the King’s victory was truly ground-breaking, and the entire series has since become one of the most popular franchises of all time – with its final chapter alone grossing an incredible $1.12 billion at the box office.
1 Titanic (1997)
Box Office: $2,201,647,264
The classic period tearjerker from box office magnet James Cameron, Titanic’s insane $2.187 billion gross at the box office was admittedly boosted by the film’s 2012 3D re-release, which honored the 100th anniversary of the real-life tragedy.
Even without this, however, Titanic was still a box office juggernaut when it got released back in 1997, tying with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Ben-Hur for the greatest number of Oscars ever won, at eleven.
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