Who started the Oscars? It all began with studio king Louis B. Mayer, co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). On a January day in 1927, he invited 36 key film industry figures to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with the goal of establishing a group to honor each year’s best motion picture work. Thus the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded. The celebrated actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. took on the job of the organization’s first president.
An early committee of the Academy was established to consider instituting what were then called Awards of Merit. The seven-person group broke the first awards into 12 categories. The inaugural Academy Awards ceremony occurred at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Blossom Room on May 26, 1929. A total of 270 people attended.
How much have the awards, sometimes referred to at the Oscars, evolved? Awards now cover 26 main categories, plus 17 scientific and technical honors, voted on by a total of 8,469 Academy members according to their branches of expertise. Last year, according to Nielsen, 23.6 million people watched the Oscars. Films that win awards and even those that are only nominated add millions if not tens of millions of dollars to their box office totals — usually. These are the Best Picture winners that made the least amount of money.
Last year, responding to criticisms about the lack of diversity both in the Academy Awards and the Academy itself (inspiring the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite), the organization’s directors expanded its membership to include hundreds of non-white and female voters, and encouraged members to take advantage of an Academy unconscious bias training program.
In addition, while current rules allow anywhere from five to ten nominees for the Best Picture award, a full ten will be required effective in 2022.
That will only make the annual debate over who most deserves — or at least who is mostly likely to win — this top prize even more intense. Over the last several decades, the media has offered reams of predictions each year. Often, they handicap directly. From time to time, there are upsets.
One thing remains certain. A large number of the Best Picture winners over the decades remain among the cinema’s greatest creations, from “All Quiet on the Western Front” in 1930, and “Mutiny on the Bounty” in 1936 to “The King’s Speech” in 2011 and “12 Years a Slave” in 2014. On the other hand, here are the 35 greatest movies that should have won an Oscar.
These are the the Academy Awards for Best Picture the year you were born — as long as you’re 91 or younger.