And the Oscar Went To… British Best Picture Winners Through the Years

Image courtesy of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominations for the 90th annual Academy Awards earlier this week. Among the Best Picture nominees are British films Darkest HourDunkirk and Phantom Thread. If recent award show results are any indication, it’s more likely that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will nab the ceremony's top honor. That being said 3 Billboards has a bit of a British pedigree in that its writer/director and producer are from the UK.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s ceremony, the British film industry has had a pretty impressive track record in the Best Picture category. And to prove that point, we’ve compiled a list of some of past winners of this most coveted of Oscar statuettes.

Hamlet (1948)

Directed, adapted by and starring Laurence Oliver, Hamlet was the first British film to win the Best Picture Oscar. To this date, it is still the only Shakespearian adaptation to have done so.

Hamlet won in four out of the seven categories for which it was nominated – Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Costume Design and Art Direction/Set Decoration.


Tom Jones (1963)

Henry Fielding's classic novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling was the basis for this rollicking comedy adventure. It starred Albert Finney who was nominated for his performance in the titular role. Tom Jones competed in ten categories and came away with four Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director for Tony Richardson, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Score.


Oliver! (1968)

Inspired by the Charles Dickens novelOliver Twist, this musical holds the distinction of being the only G-rated film (since the installation of the MPAA rating system in 1968) to receive an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was also the last movie musical to win the honor until Chicago managed to do so over three decades later.

Nominated for eleven Oscars, Oliver! brought home five trophies - Best Picture, Best Director for Carol Reed, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound and Best Score of a Musical Picture. Onna White was also given an honorary Oscar for her outstanding choreography, an example of which you can enjoy below.


Chariots of Fire (1981)

This Best Picture winner tells the true story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics; Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), a devout Scottish Christian, and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), an English Jew who races to overcome prejudice.

Besides Best Picture, this film won three more honors - Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Best Costume Design and Best Original Score by Vangelis. (You may remember the instrumental theme song also reached the top of the US pop charts.)


Gandhi (1982)

Based on the inspiring life of Indian independence leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, this film follows his journey from a young lawyer ejected from a South African train for riding in a whites-only compartment to his assassination in 1948.

This epic biopic nabbed awards in eight out of eleven nominated categories, including Best Actor in a Leading Role for Ben Kingsley, Best Director for Richard Attenborough, Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen and Best Cinematography. Please note: the clip I've selected features a little known actor at the time, now three time Oscar winner, Daniel Day-Lewis


Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Nominated for a whopping thirteen Oscars, this period rom-com scored an upset Best Picture victory over the more serious WWII drama, Saving Private Ryan.

The story of an imaginary love affair between a forbidden female actor and the Bard during the time he was writing Romeo and Juliet earned Gwyneth Paltrow the Best Actress in a Leading Role award. Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for her brief, yet memorable, turn as Queen Elizabeth I. The seven Oscar total is rounded out by wins the Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design categories.


Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

This ultimately uplifting tale tells the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) a young man from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When he successfully advances through all the game’s levels, he is accused of cheating.

In a clever device of storytelling, Jamal recounts events from his past and how they contributed to him being able to answer each question. Slumdog was found to be best in eight categories - Picture, Director for Danny Boyle, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score and that catchy Original Song "Jai Ho" that can be heard in the Bollywood-style dance sequence at the end of the movie.


The King’s Speech (2010)

In this historical drama, The King’s Speech charts the relationship between King Edward VI (Colin Firth) and his speech coach Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) as it progresses from a therapeutic association to a true friendship.  

Nominated for twelve Academy Awards, it won in four of the major categories – Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Colin Firth, Best Achievement in Directing for Tom Hooper and Best Original Screenplay. The writer, David Seidler, reportedly started writing this story for the screen in the 1980’s, but in deference to The Queen Mother, postponed finishing it until her death in 2002.


How many of these films have you seen? What do you think the chances might be for another British Best Picture this year? Please share your memories of these past winners and your projections for the Oscars this year in the comments section.