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Best Picture Oscar Winners of the 1950s


In the 1950s, Oscar favored a mix of big-time epics, sunny musicals and dark melodramas for its top award. Here’s a guide to the classic movies that captured the Best Picture Oscar in that decade of American post-war prosperity, along with the losing nominees and the great films that weren’t nominated for Best Picture. Some "losers" have stood the test of time better than the winning film.

'All About Eve' - 1950

Great screen catfight!
20th Century Fox

Bette Davis utters her immortal “fasten your seatbelts” line in this terrific study of scheming Broadway wannabe Eve Harrington, who slowly, ruthlessly and methodically takes over the career and even the personal life of her idol, Davis’ Margot Channing. The greatest cat fight ever committed to film, All About Eve won over the equally brilliant film noir Sunset Boulevard, the political comedy Born Yesterday, the domestic comedy Father of the Bride, and the rip-roaring adventure King Solomon’s Mines. Great snubbed films that year were The Third Man and The Asphalt Jungle


'An American in Paris' - 1951

An American in Paris
Gene Kelly dances and sings his way through this winning story of an American GI in post-war Paris, with 19-year-old Leslie Caron debuting as an adorable mademoiselle. The film is dated but lovely, with an overly long and arty ballet sequence. American in Paris beat out the immortal A Streetcar Named Desire, the epic Quo Vadis?, the romantic melodrama A Place in the Sun and the forgotten Decision Before Dawn. Snubbed were the wonderful African Queen and Death of a Salesman.
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'The Greatest Show on Earth' - 1952

The Greatest Show on Earth
Cecil B. DeMille collaborated with Ringling Brothers for his drama about the lives of circus performers. A fantastic cast of stars - Charlton Heston, Gloria Grahame, Betty Hutton, Jimmy Stewart - carry the story, along with a host of then-famous circus performers playing themselves, including ur-clown Emmett Kelly. Perhaps better suited to the days when the Big Top was a much bigger part of American life, the film won over the classic western High Noon, the beloved Irish village story The Quiet Man, and period pieces Ivanhoe and Moulin Rouge. Snubbed: the big musical Singin’ in the Rain and the tragic Come Back, Little Sheba.
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'From Here to Eternity' - 1953

From Here to Eternity
Columbia Pictures
Featuring a famed screen kiss between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr tossing in the Hawaiian surf, it’s the story of bored military men fighting corruption among the brass in the days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. A big best-selling book made into a big movie, From Here to Eternity featured usually wholesome Donna Reed as a hooker, and beat out the biblical epic The Robe, the charmingly romantic Roman Holiday, classic western Shane and historical epic Julius Caesar. Snubbed: POW drama Stalag 17 and Broadway hit The Moon is Blue.
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'On the Waterfront' - 1954

On the Waterfront
Columbia Pictures
Marlon Brando “coulda been a contender” in this Oscar winner, and in fact, won the Best Actor award for his role in the gritty, realistic drama about mobs and union racketeering on the New York docks. A great film with interesting historical undertones - director Elia Kazan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the red-baiting days, and may have been seeking some sort of moral justification in this tale of a whistle-blower. On the Waterfront beat the marvelous Caine Mutiny, the frontier musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, melodrama The Country Girl, and the romance Three Coins in the Fountain. Snubbed: A Star is Born and Magnificent Obsession.
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'Marty' - 1955

United Artists
This best picture snuck up on everybody. A low-budget, black-and-white sleeper derived from Paddy Chayefsky’s teleplay, Marty features Ernest Borgnine as a lonely, limited Bronx butcher who lives with his overbearing mother. It’s a simple, touching story about the liberation of the human heart and love favoring the plain and simple just as much as the beautiful and bold. This small treasure beat out the wartime comedy/drama Mr. Roberts and three melodramas: Picnic, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, and the Rose Tattoo. Snubbed: Bad Day at Black Rock and East of Eden.
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'Around the World in 80 Days' - 1956

Around the World in 80 Days
United Artists
A charming adventure film that feels like a gorgeous, wide-screen travelogue at times, Around the World in 80 Days is great fun, with urbane David Niven in the lead and Shirley MacLaine shoehorned in to provide a love interest not found in the book. It’s dated by racial characterizations and boss/servant relationships that feel offensive today. An old-time Hollywood spectacle, it won over the luscious musical The King and I, the biblical epic The Ten Commandments, and dramas Giant and Friendly Persuasion. Snubbed: Lust for Life and Bus Stop.
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'The Bridge on the River Kwai' - 1957

The Bridge on the River Kwai
Columbia Pictures
A thrilling, heartbreaking wartime adventure about British POWs forced to build a rail bridge for their Japanese captors in Burma, The Bridge on the River Kwai explores the mad futility of war and the dehumanization of captives. Based on a true story, it’s never preachy, but complex, layered and deeply humane. With wonderful performances by Alec Guinness and William Holden, it bested the jury-room drama 12 Angry Men, the courtroom suspense film Witness for the Prosecution, domestic soap opera Peyton Place and the wartime love story Sayonara. Snubbed: The Three Faces of Eve, A Farewell to Arms and Raintree County.
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'Gigi' - 1958

In 1958, it was the battle of the musicals, with a frothy French mademoiselle taking on America's glamorous Auntie Mame - and the French won. From Collette’s story about training a young woman as a courtesan, the Lerner and Lowe musical with Leslie Caron in the title role is utterly charming, and features great tunes, with Maurice Chevalier singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” (Personally, I’ve always found that one a bit creepy.) Besides my beloved Mame, Gigi vanquished the Tennessee Williams drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Separate Tables and the racially charged action film, The Defiant Ones. Snubbed: The Old Man and the Sea.
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'Ben-Hur' - 1959

The epic to end all epics, Ben-Hur sweeps across the ancient world from Rome to Judea. A terrific adventure that links Ben-Hur’s life to that of Christ, it climaxes with a thrilling chariot race that has never been equaled. Charlton Heston is at the top of his game in a compelling story. One of the most expensive movies ever made, Ben-Hur won over the courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Nun’s Story, and Room at the Top. Snubbed: the dramas Imitation of Life, Suddenly Last Summer and the great screwball comedy, Some Like it Hot.
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