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Best Picture Oscar Winners - 1960s

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With the old studio system decaying and the abolition of the Hays Code in the face of rapid social change, movies in the 1960s increasingly became more experimental. But the winners of Best Picture throughout most of the decade were decidedly traditional, however, with four winners being musicals despite that old staple's general decline; something that never happened even during the genre's heyday of the 1930s and 1940s.

By the end of the decade, the classic era had finally given way to New Hollywood with the first and so far only X-rated Best Picture winner, lining up the Second Golden Age of the 1970, one of cinema's greatest decades.

1. 1960 Best Picture – ‘The Apartment’

MGM Home Entertainment
Billy Wilder won Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay, so it stands to reason The Apartment would win Best Picture as well. Wilder’s classic comedy starred Jack Lemmon as an office go-getter looking to get ahead by lending out his apartment to his philandering superiors as the place to have a mid-afternoon tryst, only to find trouble when falling for the mistress (Shirley MacLaine) of his insensitive boss (Fred MacMurray). The film won the Oscar over The Alamo, John Wayne’s directing debut, Elmer Gantry starring Best Actor Burt Lancaster, Sons and Lovers, and Fred Zinnemann’s The Sundowners, starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr.
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2. 1961 Best Picture – ‘West Side Story’

MGM Home Entertainment
One of the most popular musicals of all time deservedly won a whopping 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, despite going up against two great films in The Guns of Navarone and Judgment at Nuremberg. Directed by Robert Wise, West Side Story was a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set on the mean streets of New York City and focusing on a forbidden love between a young Puerto Rican girl (Natalie Wood) and a member of a white rival gang (Richard Beymer). West Side Story also beat out Joshua Logan’s period drama Fanny and Robert Rossen’s classic pool hall drama The Hustler, starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleeson.
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3. 1962 Best Picture – ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

Sony Pictures
David Lean’s expansive historical epic was a landmark achievement in one of the best years in Hollywood history and deserved the seven Academy Awards it won despite stiff competition. One of the greatest movies ever made, Lawrence of Arabia made a star out of actor Peter O’Toole who played the obsessive T.E. Lawrence, a British military officer who travels to Arabia and helps the Arab tribes battle the organized Turkish army. Brilliant in every way imaginable, Lean’s finest film won Best Picture over the all-star war epic The Longest Day, Mortson DaCosta’s The Music Man, Lewis Milestone’s remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, and To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Best Actor Gregory Peck.
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4. 1963 Best Picture – ‘Tom Jones’

HBO Home Video
One of the most critically acclaimed comedies of all time, Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Henry Fielding’s early English prose novel won four Academy Awards and turned Albert Finney into a star. Finney’s titular Jones goes from a simple country boy to a lively playboy whose good looks and charm make him popular with the ladies. That leads him down the path of numerous adventures involving food, drink and women, as he tries to amass his fortune and win the heart of his only love (Susannah York). Tom Jones won the Oscar for Best Picture over Elia Kazan’s America, America, Joseph L. Makiewicz’s infamous box office flop Cleopatra, the epic Western How the West Was Won and the simple drama Lilies of the Field, which broke the color barrier when Sidney Poitier became the first African-American to win Best Actor.
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5. 1964 Best Picture – ‘My Fair Lady’

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
While overall musicals were on the wane in the 1960s, several won Oscars for Best Picture and George Cukor’s classic My Fair Lady was one of them. Audrey Hepburn starred as Eliza Dolittle, a working class girl taken on by an arrogant elocution teacher (Rex Harrison) who has made a bet that he can turn her into a proper English lady. Despite Julie Andrews being passed over following her Broadway triumph as Dolittle and Hepburn's overdubbed singing, Cukor’s film was a big hit and won eight Oscars, including Best Picture over Becket starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove, Disney’s triumphant musical Mary Poppins starring Best Actress Andrews, and the exuberant Zorbra the Greek.
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6. 1965 Best Picture – ‘The Sound of Music’

CBS Video
For the second year in a row and a third time in the decade, the Academy bestowed Best Picture honors on a musical. This time it was Robert Wise’s adaptation of the Broadway hit, The Sound of Music. Starring Julie Andrews as a young woman who leaves a convent to take care of the difficult von Trapp children at the onset of World War II, The Sound of Music was an unabashedly sentimental film in an increasingly cynical era that featured one of cinema’s most iconic images in Andrews’ spinning around the Alps to the title song. The film faced only one worthy opponent, David Lean’s romantic epic Doctor Zhivago, but easily beat out Darling, Ship of Fools and A Thousand Clowns.
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7. 1966 Best Picture – ‘A Man for All Seasons’

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Right on the cusp of New Hollywood taking over the reins, Fred Zinnemann’s old school historical drama became a big box office hit and won six Academy Awards. A Man for All Seasons focused on the deepening rift between Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), the English statesman who refused to acknowledge King Henry VIII’s split from the Catholic Church so he can divorce his first wife in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Well-acted and worthy of praise, the film managed to win Best Picture over Mike Nichols’ much better and more virulent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, as well as Lewis Gilbert’s ironic Alfie, Norman Jewison’s Cold War comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming and Robert Wise’s 1920s-set drama The Sand Pebbles.
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8. 1967 Best Picture – ‘In the Heat of the Night’

MGM Home Entertainment
Best remembered for Sidney Poitier’s now-classic line, “They call me Mr. Tibbs,” and Rod Steiger’s Oscar-winning performance, Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night was a groundbreaking thriller that tackled issues of race head-on. Steiger starred as a racist sheriff of a small Southern town who believes Poitier is the suspect in a surprising murder, only to learn he’s a hot-shot homicide detective and enlists him to help solve the case. In the Heat of the Night was a big hit and solidified Poitier’s standing as a box office star, but more importantly won Best Picture over worthy competition like Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?.
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9. 1968 Best Picture – ‘Oliver!’

Columbia Pictures
For the fourth and final time in the decade, the Academy delivered Best Picture to a musical, but it would be the last one until 2002 when Rob Marshall’s Chicago resurrected the genre. Directed by Carol Reed, the film was adapted from Lionel Bart’s smash hit musical - itself an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist - and managed to turn the horrid conditions of child labor into jolly good fun. Starring Mark Lester as Oliver Twist and Oliver Reed as the murderous Bill Sykes, Oliver! won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture over William Wyler’s Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter starring Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, Paul Newman’s directing debut Rachel, Rachel and Franco Zeffirelli’s wildly popular adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
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10. 1969 Best Picture – ‘Midnight Cowboy’

MGM Home Entertainment
Not only was John Schleisinger’s Midnight Cowboy the first and so far only X-rated film to win Best Picture, it also confirmed the fact that the old Hollywood studio system had officially ended and with its demise ushered in the New Hollywood era of the 1970s. The downbeat film starred Jon Voight as Joe Buck, a naïve rube from rural Texas who arrives in New York City determined to make it as a male gigolo, only to fall into a life of depravity whose only friend is a polio-stricken con man named Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). A big hit as well as a star-making vehicle for Voight, Midnight Cowboy won three Oscars including Best Picture over the costume drama Anne of a Thousand Days, George Roy Hill’s revisionist Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Gene Kelly’s lavish musical Hello, Dolly! and the French-language political thriller Z.
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