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The 20 Best Cannes Grand Prix Winners of All Time

23 August 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Kosta Jovanovic

For some only a consolation prize, but for others a good way to get recognition, the Cannes Grand Prix prize will have people always talking about it and its winner. It is responsible for introducing many film lovers to a variety of film sub-genres ranging from Yugoslav black wave comedies and guerrilla-style social dramas from Burkina Faso to hyper stylized Korean thrillers and French LGBT sociopolitical tear jerks.

Here are the top 20 that best represent what this award can offer.


20. Night of the Shooting Star (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 1982)

Night of the Shooting Stars (1982)

The Taviani brothers entered the scene with their unexpected win at the Cannes in 1977 with “Padre Padrone”. While it wasn’t a good film, per sé, it opened the door for the gifted directors to continue to work and eventually make a masterpiece. And that they did, five years later.

Placed in beautiful Tuscany, the film is a story about a fight against fascists, viewed from a point of regular working peasants, the directors’ favorite demography to show. While the film is simple in its structure and postulate, it exudes with complexity in its display of humanity. Many scenes will be left carved in the mind, and many of them will not leave a pleasant afterimage, but at the end of the day you will walk out of the film feeling warm.


19. A Prophet (Jacques Auidard, 2009)


Jacques Auidard’s debatable master work is a thrilling ride through the hierarchy of prison, similar to “The Shawshank Redemption” but without cheap sentimentality and with grim realism in every frame.

Tahar Rahim is the shining star of the film as he slowly turns from a marionette to someone who is pulling the strings, without the film showing us what he thinks in any given moment; everything is presented through mimicry and stature of young talent. Two hours and 20 minutes will pass in the blink of an eye, while the protagonist is pulling out from the hands of the ruthless Céasar, subsequently overthrowing him. A real treat for the adrenalin.


18. Ulysses’ Gaze (Theo Angelopulos, 1995)

Ulysses' Gaze

It seems that in 1995 all eyes of Cannes were fixated on Yugoslavia, that is, at what was left of it, so the two top prizes of the festival went to films that depicted the wars that led to the dissolution of the country.

The Palme d’Or was won by Kusturica’s over the top yet heartbreaking farce “Underground”, and the Grand Prix went to the more somber “Ulysses’ Gaze”. The film is a real journey (an odyssey, if you will) through the Balkans, that small but anguished region of southeast Europe, all the while exploring and explaining the ethnic tensions that rule the peninsula.

Four scenes leave a long lasting impression: the nightmarish beginning in Greece, in which the protagonist returns from a self imposed exodus, only to be welcomed by an angry mob with torches; the crossing of Albanian mountains, where the most beautiful shots were immortalized; the long and exhausting trip on Danube, with a glimpse at the ruined Lenin statue; and the arrival and sojourn at the fog bound Sarajevo, at the time still devastated by the ongoing war, where the most impressive part of the epic plays.

While it sometimes drags on and is pretentious (primarily in love and scenes with the statue) under the visionary direction of Angelopulos and great acting from Harvey Keitel, “Ulysses’ Gaze” is an unforgettable experience. Negative press followed the film for years, primarily because of the ungrateful behavior of the director while getting the award, but that didn’t affect the quality of this timeless story.


17. Johnny Got This Gun (Dalton Trumbo, 1971)

Johnny Got His Gun

The first and only film by the great Dalton Trumbo, the genius screenwriter of some of the most beloved Hollywood movies, unfairly blacklisted during the McCarthy era, is one of the most terrifying and most haunting movies ever made, if not due to the frames and scenes, but for the idea that a person, wounded by a grenade, is left without limbs, sight, hearing and the ability to talk. What kind of world is that where the ability to communicate is almost eradicated?

The task of this film is to show us this dread. Presented ideally in a dual variant where the black-and-white world shows the unfortunate present, where he tries to “live”, while the color world shows his recollections of a life long gone, his loves and childhood – the only thing that keeps his psyche as a whole. But as time passes, so do his memories became more lucid and pessimistic, alluding to his increasingly crumbled state of mind.

Those few good situations that happen to him get quickly suppressed by the upcoming dose of brutal reality, only in the end to leave our protagonist in a state, not living nor dead, to helplessly in his head call for any kind of help. This anti-war film, because of which you won’t feel any happy thoughts, was the main inspiration for Metallica’s video for “One”.


16. Son of Saul (Laslo Nemes, 2015)

Just when we thought that we’d seen it all from Holocaust movies, a theme done to death in this day and age, this feature popped up and showed us this unfavorable theme in a fresh and innovative way.

At Auschwitz in 1944, the viewer is put in a situation to literally follow one of the members of a Sonderkommando, a group of selected imprisoned Jews who had the duty of removing the corpses from gas chambers, while he tries to smuggle his alleged child to bury him with honors from a rabbi.

The film is at all times either in first person or in over-the-shoulder point of view of the protagonist which adds to the claustrophobia, adding in another unnerving trait that appears while watching it. The horrors of concentration camps can be seen in every frame, but they are situated in a corner of our periphery sight, giving the viewer enough space to imagine the evils around the protagonist by himself. There is no time for rest for 100 minutes of film’s duration; the viewer will feel constant nausea and the end will leave him to think for days about the selfishness and hopelessness the feature shows.


15. Devils on the Doorstep (Jiang Wen, 2000)

Devils on the Doorstep

War, like the movies that are inspired by that theme, is disgusting and horrifying; it shows the worst of human nature. This film is the same, aside from one little difference, and that is that you’re going to roll on the floor from laughter in particular scenes. This is tragicomedy at its finest and the fact that it is a war movie makes it even more brutal.

Roughly 140 minutes of beautiful black-and-white cinematography where the actors are trying to scream their lungs out, while they’re finding themselves in comedic situations (such as threatening the Chinese) that, in a moment, throw the viewer off from the uptight feelings, only to return later with a cold slap or realism.

This movie was banned in China (PR) for years, because the last scene (the only one in color) indicated that the problems shown on the silver screen can easily be parallel to the state of the country at that time, but even with that, the movie survived and became one of the most celebrated works from the mainland, ever since the works of the fifth generation.



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  • Brandon Thompson

    Son of Saul should’ve won the Palme d’Or and be much higher on this list.

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      I agree for Palme, and i must say even i am broken i put it that low, but the movies are just great

    • AmazingAmy

      Agree…if not because L’Enfant terrible Dolan stall it, either Carol or Saul Fia emerged as winner

  • bd

    Ulysses’ Gaze should be higher

  • This is where 2nd place actually means something. I would love to win the Grand Prix.

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      You are not alone in that though, and thank you.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Jean-Pierre Leaud is fantastic in The Mother and the Whore, a really Oscar worthy performance

  • grootrm

    Oh wow what a surprise, a soviet communist era movie gets top ranking on this website.

    • Vincenzo Politi

      Tarkovsky was living in exile. He made his last two movies in Italy (Nostalghia) and Sweden (Sacrifice). He never went back to Soviet Russia. He died in Paris. Some people actually think he was murdered by the KGB. You couldn’t get a more ‘anti-communist’ movie director, really, but you are a bit too ignorant about cinema to understand it.

      • grootrm

        That is quite the ignorant post, given my love and understanding of world cinema.

        Tarkovsky made his LAST TWO movies out of the country, and that settles it? No, sorry, that is not good enough.

        His movies upset the communist censors yes, because his films were either viewed as portraying the world outside the Iron Curtain as too “nice” and pacifistic, which contradicted Soviet propaganda, or they did not denegrate or mock religion enough, all in the heat of the Cold War, nevertheless, when his movies made firm economic stances they were decidedly anti-capitalist, not anti-communist.

        He did not go back to the Soviet Union out of choice.

        You don’t seem to understand that communists murdered or imprisoned other communists every day in the USSR.

        You assert my ignorance about cinema, perhaps world politics and history are where you could use some reading. Thanks.

        • Jacob Lyon Goddard

          Speaking ill of Tarkovsky on a cinephile website is brave.
          Horribly misguided, but brave.

          • Jacob Lyon Goddard

            Hating Tarkovsky’s films because he was a Russian communist makes about as much sense as hating Hitchcock’s because he was an English Imperialist. You’re just angry and looking for something to lash out at.

          • Vincenzo Politi

            Try to let him understand this point. He said he didn’t go back to Russia out of choice… Yeah, but why did he made such a choice to begin with? Some people are just hilarious.

          • grootrm

            Did you know there is a difference in opinions among communists? That, you know, as historically resulted in the murder of countless “bad” communists? Look up the Kulaks. Communists killing other communists is daily life.

            You make it seem like because he had disagreements with the Soviets, that he was pro-capitalist?

            What you are doing is tiptoeing the false dichotomy fallacy line.

          • Vincenzo Politi

            Ahahahah, you must look so cute when you try to sound intelligent! Tarkovsky’s movies challenge the very ideology of communism: they are about individual experiences and open interpretations, all things which are in stark contradiction with the ‘objectivist’ socio-political ideal of communism. Beside, the one who is tiptoeing the false dichotomy fallacy line is actually you, since you seem to think that someone must be communist if he is not pro-capitalist: many American post-modernist writers (Pynchon, Vonnegut, etc.) are ‘anti-capitalists’, but this alone does not make them ‘communists’.

          • grootrm

            Tarkovsky’s movies do not “challenge” communism in the sense of critiquing it from the perspective of mutually exclusive alternative economic systems.

            To claim the political contexts of his movies express “individual experiences and open interpretations” is the opposite of not only the plots and themes themselves, but of Tarkovsky’s intentions, given his own accounts of his own movies. What you are talking about are the various themes not political.

            With respect to your comment of his movies being “in stark contradiction with the ‘objectivist’ socio-political ideal of communism”: To be in stark contrast with a random worldview not even mentioned, is rather amusingly revealing and misguided, won’t even both commenting, because it has nothing to do with my position that you are critiquing.

            You’re straw manning as well. I never said nor implied nor even depended on the notion that all anti-capitalists are communists.

          • Vincenzo Politi

            “I never said nor implied nor even depended on the notion that all anti-capitalists are communists”. yeah, right. In fact, you didn’t actually say anything at all. You keep on saying why (in your opinion) all the other commentators are wrong, and you say that in rather amusing yet confusing terms (i.e., “To claim the political contexts of his movies express “individual experiences and open interpretations” is the opposite of not only the plots and themes themselves, but of Tarkovsky’s intentions, given his own accounts of his own movies. What you are talking about are the various themes not political” – what you write just does not make any sense, I’m afraid). You do not say what is the problem with ranking in the first place Sacrifice, “a soviet communist era movie”, as you defined it, despite it being shot in Norway and produced by France and the UK. Now go on, play with words and write another meaningless comment.

          • grootrm

            “In fact, you didn’t actually say anything at all.”

            prior to that:

            “Blah blah blah, you’re wrong and here are my weak attempts to show why”

            Pick one

            LOL, bye now

          • Vincenzo Politi

            You keep on talking a lot without saying anything at all. You are almost mesmerising.

          • grootrm

            If you looked into a mirror, there would be no reflection.

          • grootrm

            I wasn’t hating on Tarkosky the man. I was speaking specifically of his movies, thanks.

            You’re just angry and looking for someone on the internet to lash out at.

          • Jacob Lyon Goddard

            “I wasn’t hating on Tarkosky the man. I was speaking specifically of his movies, thanks.”
            i think you might want to re-read what i wrote.

          • grootrm

            I will clarify, you said “Hating Tarkovsky’s films because he was a Russian communist”.

            You may have thought you referred to his movies with that comment, but you didn’t. That comment requires us to, after getting to the end of it, to switch from the topic of feelings towards films, good and bad, happy and sad, perplexed and courageous, to a feeling of hate about them because of who the director was as a person. The only reasonable way to take your comment is to among other things be an accusation that I am attacking Tarkovsky the man. I don’t hate the man. If I were to consider hating something about this, I would hate the ideas.


          • grootrm

            I’d rather not be “guided” in that particular way, thanks. It is a groupthink automaton robot collective mentality.

            A number of “cinephile” websites, this one included, are authored by people whose tastes are too often pretentious, esoteric, and are only referenced to give the authors a hollow excuse to write about unrelated political expositions that speak more about the author’s vanities than the movies themselves.

            Yesterday I stopped reading any of the author’s diatribes, and now I am only looking up the movies on other sites to find better analyses from people who don’t have clear hatred, or at least antagonism against, western values such as rugged individualism and capitalism. Individualism on this website is treated like a cancer, as if the authors aren’t themselves individualistic in their self-serving “interpretations” of the movies they write about.


      • Criticus

        Indeed, there’s a much better reason to dislike Tarkovsky than the fact he was from the USSR: that his movies were pretentious, boring and way overrated.

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      Welll, this was funny to read

      • Jesus Christ guys, take a breath. Maybe, I dunno, watch a movie and relax

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    The Sweet Hereafter is a film that doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough.

  • CatKitten Amy

    Many films that won Grand Prix should won Palme like this year BPM and Oldboy