All 24 Best Picture Winners of The 21st Century Ranked From Worst To Best

12. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Emma Stone - Birdman

Look, Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of those filmmakers people either love to hate or hate to love — with almost no in between — but one thing you got to give the man is that one can always expect the unexpected with his work.

Unfortunately, Iñárritu’s creative mojo seems to have dried up considerably ever since being showered in accolades (case in point: 2022s “Bardo”), but the Mexican filmmaker was at the top of his game for this mordantly funny showbiz romp, which pulls us headlong into the neurotic mindscape of a washed-up movie-star gearing up a big career comeback with a Broadway play. The whole one-shot gimmick does get old rather quickly in repeated viewings, but it’s always fun seeing Michael Keaton knowingly play off his on-screen persona while clearly having a blast with Edward Norton and Emma Stone.


11. The Hurt Locker (2009)


Gushing comparisons to time-tested touchstones in the genre didn’t do Kathryn Bigelow’s realistic take on the war on terror any favors back in 2009 — let’s be honest here, “The Hurt Locker” is no “Apocalypse Now” — but this nerve-racking nail-biter about a daredevil American soldier deployed into enemy lines and assigned to a bomb disposal unit during the second year of the Iraq war packs enough of a punch to keep first-time viewers glued to the screen from start to finish.

The American director made history by becoming the first woman to ever take home the Academy’s top prize, while Jeremy Renner earned an acting nod for a live-wire performance that makes you wish he wouldn’t go on to waste the following decade throwing CGI arrows in a spandex suit.


10. Gladiator (2000)

Commodus (Gladiator)

Ridley Scott breathed new air into a near-extinct genre like the sword-and-sandal epic at the turn of the millennium with this old-school, testosterone-heavy Hollywood bonanza about a vindictive Roman general-turned-enslaved gladiator (Russell Crowe) dead-set on exacting revenge on the newly-appointed Emperor who slayed his family.

There’s a number of things you presume you’re getting when you press play on a big studio throwback about muscular, sweaty, and bare-chested macho men revolting against evil powers and fighting to death in packed coliseums — “Gladiator” ticks off all boxes and then some. As far as quotable speeches go, this one’s hard to beat.


9. Spotlight (2015)


Tom McCarthy’s spiritual sequel to “All the President’s Men” weaves together an authoritative account of the real-life investigation led by a ragtag group of hard-nosed reporters from the Boston Globe who uncovered a massive scandal of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church that had been conveniently swept under the rug by local authorities.

Something tells us that if it were made today, the whole thing would have been needlessly stretched out to a six-episode miniseries. But “Spotlight” gets the job done at a crisp, tight, 129 minutes that absolutely blow by, ratcheting up the tension and suspense through rapid-fire dialogue and tight editing as we watch Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams scour for clues and move heaven and earth in their truth-seeking endeavor.


8. Oppenheimer (2023)

Christopher Nolan struck box-office gold and blew by the competition on his path to Oscar glory for last year’s three-plus-hour biopic starring Cillian Murphy as the titular American physicist who oversaw the development of the atomic bomb near the end of World War II.

A star-studded Hollywood tentpole of epic proportions the likes of which few working directors could realistically pull off in this day and age, “Oppenheimer” earned universal acclaim for its terrific performances, pulsating score, and surgical approach in dissecting the knots of contradictions behind one of the most polarizing figures of the 20th century. But it all plays second fiddle to Nolan’s flashy, muscular direction and keen sense of large-scale spectacle, which ensures the film keeps the audience on its toes from start to finish. It doesn’t all hang together, of course, but good luck trying to pry your eyes away from the screen at any time during its dizzying climax.


7. Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

What begins as a quirky domestic drama about a middle-aged Chinese immigrant (Michelle Yeoh) fending off the IRS and trying to reconnect with her husband (Ke Huy Quan) and lesbian daughter (Stephanie Hsu) quickly evolves into a multidimensional kung fu extravaganza featuring alternate realities, googly-eyed rocks, hot-dog fingers, Ratatouille spoofs, Wong Kar-wai easter eggs, and Apocalyptic bagels.

All of this is to say that the Daniels’ unorthodox fan favorite is unequivocally not for everyone — the directing duo’s irreverent humor and anything-goes plot shenanigans might turn off unassuming viewers, but those that manage to tune into the film’s crazed wavelength and stick with it to the end will come to understand the reason why it became an overnight online sensation with such a fervid cult following.


6. Moonlight (2016)


It’s a shame that Warren Beatty’s infamous envelope mix-up fiasco at the closing moments of the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony completely overshadowed what turned out to be a groundbreaking win in Oscar history with Barry Jenkins’ breakout hit becoming the lowest-budget Best Picture winner ever, the first produced by indie studio A24, and a landmark moment for Black representation in pop culture.

The growing pains of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood are captured with rare tenderness and delicacy in this decade-spanning coming-of-age story that bounces through time to weave through different chapters in the life of a young Black gay man named Chiron as he slowly comes to terms with his identity and sexuality. Mahershala Ali is an understated powerhouse as Chiron’s flawed father figure Juan.


5. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Whatever the time, whatever the season (but especially around the holidays), it’s never wrong to take another trip to Middle-earth and revisit Peter Jackson’s monumental trilogy based on the bestselling fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, which justly continues to be regarded today as a guidepost in blockbuster filmmaking.

It sort of feels like splitting hairs, but the final installment is perhaps the most rewarding and ambitious of the pack, with an unprecedented 11 Oscar wins to boot. Stretching past the 200-minute mark, “Return of the King” manages to deliver an epic climax to the saga and a satisfying send-off to our beloved heroes as Sauron’s dark reign is finally put to an end. By the time the fourth or fifth climax rolls in, it doesn’t feel like excessive payoff but the icing on the cake.


4. The Departed (2006)

Almost as penance for snubbing him many times over in the past, the Academy finally decided to give Martin Scorsese his overdue Oscar for this cat-and-mouse crime thriller about an undercover Boston cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) who must walk a fine line between two worlds after going deep undercover in the Irish mob.

In updating the superb 2002 Hong Kong caper “Infernal Affairs”, the Italian American director doesn’t try anything too fancy but still makes the film fiendishly entertaining even by his usual standards. Though hardly the crowning achievement in Scorsese’s distinguished career, “The Departed” is the kind of movie you just simply stop and watch whenever it’s on cable if only to watch Jack Nicholson dial it up to 11 for virtually every scene as ruthless mob kingpin Frank Costello.


3. 12 Years Slave (2013)

12 Years a Slave

Given its heavy subject matter, this might be the one Best Picture movie you won’t feel the need to rewatch after your first viewing. In recounting the life and times of one Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free Black man from upstate New York who endured unfathomable hardship and abuse after being forcibly abducted and sold into slavery in the 1840s South, Scottish director Steve McQueen spares the viewer no gruesome detail to drag an ugly but essential chapter in our recent history back into public consciousness.

And while “12 Years a Slave” toes the line of miserabilism, disregarding the film, which also features commanding performances from Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender, merely as ‘torture-porn’ is misleading: Solomon’s resilience and dignity even in the face of injustice and human cruelty makes his character a timeless beacon of hope and quiet perseverance.


2. Parasite (2019)

Stacked as that year’s Best Picture line-up was, there’s little doubt in our minds that the right film prevailed in 2019 when Bong Joon-ho’s genre-bending anti-capitalist parable rode the momentum off its Palme d’Or win at Cannes to become the first non-English film ever to win the Academy’s top prize.

There’s not an ounce of narrative fat in this smart, funny, and fiendishly entertaining social satire about a lower-class Korean family unit slowly infiltrating the life of wealthy upper-classers one member at a time. The plotting is twisty, unpredictable, and rich with meaning, with Bong at full mast expertly towing the line between different genres and tones before barreling into a blood-splattering climax for the ages. As lesser movies featured in this list start to fade over time, we expect people to be talking about “Parasite” for decades to come.


1. No Country for Old Men (2007)

A simple coin toss is all that stands between life and death in this gnarly Cormac McCarthy adaptation by the Coen brothers, which proved all you needed is a drug deal gone wrong, $2 million in stolen loot, and a sociopathic serial killer on the loose to create one of the cornerstones of contemporary American cinema.

Tommy Lee Jones brings his worn gravitas as a soon-to-retire sheriff who must track down Javier Bardem’s scenery-chewing hired hitman — the most iconic movie villain since Patrick Bateman — as he raises hell in his path of carnage through 1980s West Texas. It speaks to the film’s obvious strengths and undisputed pedigree that it won Best Picture by edging out another stone-cold classic in “There Will Be Blood” and nobody really seemed to bat an eye.