The Quick Report

Ranking the Best Picture Winners From the ‘80s

The 1980s were a remarkable period in cinema history. Not only were several groundbreaking films released, but fantastic actors became bonafide movie stars, extremely talented directors started honing their craft, and studios began taking chances on interesting genre films. 

And, among these cinematic gems are the Best Picture-winning films, each deserving recognition for their unique storytelling, captivating performances, and lasting cultural impact. 

But, let’s be honest — some were better than others! Here is our ranking of the Best Picture-winning films from the ‘80s.

10. 1989 — Driving Miss Daisy

Driving Miss Daisy
Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

Driving Miss Daisy was very popular back in 1989, but the fact it won Best Picture while Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing didn’t even get a nomination just goes to show how wrong the Academy got it this year. 

Despite strong performances from Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, the film should be dinged for its simplistic portrayal of race relations and its reliance on clichés. It glosses over the complexities of racism and fails to challenge the audience’s perceptions. Not to mention, its portrayal of the African American character as a subservient and passive figure perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

9. 1985 — Out of Africa

Out of Africa
Universal Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%

Sydney Pollack’s epic romance set against the backdrop of colonial Kenya features powerhouse performances by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. What else would you expect from Meryl and Robert anyway?! 


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But, despite its breathtaking visuals and impeccable production value, Out of Africa suffers from a meandering narrative that fails to fully engage viewers.

8. 1981 — Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Fire
20th Century Fox

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

Chariots of Fire takes us back to the 1924 Paris Olympics, chronicling the journeys of two British track athletes. While the film has stunning cinematography and a memorable musical score, its slow pacing and lack of emotional depth are the reason the film is at number eight. 

7. 1988 — Rain Man

Rain Man
United Artists

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Barry Levinson’s Rain Man explores the complex relationship between two estranged brothers, brilliantly portrayed by Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. 

The film’s heartfelt exploration of autism and family dynamics resonated with audiences. But, while Rain Main is undeniably moving, its formulaic storytelling prevents it from ascending higher in our ranking.

6. 1983 — Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment
Paramount Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82%

James L. Brooks’ poignant dramedy follows the tumultuous relationship between a mother and daughter over three decades. 

With its sharp wit, heartfelt performances, and unflinching portrayal of life’s joys and sorrows, Terms of Endearment strikes a perfect balance between laughter and tears. While its narrative occasionally veers into melodrama, its emotional resonance is undeniable.

5. 1984 — Amadeus

Orion Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Amadeus offers a captivating fictionalized account of the rivalry between composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri.

Boasting stunning performances and beautiful production design, Amadeus is incredibly immersive. However, its lengthy runtime and occasional story lulls are the reason it’s smack dab in the middle of our ranking. 

4. 1986 — Platoon

Charlie Sheen in Platoon
Orion Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

There’s no question Platoon is a pretty polarizing movie. Either you love it or you hate it! Oliver Stone’s visceral war drama offers a harrowing depiction of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a young soldier. 

However, the fantastic characters are slightly overshadowed by the film’s relentless brutality, preventing it from breaking into the top three.

3. 1987 — The Last Emperor

The Last Emporer
Columbia Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic traces the life of China’s last imperial ruler, Pu Yi, from his ascent to the throne as a child to his later years as a reformed man. 

With its breathtaking visuals, intricate storytelling, and rich historical detail, The Last Emperor stands as a monumental achievement in cinema. And, while its sprawling narrative may test the patience of some viewers, its grandeur and ambition absolutely cannot be denied.

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2. 1982 — Gandhi

Columbia Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Biopics aren’t always done right, but when they are, they’re often masterful. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi offers a stirring portrayal of the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, the revered leader of India’s nonviolent independence movement. 

Featuring an unforgettable performance by Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, it is a masterful exploration of one man’s quest for justice and equality. Though the runtime may deter some viewers (it is over three hours long!), its powerful message of peace and resilience resonates strongly to this day.

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1. 1980 — Ordinary People

Ordinary People
Paramount Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Robert Redford’s directorial debut remains a timeless masterpiece that explores the complexities of grief, guilt, and redemption within a suburban family. 

Featuring stellar performances by Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People is an emotionally resonant drama that continues to captivate audiences with its raw honesty and depth of characterization. And, with its sensitive portrayal of human frailty and resilience, Ordinary People has earned the top spot in our ‘80s Best Picture rankings!

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