The Very Slim List Of Best Picture Winners With Female Leads

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There's something quite atypical about the nomination slate for the 90th Academy Awards. This year, there's significant overlap between the nominees for Best Picture and Best Actress. Lady Bird and its star, Saorise Ronan, were nominated. The Shape of Water and its star, Sally Hawkins, were nominated. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri and its star, Frances McDormand, were nominated.
If any of those movies win Best Picture on March 4, then they'll join very small pool of Best Picture-winning movies whose stories center on women. Of the 89 past Best Picture winners, we counted only 16 movies in which women characters take the spotlight. What gives? Likely, for most of Hollywood's history, the most prestigious directors simply weren't making stories about women. Or, the voting members of the Academy, which have historically been majority white and male, simply didn't prioritize women's stories.
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Hopefully, this year's overlap marks a step in a more equitable direction, in which stories about women are valued as Best Picture-worthy, too.
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It Happened One Night (1934)

The screwball fun and verbal cleverness of It Happened One Night holds up, so many decades later. This movie is the original rom-com, complete with the mismatched and memorable couple. Claudette Colbert plays Ellie, an heiress who impulsively decides to marry her beau, much to her disapproval of her family. In retaliation, her father ships her off on a yacht (that was back when fathers could do that). She escapes and ends up connecting with Clark Gable's character, a recently laid-off, gruff journalist. Their madcap adventure ensues, leading to, of course, love.
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Gone With the Wind (1939)

Gone With the Wind was a remarkably ambitious movie. It had a budget of $3.7 million — astronomical at the time – and ran for four hours. Essentially, we have four hours of Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) weathering the massive changes the country was going through during the Civil War. Amid all this, she also finds time to meddle, plot, pine over Ashley (Leslie Howard) and deny her love for Rhett Butler (Clark Cable).

Vivien Leigh won Best Actress. Hattie McDaniel, who played Scarlett's maid, won Best Supporting Actress, and was the first Black person to win an Oscar.
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Rebecca (1940)

Picture this: You marry a man you barely know, and move to his massive estate, where the memory of his last wife lingers as if she were still alive. That the slightly evil housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, won't accept the new wife's presence doesn't help the situation. Essentially, our unnamed protagonist can't escape Rebecca. Rebecca stars Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier, and remains a staple in the psychological thriller genre.

Rebecca's win set its own record. This was the last time a movie ever won Best Picture without also winning an Oscar in a directing, acting, or writing category. Alfred Hitchcock, the movie's director, never did get that Academy Award.
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Mrs. Miniver (1943)

Mrs. Miniver swept the 15th Academy Awards, taking Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler), Best Actress (Greer Garson), and Best Supporting Actress (Teresa Wright). In a series of vignettes, Mrs. Miniver depicts how a British family adjusts to life in wartime. Mrs Miniver came out six months after the U.S. entered the war. President Roosevelt encouraged MGM to rush the distribution of this movie, and asked it be translated into different languages and air-dropped in Nazi-occupied countries. Mrs. Miniver and all its moving, wrenching drama was influential in gathering American support for the Allies.
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All About Eve (1951)

If you saw Ryan Murphy's Feud: Bette and Joan, then you're already familiar with the legend of Bette Davis, who plays Margo Channing in the movie. In many ways, Margo's situation resembled Davis's. Like Davis, Margo is an aging actress struggling in an entertainment industry that prizes beauty over intelligence and talent. Margo's life is made complicated when a young fan, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), shows up at her dressing room, and threatens to usurp her.

Four of the actresses in All About Eve received Oscar nominations: Davis and Baxter as Best Actress, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter as Best Supporting Actress. It's the only movie to do so.
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Gigi (1959)

In early 20th century Paris, Gigi (Leslie Caron) is raised by two Parisian courtesans, and trained to become a rich man's mistress. Gigi ends up developing a friendship with Gaston (Louis), a man whose uncle socializes with these courtesans. Gaston wants something more from Gigi — he wants marriage.

And just so you can picture this Paris-set romantic comedy better: Gigi is a musical.
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My Fair Lady (1965)

My Fair Lady, or: The Movie That Inspired Costumes For Big Little Lies' Audrey Hepburn Party. Hepburn plays Eliza Doolittle, a flower seller plucked from anonymity to be the subject of a wager between two scholars. Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) believes that if he can teach Eliza to speak the Queen's English (and dress a bit differently, too), he can make people believe she's a duchess.
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The Sound of Music (1966)

The Sound of Music is a movie that needs no introduction, and Maria (Julie Andrews) is a problem that no one needs to solve. Maria is a restless nun who decides to leave the convent and work as a nanny for the Von Trapp family, which consists of seven kids and a gruff naval captain father. She's the first nanny to ever charm them; she also charms the Trapp family patriarch (Christopher Plummer).
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Terms of Endearment (1984)

If you're looking for a tear-jerker, you've come to the right place. Terms of Endearment is a mother-daughter movie that will, by its end, leave you in a puddle of tears. You'll see decades of the relationship of Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter, Emma (Deborah Winger).

The movie swept the Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (MacLaine), Best Actor (Jack Nicholson), and Best Director (James L. Brooks). Deborah Winger and John Lithgow were also nominated.
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Out of Africa (1986)

This sweeping romantic drama might seem a bit slow (it's almost three hours long). But if you're able to sit and really concentrate (no phones!), Out of Africa has some beautiful moments. Meryl Streep plays Karen von Blixen, a Danish woman who enters into a marriage of convenience with a Baron living in Nairobi. They start a farm together. But the real action begins when Karen becomes involved with Denys (Robert Redford), a charming hunter. Out of Africa is based on Blixen's memoirs (she later became a famous writer who worked under the pen name Isak Dinesen). It marked Meryl Streep's sixth acting nomination.
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Driving Miss Daisy (1990)

In Driving Miss Daisy, we're privy to Daisy Werthan's (Jessica Tandy) life in Atlanta, Georgia, as it unfurls over 25 years. The focal point is the relationship between Daisy, a wealthy Jewish widow and retired school teacher, and her driver, Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman). At 81, Tandy became the oldest woman to ever win Best Actress.
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The Silence of the Lambs (1992)

Here's a binge-watch schedule that will give you nightmares: The Silence of the Lambs followed by all of Netflix's Mindhunter. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is a student in the FBI's training program who works with a cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), to catch another serial killer. Silence won Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Until this year's Get Out, no other horror movie has stood a similar chance.
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Titanic (1998)

Has any other movie on this list lodged itself quite into the cultural imagination? Titanic is a legendary movie, to the point that its stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, are still regularly asked about it. Clearly, Titanic centers on a woman — who can forget Rose jumping back on that ship?
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Shakespeare in Love (1999)

For a Shakespeare-loving romantic, Shakespeare in Love is the ideal movie. A ridiculously charming Will Shakespeare (Joe Fiennes) is stumped for his next play — until he meets Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), a noblewoman who inspires him to write the Twelfth Night. Viola wants to act, and dresses up as a man so that she can perform in Shakespeare's next play.

Many people were expecting Saving Private Ryan to win the Academy Award. Shakespeare in Love winning goes down as one of the Oscars' most surprising upsets.
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Chicago (2003)

Who knew jail was a a good – Oscar-winningly good, in fact —  setting for a musical? In 1920s Chicago, Jazz singer Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) shoots her no-good husband, and winds up in jail. Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), one of Velma's biggest fans goes to jail for a similar crime: murdering the man she's having an affair with. Both women are represented by the famous lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who creates a swirl of media attention around the women in order to drum up sympathy. It works.
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Million Dollar Baby (2005)

Hilary Swank's breakout role was an extraordinary one. She played Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), a Missouri woman determined to become a boxer, and escape the monotony of her life – even if takes everything out of her. At first, Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is reluctant to train a woman, but is convinced to by another boxer (Morgan Freeman). Million Dollar Baby culminates in a wrenching climax.
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