The Only Movies That Have Won All "Big 5" Oscars
In the long history of the Academy Awards, many films have received multiple nominations, and many have won multiple Oscars. It has been very rare, however, for a movie to sweep the so-called "Big Five" awards:
- Best Picture
- Best Actor
- Best Actress
- Best Screenplay (either Original or Adapted)
- Best Director
As of the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020, 43 films have been nominated for the Big Five, including three 1967 films (Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and The Graduate) and three 1981 films (Atlantic City, On Golden Pond, and Reds).
The most recent candidate for winning the Big Five was La La Land, released in 2016. The popular movie was nominated for 14 Oscars, including the Big Five. In what was probably the most notorious flub in the history of Academy Award presentations, La La Land was initially announced as the winner for Best Picture due to an envelope mixup. As it turned out, the real winner was Moonlight.
La La Land did come away with six Oscars, but it only won two of the Big Five. Damien Chazelle wrote the film’s original screenplay and he also directed. He won the directing award (at age 32, becoming the youngest person ever to do so), but not the screenwriting award. The film's stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, were both nominated for awards for acting in a leading role. Stone won, but Gosling did not.
Of the 43 films nominated for the Big Five, only three have succeeded in winning all five Oscars.
The Winners of the "Big Five" Oscars
It Happened One Night
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
The Silence of the Lambs
It Happened One Night (1934)
It Happened One Night, a romantic comedy, was the first film to win the Big Five Oscars, taking home the top prizes at the 7th Academy Awards in 1935. The film was produced by Frank Capra and Harry Cohn for Columbia Pictures.
Wealthy socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) has married King Westley (Jameson Thomas), a fortune-hunting aviator, against the wishes of her father (Walter Connolly). Ellie's father takes her to his yacht in Miami to separate her from her husband before the marriage is consummated, but Ellie dives overboard and manages to elude her father and get on a bus to New York to reunite with Westley. Her father offers a reward for her return.
On the bus, she meets reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable). Peter realizes who Ellie is when a thief steals her purse and she doesn't report it to the police. Peter offers to help her get to New York in exchange for her exclusive story, threatening to contact her father for the reward money if she doesn't agree. Ellie agrees to have him help her, and they continue together to New York.
The couple shares numerous adventures and comic misadventures in their travels, including a famous hitchhiking scene in which Ellie shows Peter how easily she can get a car to stop for them, after he has failed, by raising her skirt to show her leg. As they travel, they share hotel rooms pretending to be husband and wife. Peter sets up a rope and blanket between their beds that he nicknames "the walls of Jericho." Those familiar with the Biblical story know that the walls of Jericho ultimately come tumbling down, so viewers may anticipate an eventual change in Ellie and Peter's relationship.
It Happened One Night is lots of fun, with some classic screwball plot turns and clever comic banter between Ellie and Peter. The first Big Five winner is still a winner.
Comical Facts About It Happened One Night
- Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert were not the first choices for the lead roles. Quite a few stars turned down the film, including Robert Montgomery, who did not like the script. MGM essential forced Gable into the role since he had a contract that guaranteed him $2,000 a week and he had no upcoming projects to warrant his salary.
- Colbert initially did not want to film the scene where she pulls up her skirt to get a ride. A body double was used to film the scene, but Colbert did not think the leg looked like hers. She ended up filming the famous scene herself.
- Colbert did not attend the Academy Awards when she was nominated since she felt she had no chance of winning. Instead, she planned to take a railroad trip across the country. When she won, the studio managed to pull her off the train, which had not yet departed, and brought her to the awards.
Best Actor: Clark Gable (1901–1960)
Clark Gable's Oscar nomination for It Happened One Night was his first of three, but it was his only win. He was also nominated for Mutiny on the Bounty in 1935 and for his best-known role as Rhett Butler in 1939's Gone With the Wind (where he had a role in desegregating the set). Gable was one of the most popular movie stars throughout much of the 1930s and 40s and was voted "The King of Hollywood" in a poll in 1938. He remained a box office draw throughout his career. His last film, The Misfits, was completed shortly before his death and was also co-star Marilyn Monroe's last film.
Best Actress: Claudette Colbert (1903–1996)
French native Claudette Colbert moved to the United States with her family at the age of three. Her acting career began on Broadway in 1923. In 1927, she appeared in Frank Capra's silent film The Love of Mike, and she left Broadway for the movies during the Great Depression. Like Gable, Colbert received her first Oscar nomination and only win for It Happened One Night. She was again nominated for 1935's Private Worlds and 1944's Since You Went Away. Colbert continued acting into her 80s and won a Golden Globes award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the 1987 TV movie The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.
Best Screenplay (Adapted): Robert Riskin (1897–1955)
Robert Riskin began his career as a playwright in New York. When Columbia Pictures bought the rights to several of his plays, he moved to Hollywood. Riskin received five Oscar nominations for Best Writing—all for films directed by Frank Capra. His screenplay for It Happened One Night, his only Oscar winner, was an adaptation of a short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Riskin had a falling-out with Capra in the early 1940s and did not work with him again. However, his last screenplay, for Here Comes the Groom (1951), written before Riskin suffered a career-ending stroke, was assigned to Capra and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Best Director: Frank Capra (1897–1991)
Frank Capra, a native of Sicily whose family immigrated to the United States when he was a child, directed 54 films and was also a producer and writer. He received six Academy Award nominations for Best Director, winning three Oscars. His win for It Happened One Night was his first; it was followed by Oscars for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and You Can't Take It With You (1938). Generally considered one of the all-time best directors, Capra received the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award in 1982.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the second film to win the Big Five Academy Awards, was produced by Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz for Fantasy Films and distributed by United Artists. The film was nominated for four additional Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Brad Dourif), Best Cinematography (Haskel Wexler and Bill Butler), Best Film Editing (Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman, and Sheldon Kahn), and Best Original Score (Jack Nitzsche). It's considered to be one of the best films of the New Hollywood era.
R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), in prison for statutory rape, is transferred for observation to a mental institution, where he assumes he will serve his time in relative comfort. The ward to which he is assigned is overseen by autocratic, rigid Nurse Ratched (Louis Fletcher), who bullies the patients through humiliation, punishments, and boring routines. The patients live in fear of her and have completely submitted to her control.
The anti-authoritarian McMurphy sees Nurse Ratched for what she is and engages her in a battle of wills on behalf of the other patients. McMurphy forms friendships with two patients: young, suicidal stutterer Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif) and schizophrenic, mute Native American "Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson). While McMurphy and Chief are awaiting shock therapy, McMurphy discovers that Chief can in fact speak, and he lets him in on an escape plan that he has put together.
One night McMurphy gets his girlfriend to sneak into the ward to bring alcohol and help him escape. The patients drink and have fun, but the resulting mess brings more cruelty from Nurse Ratched that leads to tragedy.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a drama that asks serious questions about mental illness, freedom, and related issues. Although the underlying subject matter is grim, the film is leavened with humor and enlivened by great performances.
Interesting Facts About One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
- Kirk Douglas, who played the role of McMurphy in the Broadway stage adaptation, bought the film rights for the novel in the early 60s. He was unable to find a studio that was willing to produce the film and he eventually sold the rights to his son, Michael Douglas. Kirk was considered too old for the lead role by the time the film was able to be produced.
- Ken Kesey, the author of the original novel, clashed with producers over the casting as well as the change in the narrative point of view. He claimed to have never seen the film and he actually sued the producers over the changes they made.
- The movie was filmed in the actual setting of the novel, the Oregon State Hospital.
Best Actor: Jack Nicholson (b. 1937)
One of the top movie actors of all time and a recipient of a Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, Jack Nicholson has received 12 Best Actor Oscar nominations to date, beginning with his nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1969's Easy Rider. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest provided his first win. He also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Terms of Endearment (1983) and won his second award for Best Actor for 1997's As Good as It Gets.
Best Actress: Louise Fletcher (b. 1934)
Louis Fletcher has appeared in over 120 movie and television productions. Although One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest yielded her only Oscar nomination, she was nominated for an Emmy for her work as a guest actress in the 1990s TV series Picket Fences and again for her 2003 appearance in the series Joan of Arcadia.
Best Screenplay (Adapted): Lawrence Hauben (1931–1985) and Bo Goldman (b. 1932)
Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman adapted the screenplay from Ken Kesey's 1962 novel of the same name. Hauben was a writer and occasional actor; he appeared in the 1967 movie Point Blank. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was his only screenwriting credit. Goldman is a prolific and much-honored screenwriter. He received another Oscar for his original screenplay for Melvin and Howard (1981). He was also nominated for his adapted screenplay for 1992's Scent of a Woman.
Best Director: Miloš Forman (1932–2018)
Miloš Forman made several films in his native Czechoslovakia before leaving for the United States in 1968. In addition to winning the Academy Award for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, he also won the Best Director award for Amadeus, which also won the Best Picture award in 1984. He was also nominated for The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Amadeus won four of the Big Five awards, missing out only on the prize for Best Actress.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The third Big Five winner, crime thriller The Silence of the Lambs, was produced by Edward Saxton, Kenneth Utt, and Ronald M. Bozman for Strong Heart/Demme Production and Orion Pictures. It was distributed by Orion. The film also won Oscars for Best Film Editing (Craig McKay) and Best Sound (Tom Fleischman and Christopher Newman), as well as numerous other critics' and popular awards.
The FBI is trying to apprehend a serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine), who skins his female victims. Young FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant but psychopathic psychiatrist turned serial killer, in hopes of having Lecter profile Buffalo Bill. Lecter is incarcerated in an ultra-secure cell in the Baltimore Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Starling travels to Baltimore and meets with Lecter, who initially refuses her attempts to obtain information but eventually offers to give her clues and insights about Buffalo Bill in exchange for Starling revealing information about herself.
The manhunt for Buffalo Bill intensifies with the abduction of a U.S. senator's daughter. Since Lecter has been seeking a transfer to another facility, Starling is authorized to pretend that he will be transferred in return for additional help in catching Buffalo Bill. However, Dr. Frederick Chilton (Anthony Heald), who is in charge of Lecter, undercuts Starling with a deal of his own and transfers Lecter to Memphis, where Lecter provides information about Buffalo Bill to federal agents.
When Starling visits Lecter in Memphis and reveals more information about her childhood, Lecter gives her annotated case files on Buffalo Bill. Starling's analysis of his notes brings her closer to finding Buffalo Bill, but her visit also puts her at risk from Lecter.
The Silence of the Lambs is a thriller in which the tension builds from beginning to end. Like Clarice Starling, the audience is both horrified and fascinated by the psychopathic Lecter. Even with repeat viewings, the movie does not disappoint.
Scary Facts About The Silence of the Lambs
- Jodie Foster was the director's fourth choice for the role of Clarice Starling. Jonathan Demme initially wanted Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan, and Laura Dern. Pfeiffer and Ryan rejected the role because they were not comfortable with the material. The studio rejected Dern because they felt she was not a bankable star.
- Scott Glenn, who plays Jack Crawford in the film, visited an FBI facility in Quantico to prepare for the role. He listened to recordings from serial killers Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris. The recordings reportedly made him weep and made him change his opinion to support the death penalty.
- Anthony Hopkins only has 16 minutes of screen time in the film.
Best Actor: Anthony Hopkins (b. 1937)
Anthony Hopkins was born in Wales and was a member of the National Theatre in London with Sir Laurence Olivier. He has appeared in numerous memorable films since his debut in 1967. Besides his win for The Silence of the Lambs, he has three other Academy Award nominations to his credit: The Remains of the Day (1993), Nixon (1995), and Amistad (1997). His performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs was ranked number one on the American Film Institute's list of greatest screen villains.
Best Actress: Jodie Foster (b. 1962)
Jodie Foster began acting as a child; at age 12, she received her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a prostitute in Taxi Driver (1976). Her Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs was her second; she had previously won the award for Best Actress for The Accused (1988). Foster was again nominated for her work in Nell (1994). A graduate of Yale University, Foster was touched by tragedy during her freshman year when obsessive fan John Hinckley attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan to impress her.
Best Screenplay (Adapted): Ted Tally (b. 1952)
Playwright and screenwriter Ted Tally adapted the screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs from the 1988 novel of the same name by Thomas Harris. Tally has written the screenplays for seven theatrical and TV films, including the Hannibal Lecter prequel Red Dragon (2002). In addition to numerous awards for the screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs, Tally won several critics' awards for his screenplay for All the Pretty Horses (2000).
Best Director: Jonathan Demme (1944–2017)
Jonathan Demme directed numerous feature films, documentaries, and music videos. Among the best known of his other films are the critically acclaimed Melvin and Howard (1980); Philadelphia (1993), for which Tom Hanks won the Oscar for Best Actor; Rachel Getting Married (2008), which featured Anne Hathaway in an Oscar-nominated performance; and the Talking Heads concert movie Stop Making Sense (1984).
Films That Were Nominated for All "Big 5" Oscars
There have been 43 films in total that have been nominated for all Big 5 Oscars. Here are the other 40 films that received nominations.
- Cimarron (1931)
- A Star Is Born (1937)
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
- The Philadelphia Story (1940)
- Rebecca (1940)
- Mrs. Miniver (1942)
- Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
- Johnny Belinda (1948)
- Sunset Boulevard (1950)
- A Place in the Sun (1951)
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
- From Here to Eternity (1953)
- The Country Girl (1954)
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
- Room at the Top (1959)
- The Apartment (1960)
- The Hustler (1961)
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
- The Graduate (1967)
- Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
- The Lion in Winter (1968)
- Love Story (1970)
- Chinatown (1974)
- Lenny (1974)
- Network (1976)
- Rocky (1976)
- Annie Hall (1977)
- Coming Home (1978)
- On Golden Ponds (1981)
- Reds (1981)
- Atlantic City (1981)
- The Remains of the Day (1993)
- The English Patient (1996)
- American Beauty (1999)
- Million Dollar Baby (2004)
- Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
- American Hustle (2013)
- La La Land (2016)
Films That Won Best Picture Without a Best Director Nomination
It is common to see the film that wins the Best Picture award also win the Oscar for Best Director. However, this is not always the case. Here are the Best Picture winners that did not even receive a nomination for Best Director.
- Grand Hotel
- Driving Miss Daisy
- Green Book
Films That Won Four of the "Big Five" Academy Awards
Here is a list of the films that missed out on winning one of the Big Five awards.
- Gone with the Wind: Clark Gable lost the award for Best Actor to Robert Donat's performance in Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Both films received nominations for all Big Five Oscars.
- Mrs. Miniver: The film failed to win the award for Best Actor; the nominee was Walter Pidgeon. The Academy Award went to James Cagney for his performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy. Pigeon would eventually win the award in 1944.
- Annie Hall: Woody Allen was nominated for Best Actor. The award went to Richard Dreyfuss for his performance in The Goodbye Girl.
- American Beauty: Annette Bening was nominated for Best Actress. The award went to Hilary Swank for her performance in Boys Don't Cry.
What About Kramer vs. Kramer?
Kramer vs. Kramer is a fantastic legal drama that won four of the Big Five Oscars. However, it did not receive a nomination for all five awards; it did not get a Best Actress nomination. Meryl Streep did win an Academy Award for her performance in the film, but it was for Best Supporting Actress.
"Big Five" Academy Award Stats
Films That Won Best Actor and Best Actress
Only six films have the distinction of winning the awards for both Best Actor and Best Actress.
- It Happened One Night (1934): Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975): Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher
- Network (1976): Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway
- Coming Home (1978): Jon Voight and Jane Fonda
- On Golden Pond (1981): Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn
- The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster
Nominated Films That Did Not Win Any Big Five Academy Awards
Here are the films that received nominations for all Big Five Oscars but failed to win any of them.
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
- The Hustler (1961)
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
- Love Story (1970)
- Lenny (1974)
- Atlantic City (1980)
- The Remains of the Day (1993)
- American Hustle (2013)
Films That Won the Most Academy Awards
The record for most Oscar wins is currently tied between three films. The record currently stands at 11 awards.
- Ben-Hur (1959)
- Titanic (1997)
- The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
Films With the Most Academy Award Nominations
The record for most Oscar nominations is currently at 14. This feat has been accomplished by three films.
- All About Eve (1950)
- Titanic (1997)
- La La Land (2016)
Honoring the Best
Each year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes many films and their creators for excellence in numerous categories. Just being among the nominees is an honor. Colin Firth, who won the Best Actor award for The King's Speech, suggested at the 83rd Oscars that winning an Academy Award is the peak of one's career. These three winners of the Big Five awards are among the best of the best. See them for yourself!
© 2011 Brian Lokker