The Only Movies That Have Won the 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
- Actor in a Leading Role
- Actress in a Leading Role
- Writing (either Original Screenplay or Adapted Screenplay)
Through the 89th Academy Awards in 2017, 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 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 only two of the Big Five. Damien Chazelle wrote the film’s original screenplay and 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 succeeded in winning all five Oscars®.
The Winners of the Big Five Oscars®
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Actress in a Leading Role
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." Since in the well-known Biblical story the walls of Jericho ultimately come tumbling down, 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.
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Clark Gable (1901–1960)
Clark Gable's Oscar® nomination for "It Happened One Night" was his first of three, but 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." 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 in a Leading Role: Claudette Colbert (1903–1996)
French native Claudette Colbert moved to the United States with her family at the age of 3. 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 as Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the 1987 TV movie "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles."
Best Writing (Adaptation): 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 5 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 Directing: 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 6 Academy Award® nominations for Best Director, winning 3 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 Actor in a Supporting Role (Brad Dourif), Best Cinematography (Haskel Wexler and Bill Butler), Best Film Editing (Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman, and Sheldon Kahn), and Best Music, Original Score (Jack Nitzsche).
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.
Best Actor in a Leading Role: 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 as Best Actor in a Supporting Role for 1969's "Easy Rider." "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" provided his first win. He also won the Oscar® as Best Actor in a Supporting Role for "Terms of Endearment" (1983) and won his second award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for 1997's "As Good as It Gets."
Best Actress in a Leading Role: 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 Writing (Adapted Screenplay): 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 sometime actor, who 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) and was nominated for his adapted screenplay for 1992's "Scent of a Woman."
Best Directing: 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 won the Best Directing Oscar® for "Amadeus," the Best Picture of 1984, and was 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 in a Leading Role.
"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 and 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 bring 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.
Best Actor in a Leading Role: 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, and besides his win for "The Silence of the Lambs" 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 #1 on the American Film Institute's list of greatest screen villains.
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Jodie Foster (b. 1962)
Jodie Foster began acting as a child, and at age 12 she received her first Oscar® nomination as Best Actress in a Supporting Role 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 in a Leading Role 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 Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium): 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 "The 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 Directing: 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 in a Leading Role; "Rachel Getting Married" (2008), featuring Anne Hathaway in an Oscar®-nominated performance; and the Talking Heads concert movie "Stop Making Sense" (1984).
Honoring the Best
Each year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes many films and those who make them for excellence in numerous categories. Just being among the nominees is an honor, and winning is, as Colin Firth, voted Best Actor in a Leading Role for "The King's Speech," suggested at the 83rd Oscars®, the peak of one's career. These three winners of the Big Five awards are among the best of the best. See for yourself!
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Brian Lokker