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Looking back: The 10 most successful films at the Oscars

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic

After five previous unsuccessful nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio would be the most popular winner of the night in the Best Actor category.

Away from his survival drama there may be success for Kate Winslet, up for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Steve Jobs’ research partner in Danny Boyle’s film about the Apple boss.

But no film is likely to enjoy a golden night quite like the one which paired the two stars together, and was filmed 20 years ago this summer.


11 Oscars

Titanic was the most successful in terms of takings at the box office – until beaten by Cameron’s Avatar in 2009 (20 CENTURY FOX/ Sportsphoto Ltd./ Allstar)
Titanic was the most successful in terms of takings at the box office – until beaten by Cameron’s Avatar in 2009 (20 CENTURY FOX/ Sportsphoto Ltd./ Allstar)

James Cameron’s Titanic holds the record for the most successful film of all time in terms of Oscar recognition with 14 nominations (tied for the most with All About Eve) and 11 wins (tied with Ben-Hur and Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King).

The other awards dos certainly didn’t provide a pointer that year. Titanic won four Globes (two of which were for its music) but saw its hopes at the BAFTAs sink without trace (no wins from 10 nominations).

But it was the darling of the Academy, who were wooed by the attention to detail of such people as set designer Peter Lamont.

A veteran of 18 James Bond movies, Peter discovered the manufacturer of the original carpeting for Titanic’s Dining Saloon and Reception Room was still in business. The company, BMK Stoddard of England, still had the pattern on file and could reproduce the dyes, so adding another element of reality unnoticed by most of us.

It was, of course, the central romance between Leo’s Jack Dawson and Kate’s Rose DeWitt Bikater that cinema audiences were focused on.

Travelling on a ship physically designed to prevent them from ever meeting, steerage-class passenger Jack and well-to-do Rose defy the social conventions of their time – not to mention a fiance on board – to fall in love.

Tom Cruise loved the script and wanted to play Jack but, on a movie where money was spent like water on special effects, Tom’s asking price was considered too high. Matthew McConaughey was another to miss out. Gwyneth Paltrow and Claire Danes were both considered for the role of Rose.

As well as its Oscar success, the film was the most successful in terms of takings at the box office – until beaten by Cameron’s Avatar in 2009.


11 Oscars

This Technicolor “sword and sandals” epic was the most expensive movie ever made back in 1959 (the budget came in at just short of £10 million).

It’s often said that Charlton Heston is caught wearing a wristwatch and the wheels of a red Ferrari can be seen during the famous chariot race – but both are myths.

Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King

11 Oscars

The concluding instalment of Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings saga became the first fantasy film to receive the Best Picture Oscar.

The movie trilogy received

30 Oscar nominations in total, only one of which was for acting (Sir Ian McKellen earned a Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as Gandalf in The Fellowship Of The Ring).

West Side Story

10 Oscars

In an era when Hollywood really knew how to put on a musical, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet is regarded as one of the very best.

The Montagues and Capulets are replaced by the Jets and the Sharks, the palaces of Verona by the streets of New York.

But the young lovers at the heart of the story are doomed all the same.

Gone With The Wind

Eight Oscars (plus two honorary)

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

The US Civil War epic was the first colour picture to win Best Film but it’s also produced another first which puts the row about racial discrimination at this year’s Oscars into perspective.

Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Oscar for her role as housemaid Mammy, but on Oscar night she was segregated from her co-stars and sat at the back of the room.

The Last Emperor

Nine Oscars

It’s often said that the Oscars love a true story but the most successful was not the typical heroic tale of someone overcoming overwhelming odds – but a privileged ruler’s fall from grace.

Born in 1906, Pu Yi became Emperor of China at the age of two. By the time of his death, in 1967, he was employed by his country’s Communist rulers as a gardener.


Nine Oscars

(MGM / The Kobal Collection)

Vincente Minnelli’s name lives on as the father of Liza and second husband of Judy Garland. But he was known in the 1950s as a director of fantastic musicals such as Meet Me In St Louis and An America In Paris.

Gigi, the story of a romance between a rich playboy and a young girl in turn of the 20th Century Paris was the most successful of those with Oscar judges.

The English Patient

Nine Oscars

“The British are coming,” announced Colin Welland when he collected his Oscar for Chariots Of Fire in 1982 and, 14 years later, we got there.

The English Patient is the most successful British film at the Oscars.

In true make do and mend style the Germans who shoot down Ralph Fiennes’ plane were actually tourists roped in to help out as the production couldn’t afford any more extras.

From Here To Eternity

Eight Oscars

Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster in swimming trunks and a genuinely drunk Montgomery Clift . . . From Here to Eternity had it all for 1950s cinemagoers.

The urban myth that Sinatra was cast after the Mafia made the head of Columbia Pictures “an offer he couldn’t refuse” was later made famous by another Best Picture winner – The Godfather.


Eight Oscars

Cabaret holds the distinction for the film with most Oscar wins which doesn’t include Best Picture (which went that year to The Godfather instead).

Set in 1930s Berlin, it’s the story of a love affair that develops between cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) and a naive young Englishman (Michael York) amid the city’s decadent cafe society while the Nazis begin their rise to power.


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