This most under-appreciated best picture winners movie list features the top most-underappreciated Oscar films of all time, including only titles that have already released. In order to be included in this top 5 most under-appreciated best picture winners list each film has to have won the Academy Award for best picture of the year sometime between present and 1978. Author discretion is the final criteria used to distinguish these most under-appreciated best picture winners.
Box Office Gross: $170,687,518 Adjusted for 2015: $229,847,900
A starry-eyed would-be star discovers just how far the notion that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” can go in this screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Chicago, originally directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. In the mid-’20s, Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) is a small-time chorus dancer married to a well-meaning dunderhead named Amos (John C. Reilly). Roxie is having an affair on the side with Fred Casley (Dominic West), a smooth talker who insists he can make her a star. However, Fred strings Roxie along a bit too far for his own good, and when she realizes that his promises are empty, she becomes enraged and murders Fred in cold blood. Roxie soon finds herself behind bars alongside Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a sexy vaudeville star who used to perform with her sister until Velma discovered that her sister had been sleeping with her husband. Velma shot them both dead, and, after scheming prison matron “Mama” Morton hooks Velma up with hotshot lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), Velma becomes the new Queen of the scandal sheets. Roxie is just shrewd enough to realize that her poor fortune could also bring her fame, so she convinces Amos to also hire Flynn. Soon Flynn is splashing Roxie’s story — or, more accurately, a highly melodramatic revision of Roxie’s story — all over the gutter press, and Roxy and Velma are soon battling neck-to-neck over who can win greater fame through the headlines. A project that had been moving from studio to studio since the musical opened on Broadway in 1973.
Box Office Gross: $172,825,435 Adjusted for 2015: $351,528,600
Self-centered, avaricious Californian Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is informed that his long-estranged father has died. Expecting at least a portion of the elder Babbitt’s $3 million estate, Charlie learns that all he’s inherited is his dad’s prize roses and a 1949 Buick Roadmaster. Discovering that the $3 million is being held in trust for an unidentified party, Charlie heads to his home town of Cincinnati to ascertain who that party is. It turns out that the beneficiary is Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman), the autistic-savant older brother that Charlie never knew he had. Able to memorize reams of trivia and add, subtract, multiply, and divide without a second’s hesitation, Raymond is otherwise incapable of functioning as a normal human being. Aghast that Raymond is to receive his father’s entire legacy, Charlie tries to cut a deal with Raymond’s guardian. When this fails, Charlie “borrows” Raymond from the institution where he lives, hoping to use his brother as leverage to claim half the fortune. During their subsequent cross-country odyssey, Charlie is forced to accommodate Raymond’s various autistic idiosyncracies, not the least of which is his insistence on adhering to a rigid daily schedule: he must, for example, watch People’s Court and Jeopardy every day at the same time, no matter what. On hitting Las Vegas, Charlie hopes to harness Raymond’s finely-honed mathematical skills to win big at the gaming tables; but this exploitation of his brother’s affliction compels Charlie to reassess his own values, or lack thereof. A longtime pet project of star Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man was turned down by several high-profile directors before Barry Levinson took on the challenge of bringing Ronald Bass’ screenplay to fruition (Levinson also appears in the film as a psychiatrist). All three men won Oscars, and the movie won Best Picture.
Box Office Gross: $658,672,302 Adjusted for 2015: $1,100,052,700
This spectacular epic re-creates the ill-fated maiden voyage of the White Star Line’s $7.5 million R.M.S Titanic and the tragic sea disaster of April 15, 1912. Running over three hours and made with the combined contributions of two major studios (20th Century-Fox, Paramount) at a cost of more than $200 million, Titanic ranked as the most expensive film in Hollywood history at the time of its release, and became the most successful. Writer-director James Cameron employed state-of-the-art digital special effects for this production, realized on a monumental scale and spanning eight decades. Inspired by the 1985 discovery of the Titanic in the North Atlantic, the contemporary storyline involves American treasure-seeker Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton) retrieving artifacts from the submerged ship. Lovett looks for diamonds but finds a drawing of a young woman, nude except for a necklace. When 102-year-old Rose (Gloria Stuart) reveals she’s the person in the portrait, she is summoned to the wreckage site to tell her story of the 56-carat diamond necklace and her experiences of 84 years earlier. The scene then shifts to 1912 Southampton where passengers boarding the Titanic include penniless Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and society girl Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet), returning to Philadelphia with her wealthy fiance Cal Hockley (Billy Zane). After the April 10th launch, Rose develops a passionate interest in Jack, and Cal’s reaction is vengeful. At midpoint in the film, the Titanic slides against the iceberg and water rushes into the front compartments. Even engulfed, Cal continues to pursue Jack and Rose as the massive liner begins its descent.
Box Office Gross: $130,096,601 Adjusted for 2015: $202,472,600
Noted theater director Sam Mendes, who was responsible for the acclaimed 1998 revival of Cabaret and Nicole Kidman’s turn in The Blue Room, made his motion picture debut with this film about the dark side of an American family, and about the nature and price of beauty in a culture obsessed with outward appearances. Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man in his mid-40s going through an intense midlife crisis; he’s grown cynical and is convinced that he has no reason to go on. Lester’s relationship with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is not a warm one; while on the surface Carolyn strives to present the image that she’s in full control of her life, inside she feels empty and desperate. Their teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is constantly depressed, lacking in self-esteem, and convinced that she’s unattractive. Her problems aren’t helped by her best friend Angela (Mena Suvari), an aspiring model who is quite beautiful and believes that that alone makes her a worthwhile person. Jane isn’t the only one who has noticed that Angela is attractive: Lester has fallen into uncontrollable lust for her, and she becomes part of his drastic plan to change his body and change his life. Meanwhile, next door, Colonel Fitts (Chris Cooper) has spent a lifetime in the Marine Corps and can understand and tolerate no other way of life, which makes life difficult for his son Ricky (Wes Bentley), an aspiring filmmaker and part-time drug dealer who is obsessed with beauty, wherever and whatever it may be. American Beauty was also the screen debut for screenwriter Alan Ball.
Box Office Gross: $54,580,300 Adjusted for 2015: $69,108,900
Issues of race and gender cause a group of strangers in Los Angeles to physically and emotionally collide in this drama from director and screenwriter Paul Haggis. Graham (Don Cheadle) is a police detective whose brother is a street criminal, and it hurts him to know his mother cares more about his ne’er-do-well brother than him. Graham’s partner is Ria (Jennifer Esposito), who is also his girlfriend, though she has begun to bristle at his emotional distance, as well as his occasional insensitivity over the fact he’s African-American and she’s Hispanic. Rick (Brendan Fraser) is an L.A. district attorney whose wife, Jean (Sandra Bullock), makes little secret of her fear and hatred of people unlike herself. Jean’s worst imaginings about people of color are confirmed when her SUV is carjacked by two African-American men — Anthony (Chris Bridges, aka Ludacris), who dislikes white people as much as Jean hates blacks, and Peter (Larenz Tate), who is more open minded. Cameron (Terrence Howard) is a well-to-do African-American television producer with a beautiful wife, Christine (Thandie Newton). While coming home from a party, Cameron and Christine are pulled over by Officer Ryan (Matt Dillon), who subjects them to a humiliating interrogation (and her to an inappropriate search) while his new partner, Officer Hansen (Ryan Phillippe), looks on. Daniel (Michael Pena) is a hard-working locksmith and dedicated father who discovers that his looks don’t lead many of his customers to trust him. And Farhad (Shaun Toub) is a Middle Eastern shopkeeper who is so constantly threatened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that he decided he needs a gun to defend his family. Crash was the first directorial project for award-winning television and film writer Haggis.