Highest Oscar Winning Movies

Top 10 Most Oscar Winning December Releases in the 21st Century

By Terence Johnson
Managing Editor

December is a time for family and the holidays, as well as films everyone assumes will go onto Oscar glory. There are some big releases coming out this December hoping to catch the same heat and so today we’re going take a look at the films from the 21st Century that have the best success with Oscar.

10, tie. Les Miserables (2012) and Avatar (2009) with 3 wins (out of 9 nominations)

Both films that had big box office clout, only to get disappointing nomination totals and found themselves cut down by critics. These movies also were up against some serious underdog narratives with Argo and The Hurt Locker that it was never really a contest.

9, tie. The Pianist and Brokeback Mountain with 3 wins (out of 8 nominations)

There are perhaps two of the most notable losers in recent Oscar history. Polanski’s The Pianist almost caught Chicago at the end of that Oscar season, winning Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actor Prizes, ultimately losing to the glitzier film. Brokeback on the other hand, has the distinction of being one of a few films whose movie won Best Director without winning Picture, getting eclipsed by the starrier (and less controversial at the time) Crash.

8. King Kong (2005) 3 wins (out of 4 nominations)

Peter Jackson features heavily on any list of highest Oscar winning films in December (he just missed for being on her with LOTR: Two Towers) and in terms of winning percentage this is pretty high (75%). Of course this film did it’s damage in the tech categories., despite not being that well received (reminds me a lot of The Great Gatsby this year).

7. Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) 4 wins (out of 13 nominations)

The first film in the epic trilogy managed to get a grip of nominations and some wins. Despite being a hit and (arguably) the best film in this franchise, it was still too new of a commodity to give the big prize to, especially with A Beautiful Mind right there.

6. The King’s Speech (2010) 4 wins, including Best Picture (out of 12 nominations)

This was like Million Dollar Baby vs. Sideways Pt. 2 in that this film won over The Social Network, which had won almost every critics group award. Though the tide was against it early on, the second the guilds started voting it was a wrap. It’s big box office and likability aided it on the way to Oscar glory.

5. A Beautiful Mind (2001) 4 wins, including Best Picture (out of 8 nominations)

Looking at the 2001 lineup now (it was up against Moulin Rouge, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, In the Bedroom, and Gosford Park) and you might have a hard time figuring out how this film won Best Picture. But with an overdue and extremely well liked director at the helm and a $313 million worldwide gross, all the pieces were there for Oscar success.

4. Million Dollar Baby (2004) 4 wins, including Best Picture (out of 7 nominations)

Of the films on this list, I think this might be the film that came on the latest with awards bodies that ended up winning. That year you had Sideways winning all of the critics groups and a big Scorsese epic in the mix, but Oscar ended up going with a film in their favorite sports genre (boxing) and a big box office ($213 million worldwide on a $30 million budget) as their choice.

3, tie. The Aviator (2004) and Hugo (2011) with 5 wins (out of 11 nominations)

This Martin Scorsese double bill is what happens when your film has impeccable technical achievements but isn’t liked enough to win the overall prize. Both were large labors of love for the director and tapped into cinema history but just didn’t have the steam to overthrow more likable audience friendly films (Million Dollar Baby in ’04 and The Artist in ’11).

2. Chicago (2002), 6 wins, including Best Picture (out of 13 nominations)

This could certainly fall under the too big to ignore tag (mammoth box office, those stars, the glitz and razzle dazzle) and coming on the heels of Moulin Rouge the Academy re-embraced musicals. But it certainly had to fend off a worth challenger that was also a December release in The Pianist.

1. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003) 11 wins, including Best Picture (out of 11 nominations)

Easily the number one film on this list, this final film in the epic trilogy stands alongside Ben Hur and Titanic as the films with the most Oscars. Unlike those other two films, this movie won every award it was nominated for. There was no real competition for this film given how it was the last film in a big franchise that they’d embraced previously but never gave a Best Picture win.

Please notice that five out of these 10 films have won Best Picture, and all of them were certified box office hits. It also helped that they had well regarded directors who were either overdue or had Harvey behind the film. Traditionally, it’s better to come out in October or November if you want to win Best Picture in that it gives the most time to reap awards and fend off any backlash that a film might incur. Looking at this year’s December slate, there are a few films that could be angling to win the prize. American Hustle has already had a good box office haul and it should do well once it goes wide. Having David O. Russell at the helm (been nominated for Best Picture the past two films) and a starry cast will definitely help. The Wolf of Wall Street is no doubt a film that everyone is waiting to see and given the wonderful reviews and the sure to be big box office, this is the film most likely to be the late comer that wins.

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