In Over 90 Years, Only 3 Movies Won the Top 5 at the Oscars (and No, It's Not LotR)

In Over 90 Years, Only 3 Movies Won the Top 5 at the Oscars (and No, It's Not LotR)
Image credit: Legion-Media

Winning one Oscar is an honor, but winning 5 is nearly impossible.


  • Only 3 films have ever been awarded the historical Big Five.
  • The most recent to win all 5 was more than 30 years ago.
  • Few other films have come close to this achievement.

Lord of the Rings may have held the one ring to rule them all, but surprisingly, it did not have the power to accomplish the ultimate feat at the Academy Awards.

What many refer to as the "Big Five" - the five major categories - are Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Winning one is a huge accomplishment, but winning all 5 for one movie is something that has only happened 3 times in the history of the Oscars.

Others came close, but these films walked away with all the top awards.

It Happened One Night (1934)

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Released almost a century ago and still considered one of the greatest films ever made, It Happened One Night defined the romantic comedy with a witty and original love story that swept audiences off their feet. Ellie is a naive and love-struck socialite on a journey to find her beloved and on the run from her father. Peter is an out-of-work reporter looking for his big break who agrees to help Ellie on the condition that she give him the rights to her story.

Starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, the movie tells a classic will-they/won't-they story as the two leads grapple with their unexpected feelings for each other after being stranded and forced to face a variety of comedic situations together.

At the 7th Annual Academy Awards, It Happened One Night did what no other film had ever done before, winning the "Big Five" awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

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Four decades after the first "clean sweep," One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest became the second film to win the highest honor in the five major categories. In addition, the film was later declared "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Set in the early 1960s, a Korean War veteran in constant trouble with the law fakes insanity to avoid prison. When he finds himself in a restrictive and oppressive mental institution, he rallies his fellow patients to lead a revolt against the tyrannical nurse in charge.

Directed by Milos Forman, the mental hospital drama starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher won the "Big Five" at the 48th Academy Awards. Nicholson would go on to win 2 more Oscars and receive a total of 12 Oscar nominations in his acting career.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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The third and final film to win all top 5 Oscars was this iconic thriller-horror starring Anthony Hopkins as a cannibalistic doctor.

The movie centers on an FBI agent (played by Jodi Foster) who enlists the help of imprisoned psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter to catch a serial killer. The brilliant but bloodthirsty doctor and the ambitious FBI agent play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, each determined to get what they want.

In addition to winning all 5 major categories at the 64th Academy Awards, Jonathan Demme's film was the first horror film to win the Oscar for Best Picture and is still considered one of the best and most influential films ever made.

In nearly 100 years, only three films have achieved all-around cinematic excellence. Few others have come close, with an impressive four out of five. They include Gone With the Wind (1939), American Beauty (2000), The King's Speech (2010), and most recently, Everything Everywhere All At Once (2023).