Five Great Action Films Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar

Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
February 4th, 2014

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Oscar nominees for Best Picture are typically of the dramatic variety, the equivalent of the literary genre in books. They are heavy on dramatic themes, human issues and, sometimes, romance. Action films are nominated for the prestigious award less often, but when they are, they often feature sweeping storytelling to go along with the rousing action as well as a focus on a more human element in characterization. Take a look at five action-packed films that were nominated for Best Picture and a few that won the award.


braveheart-image_0.jpgPhoto Credit: Paramount Pictures

"Braveheart" (1995)

"Braveheart" was an action-adventure film with a historical bent, directed by actor and producer Mel Gibson. Gibson also starred in the film as the titular hero, Scotsman William Wallace. Besides the Best Picture nomination, it was nominated for nine other categories for a total of ten. It won five of those awards, including Best Picture. "Braveheart" was packed with medieval-style action that was unflinching and violent. However, it also featured the epic storyline, albeit somewhat embellished, of embattled Scottish rebel William Wallace taking on the domineering English overlords. The film claimed mostly positive reviews and plenty of box office success, having the thirteenth highest gross of the year. The sweeping epic had everything to woo the Oscars, including a compelling tragic storyline, a historical backdrop and an Academy Award-nominated soundtrack by John Horner. "Braveheart" captured the Best Picture award over a children's movie, "Babe," a light hearted Jane Austin adaptation, "Sense and Sensibility", the intense docudrama "Apollo 13" and the foreign entry "Il Postino: The Postman."


saving-private-ryan-image.jpgPhoto Credit: DreamWorks Distribution

"Saving Private Ryan" (1998)

"Saving Private Ryan" was a groundbreaking action film taking place during World War Two. Tom Hanks played the primary protagonist, while Matt Damon had the role of the titular character, Private Ryan. Directed by Steven Spielberg, "Saving Private Ryan" drew applause and positive reviews for its unflinching and graphic portrayal of war. It became the highest grossing U.S. film of the year and garnered 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The story centered around a captain with the United States Army Rangers, played by Tom Hanks, who is searching for a Private First Class paratrooper played by Matt Damon. Private Ryan is the last surviving sibling of four men serving in the war. The film was fairly widely favored to win the Oscar that year, but it had stiff competition in the whimsical "Shakespeare in Love", another World War Two movie "The Thin Red Line" and the historical drama "Elizabeth". In the end, "Saving Private Ryan" lost the award to "Shakespeare in Love", but it won five other categories.


gladiator-image.jpgPhoto Credit: DreamWorks Distribution

"Gladiator" (2000)

"Gladiator" was an action-packed tale of ancient Rome starring Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. The story was wholly fictional but set amongst a sweeping historical backdrop that brought the days of gladiators and emperors to life. Crowe plays a fictional Roman general who is betrayed and finds himself reduced to a slave. He then fights his way to the top of the gladiatorial arena in order to avenge himself and his family. The film was widely praised and did well at the box office, leading to the discussion that the historical epic was back in a big way. "Gladiator" was nominated for 12 Oscars, and it won five of these, including Best Picture.


the-departed-image_0.jpgPhoto Credit: Warner Bros.

"The Departed" (2006)

"The Departed" was equal parts suspense thriller and action crime. It was a reworking of a Hong Kong film called "Infernal Affairs." Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as the police and gangland moles respectively, the film leaned heavily on violent action sequences. Jack Nicholson played the gang boss, while Mark Wahlberg played the sergeant who asks DiCaprio's character to go undercover. Tense and well-scripted with plenty of action and paranoia to go around, "The Departed" met with critical approval and a solid box office. It won four Oscars, including Best Picture.


avatar-image.jpgPhoto Credit: Twentieth Fox Film Corporation

"Avatar" (2009)

"Avatar" was a highly anticipated science fiction action film directed by James Cameron. It centered around an invasive force from Earth looking for a precious metal. The protagonist gets caught up in trying to help his people but instead finds injustice being handed out to the native people. It starred Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, but the actor and actress had very little face time as they were replaced by CGI alien renderings. The film featured a staggering amount of CGI and motion-capture graphics and was also shown in 3D in many theaters. "Avatar" met with mostly positive critical reviews and did well at the box office, though most of this was attributed to the more costly 3D tickets. It was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, but did not win that top award.

Action films typically own one nominated spot in the Best Picture category every other year at the Oscars, but they are often left out in the cold when the awards are handed out. The key for most action-packed films to win the day is to present a hefty helping of drama alongside the action, and historical backdrops seem to help as well.