The Academy Awards have a well-earned reputation for playing it safe when it comes to picking their Best Picture winners, but there’s no denying that they’ve become a bit less predictable in recent years. Diversifying the kinds of movies they champion (if, frustratingly, not the kinds of people in them), the Oscars have slowly started to move away from their history of reflexively exalting lavish musicals and straightforward historical epics.
Just look at last year’s ceremony: Sure, you could argue that Birdman overcame its weirdness by appealing to the film industry’s self-congratulatory narcissism, but there’s really no precedent for an awards juggernaut about a telekinetic actor who’s struggling with social media and begins to caw at strangers. Likewise, this weekend’s likely winner is just as peculiar: The Revenant could be compared in scale to The English Patient and in bleakness to No Country for Old Men. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the Academy has a history of flipping for movies in which the hero’s face is constantly plastered underneath a layer of his own spit.
Still, Alejandro González Iñárritu is hardly the first filmmaker who’s ever inspired the Oscars to reach outside of their comfort zone. Here are 10 Best Picture winners that reminded the world that the Academy sometimes takes the road less traveled.