Academy Award For Best Production Design: Ranked 10 Winners

Mad Max Fury Road
Mad Max Fury Road (Source: Architectural Digest)

Ranked ten winners of Academy award for best production design!!

First and foremost, a production design is all things that go into creating the world in a film. That might include sets, props, and more.

Regardless of the importance of ‘production design’ in filmmaking, several audiences are still unaware of its existence and take it for granted.

And yes, often, people ascribe credit to the actors, directors, and writers of a movie rather than the production artists working in the shadows.

However, as of now, their importance has been obvious. Hence, we are going to tribute the top ten Academy Award for Best Production Design winners.

Academy Award For Best Production Design
Academy Award For Best Production Design (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica).

Prior to ranking the winners of the Academy Award for Best Production Design, let the wind out of sails over a short history of the award itself.

Correspondingly, the Academy Award for Best Production Design was initially referred to as the Academy Award for Art Direction.

Also, the award was designated to the best monochrome ( black and white) cinema and the best color cinema every year.

Eventually, the Academy decided to merge set decoration with art direction in 1947.

Nevertheless, the award leads the change to Best Production Design.

Quick Overview

Here, we have built a quick run-through so that you can check with ease when in need of creative inspiration. Feel free to check this one out.

Production Design in Movie      Winning Year (Academy Award)
10. Doctor Zhivago 1977
9. Spartacus 1960
8. Mad Max: Fury Road 2015
7. Cleopatra 1963
6. La La Land 2016
5. Batman 1989
4. The Godfather Part II
1974
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003
2. Titanic 1997
1. Star Wars 1977

10. Doctor Zhivago

Year: 1977

Art Directors: John Box, Terence Marsh

Set Decorators: Dario Simoni

Without a doubt, period piece films have better luck of getting the Academy Award for Best Production Design than non-period piece film does.

Doctor Zhivago won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction in 1977. Art director of the film, John Box, won his second Academy Award for Best Production Design.

Doctor-Zhivago-Academy-award
Academy Award for Best Production Design Doctor-Zhivago (Image Source: Pinterest)

Prior to Doctor Zhivago, Box’s first win was for David Lean’s collaboration movie titled Lawrence of Arabia.

Likewise, behind the scenes on the set of Doctor Zhivago gives a clear idea of how the production design was well balanced.

Furthermore, the Academy Award-winning movie showcases the Russian Revolution.

9. Spartacus

Year: 1960

Art Directors: Alexander Golitzin, Eric Orbom

Set Decorators: Russell A. Gausman, Julia Heron

Undoubtedly, one of the deserving winners of the Academy Award for Best Production Design is Stanley Kubrick’s film, Spartacus.

Likewise, none of the similar pictures like A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Eyes Wide Shut had won the Oscar. But Spartacus won it way ahead of time

Spartacus-academy-award
Academy Award for Best Production Design Spartacus (Image Source: Pinterest)

The film Spartacus clearly features few of the best’ production designs’ of any sword-sandal film.

And true, this might not sound like special praise. However, films like Gladiator, Ben-Hur, and Son of Samson were also absolute masterpieces in the production design.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

Year: 2015

Production Designer: Colin Gibson

Set Decorators: Lisa Thompson

If someone took a desert dust bowl and transformed it into an apocalyptic playground for twenty-foot huge cars, then the picture could quite look like Mad Max: Fury Road.

Particularly, the Mad Max films like The Road Warrior have always been praised for their production design. However, things changed after Fury Road, as the series eventually got the first Academy Award for Best Production Design in 2015.

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-academy-award
Mad Max: Fury Road Movie Poster (Image Source: Pinterest)

Likewise, behind-the-scenes footage clearly showcased how difficult the designs were for the film.

Aside from the cars and several interior shots in Mad Max: Fury Road, the sets also do a fantastic job of matching the narrative’s tone.

7. Cleopatra

Year: 1963

Art Directors: John Decuir, Eleven Webb, Jack Martin Smith, Maurice Pelling, Hilyard M. Brown, Boris Juraga

Set Decorators:  Walter M. Scott, Ray Moyer, Paul S. Fox

Another winner, Cleopatra, clearly gives an overall view that today moviemakers do not make film sets like they used to. Undoubtedly, CGI sets have changed the way of moviemaking for big-name studios.

Cleopatra won the Academy Award for Best Production Design in 1963.

cleopatra-academy-awards
Cleopatra Has One of the Best Production Designs (Image Source: Pinterest)

For the realistic tone of Cleopatra, set decorators and art directors made a massive set piece look like of the Roman square empire. Similarly, it contained real people, unlike CGI sets to create a massive crowd.

The Roman square set had to be built twice as Elizabeth Taylor fell sick during the previous attempt at production. Hence, the filming of Cleopatra moved from the UK to Cinecitta in Rome.

6. La La Land

Year: 2016

Production Designer: David Wasco

Set Decorators: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

La La Land features some excellent production designs due to its brilliant use of color.

Some people even go back and forth between putting La La Land and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood because both are stylistic renderings of Los Angeles.

Moreover, the film La La Land won Academy Award for Best Production Design in 2016.

La La Land-academy-award
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the movie La La Land (Image Source: Pinterest)

The movie’s production designers, David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco did an amazing job building the ‘look of love’ throughout La La Land.

Similarly, the film roots in the Hollywood Golden Age and has a deep reverence for cinema.

Also, the audience can see this reverence throughout La la Land, like in the epilogue. The epilogue was clearly inspired by director Damien Chazelle’s most-liked musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

5. Batman

Year: 1989

Art Directors: Anton Furst

Set Decorators:  Peter Young

Superhero movie lovers would agree that the production design of the 1989 Batman film is probably the finest production design of any superhero film ever made.

And yes, the Batman film won the Academy Award for Best Production Design in 1989.

batman-1989-academy-award
1989 Batman Movie Actor Michael Keaton (Image Source: Pinterest)

Likewise, the original set of the movie without cast and crew also looks marvelous to this day.

Some fans even argue that Batman itself is really cool, and so is its set.

Moreover, the 1989 Batman set (Gotham city) has monolithic buildings, captivating gargoyles/ statues, and gothic staircases all over the place. The rest of the production design was great too.

4. The Godfather Part II

Year: 1974

Art Directors: Dean Tavoularis, Angelo P. Graham

Set Decorators: George R. Nelson

The Godfather Part II was gigantic, bolder, and even far better than the original.

Similarly, part second of the franchise won the Academy Award for Best Production Design in 1974.

Throughout the film’s 200 minutes, Francis Ford Coppola transports us from Ellis Island to Lake Tahoe.

The-Godfather-Part-II-academy-awards
The Godfather Part II Movie Poster (Image Source: Pinterest)

The narrative of two generations of Godfathers was great as its production design.

Art directors Tavoularis, Graham, and set decorator Nelson joined to work with Ford Coppola once again for Apocalypse Now.

Although the trio didn’t receive their second Academy Award for Best Production Design, they were nominated for their work in Apocalypse Now.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Year: 2003

Art Directors: Grant Major

Set Decorators: Dan Hannah, Alan Lee

Well, who doesn’t love the massive Lord of the Rings franchise, including Hobbit?

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won the Academy Award For Best Production Design in 2003.

A good ‘production design’ can be the real game-changer between marvelous and average cinema.

The-Lord-of-the-Rings-The-Return-of-the-King
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Poster (Image Source: Pinterest)

Some fans argue over a point between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies that the former and older pictures have excellent production design. But the latter and newer ones struggle to build a world that is realistic and immersive.

Peter Jackson, with the production designers, used miniatures to expert effect in Return of the King.

Likewise, the huge miniatures in the film were so delicately detailed that they are almost identical to real sets.

Also, Read About 10 Celebs Who Rejected An Oscar & Why?

2. Titanic

Year: 1997

Art Directors: Peter Lamont

Set Decorators: Michael Ford

Even though some critics argue over an average storyline of Titanic, almost all appreciate the film’s production design. Titanic’s production design became a game-changer for the cinema industry as a whole.

James Cameron’s Titanic won the Academy Award For Best Production Design in 1997.

Titanic-academy-award
Titanic Has Some of the Best Production Designs (Image Source: Pinterest)

As stated by production/ art designer Peter Lamont, the crew used original archival photographs and blueprints of Titanic for authenticity. They matched almost all of the ship’s interiors to the original.

All in all, Titanic is a perfect example that production design can have a massive impact in regards to visual quality.

1. Star Wars

Year: 1977

Art Directors: John Barry, Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley

Set Decorators: Roger Christian

Star Wars is truly a celebration for movie lovers around the globe.

All in all, the first Star Wars won the Academy Award for Best Production Design in 1977.

starwars-academy-award
1977 Star Wars Movie Poster (Image Source: Pinterest)

George Lucas is definitely worthy of credit for being the visionary man behind Star Wars.

However, he might have been unsuccessful to pull it off without the assistance of talented production designers, including Reynolds, Barry, Christian, and Dilley.

Marvelous and unique pieces like X-wings, lightsabers, and blasters were some of the most famous production designs that have ever been made. And yes, they all were introduced in the original Star Wars.

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