Cannes Film Festival: Winners, History, and Importance

France's Most Prestigious Film Festival

Palme D'or
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 15: The 72nd edition of the Palme d'Or trophy is pictured during the Cannes Film Festival at the Chopard Jewellery House Suite during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 15, 2019 in Cannes, France.

Marc Piasecki / Getty Images

The Cannes Film Festival is an annual festival held every May in Cannes, France. Since its inception in 1946, it has become one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Filmmakers consider the festival's top award—the Palme d'Or—one of the highest honors in cinema.

Did You Know?

Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, which won the Palme d'Or in 2019, was the first South Korean film to win the award. It has grossed over $70 million USD in its native South Korea.

History

The inaugural festival was held in 1946 as the First Cannes International Film Festival. Plans for a festival in Cannes, a city on the French Riviera, had been in the works since the late 1930s, but the festival's launch was delayed until after World War II. Nonetheless, the economy of post-war France proved unable to sustain an international film festival and it was not celebrated in 1948 or 1950. The festival has been held annually since 1951, and it has quickly become one of the premiere film festivals in the world, known for attracting international celebrities, renowned filmmaking talent, and hundreds of media outlets.

Though many films are submitted to Cannes in order to compete for the festival's prestigious awards, a section for "original and different" films, titled Un Certain Regard, was established in 1978. Many other films screen out of competition during the festival.

The festival's initial highest award was named the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film. Initially, multiple films could win the award, with 11 films winning the award at the inaugural 1946 festival. Beginning in 1955, a new highest honor award, the Palme d'Or, was introduced and awarded to the winning film's director. The Grand Prix du Festival International du Film again became the highest honor in 1964, but in 1975 the festival switched back to the Palme d'Or as its most prestigious honor (the festival's second-highest honor is currently called the Grand Prix).

The Palme d'Or and other Cannes Film Festival awards are voted on by a jury made up of an international selection of noted film professionals and other artists. Currently, the jury is set at nine individuals, including a jury president. There have been a few instances when two films tied for the Palme d'Or. The last time this happened was 1997, when Taste of Cherry and The Eel were jointly awarded the honor.

Current awards for the festival for films in competition also include honors for Best Short Film (Palme d'Or du court métrage), Best Actor (Prix d'interprétation masculine), Best Actress (Prix d'interprétation féminine), Best Director (Prix de la mise en scène), and Best Screenplay (Prix du scénario). There are also awards for student films, innovative films, and first-time filmmakers, as well as many awards given by unaffiliated organizations (for example, the "Queer Palm," which was first awarded in 2010, is given to the best LGBT-related film at the festival).

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
American actor Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in the film 'Taxi Driver', 1976. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Notable Winners

Over its 70 years of history, the Cannes Film Festival has featured a number of films that won major awards at Cannes and later went on to gain more recognition and success. This is a partial list of some of the festival's most notable winners:

1949 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film: The Third Man 

The British film noir classic The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed, later won the Academy Award for Best Black and White Cinematography and the British Academy Film Award for Best British Film.

1955 Palme d'Or: Marty 

The heart-warming American romantic comedy Marty, directed by Delbert Mann, would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

1959 Palme d'Or: Black Orpheus

The Brazilian romantic drama Black Orpheus, directed by Marcel Camus, later won both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

1966 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film: A Man and a Woman 

The French drama A Man and a Woman, directed by Claude Lelouch, later won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Academy Award for Best Writing.

1967 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film: Blowup

The thriller Blowup, an English-language film directed by Italian Michelangelo Antonioni, later was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay and was an international box office hit.

1970 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film: MASH 

The American comedy MASH, directed by Robert Altman, later won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

1974 Grand Prix du Festival International du Film: The Conversation 

The American thriller The Conversation, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. While it didn't win, the Oscar was awarded to The Godfather Part II, which was also directed by Coppola. 

1976 Palme d'Or: Taxi Driver

The American thriller Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese, did not win any of the four Academy Awards it was nominated for. However, it has since been recognized as an enduring classic of 1970s U.S. cinema.

1979 Palme d'Or: Apocalypse Now and The Tin Drum (tie)

Although the American war film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, was unfinished when it premiered at Cannes, it was one of the joint winners of the Palme d'Or. It was later nominated for eight Oscars, winning Best Sound and Best Cinematography. The year's other winner of the Palme d'Or, the West German drama The Tin Drum, later won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

1988 Palme d'Or: Pelle the Conqueror

The Danish drama Pelle the Conqueror, directed by Bille August, later won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Salvatore Cascio and Philippe Noiret in the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso
Salvatore Cascio and Philippe Noiret in Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988). Miramax

1988 Grand Prix du Jury: Cinema Paradiso (tie)

The Italian drama Cinema Paradiso, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, was one of the joint winners of the 1989 Grand Prix du Jury (the other winner was the French film Too Beautiful for You). It later won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, the BAFTA Award for Best Film (Not in the English Language), and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

1989 Palme d'Or: Sex, Lies, and Videotape

The American drama Sex, Lies, and Videotape, directed by Steven Soderbergh, was one of the first major releases of the U.S. independent cinema movement of the 1990s. Prior to the Cannes win, it won an Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, and it later won Best Feature (and three other awards) at the Independent Spirit Awards.

1993 Palme d'Or: The Piano and Farewell My Concubine (tie)

The New Zealand drama The Piano, directed by Jane Campion, marked the only time a female filmmaker won the Palme d'Or. It later won three Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay, and three BAFTA Awards. The other winner of the Palme d'Or that year, the Chinese drama Farewell My Concubine, was later nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography and won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language.

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is awarded the Golden Palm at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival
CANNES, FRANCE: US Film director Quentin Tarantino (L) poses with the Golden Palm he was awarded 23 May 1994 for "Pulp Fiction," next to Italian movie star Virna Lisi who was named best actress for her part in the French movie "La Reine Margot" at Cannes' Palais des Festivals. Patrick Hetzog/AFP/Getty Images

1994 Palme d'Or: Pulp Fiction

The American crime film Pulp Fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino, has since been recognized as one of the most successful independent films of all time. It later won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay as well as five awards (including Best Feature) at the Independent Spirit Awards.

1998 Grand Prix: Life is Beautiful

The Italian comedy-drama Life is Beautiful, directed and starring Roberto Benigni, later won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor, and Best Original Score. 

2002 Palme d'Or: The Pianist

The Pianist, directed by Roman Polanski, later won the Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor, and the BAFTA Awards for Best Film and Best Director. These honors were controversial because Polanski has been a fugitive from the U.S. since 1978 after pleading guilty to statutory rape.

2012 Palme d'Or: Amour

The drama Amour, directed by Michael Haneke, later won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated to four other Oscars, including Best Picture. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language.

2013 Palme d'Or: Blue Is the Warmest Colour 

In an unprecedented move, the Cannes jury awarded the Palme d'Or to not only Blue is the Warmest Colour director Abdellatif Kechiche, but also to the film's two lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. The film was also awarded the independent FIPRESCI Prize from the International Federation of Film Critics.

2018 Grand Prix: BlackKklansman 

The American drama BlackKklansman, directed by Spike Lee, later won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.