The Readers Have Spoken: The Godfather Wins TIME’s BEST Best Picture Competition

The 70's mafia epic bested a powerful contender—Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—for this year's top spot.

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Oscar mania is alive and well. For the first 60 years of the Academy Awards, presenters opened envelopes and uttered the phrase, “And the winner is…” That all came to a stop in 1999, when the show’s producers changed the presenters’ line to read “And the Oscar goes to…” All nominees, the thought went, are winners, so why make the other nominees feel worse than they surely already did?

Here at TIME, though, we love winners. Each year we pick the one person (or group of people as it happened this year) who most greatly influenced the news. We pick winners. So it was only appropriate in the weeks before the Oscars this year that we choose the winner among winners among winners. (You follow?) In early February, TIME’s dedicated culture staff chose 16 of the 80+ Best Pictures for an ultimate showdown to see what was the best Best Picture of all time as picked by you, the readers of TIME and

The contest began with The Godfather handily dispatching Terms of Endearment by a 9 to 1 ratio. The next day, though, the sequel, which some consider the best of the Godfather trilogy, suffered defeat from an unexpected foe, which announced with the roar of Gandalf the White that fans of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would be the force to be reckoned with in this contest. By a 7-1 proportion, a margin of more than 1,400 votes, Frodo and his Fellowship gave Michael and Fredo the kiss of death.

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Over the next few days, the contest saw some hard slogs. On the Waterfront squeaked by the world’s greatest disaster movie, Titanic, by just over 200 votes. Only 48 votes pushed Woody Allen’s Annie Hall over Billy Wilder’s The Apartment to set up the Elite 8. From here, the favorites seemed to gain steam. T.E. Lawrence and his Arab Army swept past Annie Hall while Casablanca defeated Hannibal Lecter, all while The Godfather and Lord of the Rings advanced handily.

In the final four on Feb. 22, The Godfather vaulted past Lawrence of Arabia in the early contest. The only question would be whether Don Corleone would face the film with perhaps the greatest ending line of all time, or the film that had toppled Godfather Part II. It was a bloody struggle — the tightest vote of the entire contest — but Lord of the Rings prevailed over Casablanca by only 36 votes to take the final place in the championship.

So it came once again to Don Corleone vs. Gandalf and Frodo in two of the great cinema epics. Though the differences in scope and plots vastly outweigh the two films’ similarities, both are unique visions, forced into being by the sheer will of their directors, Francis Ford Coppola in 1972 and Peter Jackson in 2003. Both directors were assured they would fail. Jackson took to his native New Zealand and filmed three films at once; Coppola assembled one of the greatest movie casts, launching the career of Al Pacino and casting Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, a choice everyone told him was crazy. Both films were winners 30 years apart, but this year, The Godfather prevailed by 335 votes out of just over 2,000 total.

But The Godfather shouldn’t rest on its laurels. Beginning in 2010, some Oscar presenters again began using the phrase, “And the winner is…” On Sunday, a new film will become this year’s victor. Although we don’t think any of this year’s crop can unseat the champion, you really never know. That’s why in all likelihood, there will be another contest like this in just one year’s time. Don’t forget to vote.

Are you satisfied with the way things turned out? Out of the 80+ Best Pictures we could have chosen from, which would you have included? Let us know in the comments below.

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See all of the BEST Best Picture matchups here


See TIME’s Full 2012 Oscars Coverage