There is a saying: the best film editing is the editing that nobody notices. Though there are exceptions, this is pretty widely accepted as truth for the most part. So if good editing purposely avoids standing out, how are the nominees and winners of the Best Film Editing Oscar picked out and decided?

The editing style of a particular film is at the behest of the story being told and the style of the director telling it. Large-scale films that are grand in scope and full of flashy, complex sequences are sure to impress, which is why war films tend to dominate the editing and sound categories at the Academy Awards. If a film wins Best Picture, the odds of it scoring a Best Film Editing nomination are extremely high. For more than three decades in the history of the Academy Awards, every single Best Picture Oscar winner was also nominated for the Best Film Editing Oscar as well.

Join us in counting down the 20 most impressive winners of the Best Film Editing Oscar

Academy Award for best editing winners

Complete list of Best Editing Winners

  • 2020: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen (Sound of Metal
  • 2019: Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland (Ford v Ferrari
  • 2018: John Ottman (Bohemian Rhapsody
  • 2017: Lee Smith (Dunkirk
  • 2016: John Gilbert (Hacksaw Ridge
  • 2015: Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  • 2014: Tom Cross (Whiplash
  • 2013: Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger (Gravity
  • 2012: William Goldenberg (Argo)
  • 2011: Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • 2010: Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (The Social Network
  • 2009: Chris Innis and Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker
  • 2008: Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire
  • 2007: Christopher Rouse (The Bourne Ultimatum
  • 2006: Thelma Schoonmaker (The Departed
  • 2005: Hughes Winborne (Crash)
  • 2004: Thelma Schoonmaker (The Aviator
  • 2003: Jamie Selkirk (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • 2002: Martin Walsh (Chicago
  • 2001: Pietro Scalia (Black Hawk Down
  • 2000: Stephen Mirrione (Traffic
  • 1999: Zach Staenberg (The Matrix)
  • 1998: Michael Kahn (Saving Private Ryan
  • 1997: Conrad Buff, James Cameron and Richard A. Harris (Titanic
  • 1996: Walter Murch (The English Patient
  • 1995: Mike Hill and Daniel P. Hanley (Apollo 13
  • 1994: Arthur Schmidt (Forrest Gump
  • 1993: Michael Kahn (Schindler's List
  • 1992: Joel Cox (Unforgiven
  • 1991: Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia (JFK
  • 1990: Neil Travis (Dances with Wolves
  • 1989: David Brenner and Joe Hutshing (Born on the Fourth of July
  • 1988: Arthur Schmidt (Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  • 1987: Gabriella Cristiani (The Last Emperor)
  • 1986: Claire Simpson (Platoon)
  • 1985: Thom Noble (Witness
  • 1984: Jim Clark (The Killing Fields)
  • 1983: Glenn Farr, Lisa Fruchtman, Stephen A. Rotter, Douglas Stewart and Tom Rolf (The Right Stuff
  • 1982: John Bloom (Gandhi
  • 1981: Michael Kahn (Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • 1980: Thelma Schoonmaker (Raging Bull
  • 1979: Alan Heim (All That Jazz
  • 1978: Peter Zinner (The Deer Hunter
  • 1977: Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew (Star Wars
  • 1976: Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad (Rocky
  • 1975: Verna Fields (Jaws
  • 1974: Harold F. Kress and Carl Kress (The Towering Inferno)
  • 1973: William H. Reynolds (The Sting
  • 1972: David Bretherton (Cabaret)
  • 1971: Gerald B. Greenberg (The French Connection
  • 1970: Hugh S. Fowler (Patton
  • 1969: Françoise Bonnot (Z
  • 1968: Frank P. Keller (Bullitt
  • 1967: Hal Ashby (In the Heat of the Night)
  • 1966: Fredric Steinkamp, Henry Berman, Stewart Linder and Frank Santillo (Grand Prix)
  • 1965: William H. Reynolds (The Sound of Music)
  • 1964: Cotton Warburton (Mary Poppins
  • 1963: Harold F. Kress (How the West Was Won
  • 1962: Anne V. Coates (Lawrence of Arabia)
  • 1961: Thomas Stanford (West Side Story
  • 1960: Daniel Mandell (The Apartment)
  • 1959: Ralph E. Winters and John D. Dunning (Ben-Hur)
  • 1958: Adrienne Fazan (Gigi
  • 1957: Peter Taylor (The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • 1956: Gene Ruggiero and Paul Weatherwax (Around the World in 80 Days
  • 1955: Charles Nelson and William A. Lyon (Picnic)
  • 1954: Gene Milford (On the Waterfront
  • 1953: William A. Lyon (From Here to Eternity
  • 1952: Elmo Williams and Harry W. Gerstad (High Noon
  • 1951: William Hornbeck (A Place in the Sun
  • 1950: Ralph E. Winters and Conrad A. Nervig (King Solomon's Mines)
  • 1949: Harry W. Gerstad (Champion
  • 1948: Paul Weatherwax (The Naked City
  • 1947: Francis Lyon and Robert Parrish (Body and Soul)
  • 1946: Daniel Mandell (The Best Years of Our Lives
  • 1945: Robert J. Kern (National Velvet
  • 1944: Barbara McLean (Wilson
  • 1943: George Amy (Air Force)
  • 1942: Daniel Mandell (The Pride of the Yankees
  • 1941: William Holmes (Sergeant York
  • 1940: Anne Bauchens (North West Mounted Police)
  • 1939: Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcom (Gone with the Wind
  • 1938: Ralph Dawson (The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • 1937: Gene Havlick and Gene Milford (Lost Horizon
  • 1936: Ralph Dawson (Anthony Adverse)
  • 1935: Ralph Dawson (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
  • 1934: Conrad A. Nervig (Eskimo)

Best editing Oscar

20. Platoon (1986)

Excellent editing in Platoon’s most iconic scene

Starting right off the bat with a war film, a favorite of the Best Film Editing Oscar category. Platoon was directed by Oliver Stone and edited by Claire Simpson. The battle scenes might not be quite as grand in scale as some other war films but there is plenty of subtlety and nuance made in editing decisions in and out of the warfare scenes.

Academy Award for Best Film Editing

Conclusion

Platoon also won the Best Sound, Best Director, and Best Picture.

Films with good editing

19. Bullitt (1968)

A pivotal moment in car chases an action filmmaking

Bullitt is an important film to cinematic history and was incredibly influential immediately upon release. Frank P. Keller’s editing of the groundbreaking car chase is at least partially responsible for the shaping of the burgeoning action-filmmaking scene of the time.

Best editing in films

Conclusion

Frank P. Keller was also awarded the Eddie award given by the American Cinema Editors society.

Academy award for best film editing

18. Forrest Gump (1994)

A look into the making of Forrest Gump

The beloved Forrest Gump required cutting-edge technical proficiency in every area of filming and assembling. released just a single year after the groundbreaking Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump made use of CGI when the technology was still in its infancy, which certainly complicated the editing process for Arthur Schmidt working alongside the VFX team.

Best editing Oscar

Conclusion

Forrest Gump was a smash-hit at the Academy Awards, racking up six wins of 13 total nominations.

Films with good editing

17. Ben-Hur (1959)

Ben-Hur wins at the 32nd annual Academy Awards

The release of Ben-Hur in 1959 was a monumental moment for cinema. The film is, of course, best remembered for the stunning chariot race, which would be nowhere near as enthralling without the talents of Ralph E. Winters and John D. Dunning in the editing room.

Academy Award for best film editing

Conclusion

Ben-Hur won a whopping 11 Academy Awards at the 1960 ceremony.

Academy Awards best editing

16. Star Wars (1977)

How editing saved a potential disaster in Star Wars

Star Warsaka Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, is a clear case of editing saving the day. The film made use of a trio of talents in the editing room with Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew, and Marcia Lucas, who was married to director George Lucas at the time. Many believed that Star Wars would be a failure upon seeing the footage after filming had wrapped, but this team of editors turned those skeptics around entirely and cut together an all-time classic. One editing technique that Star Wars is known for is the wipe transition. Discover every type of editing transition in our breakdown.

Best editing in films

Conclusion

Star Wars did very well in the technical categories at the Oscars, winning for art direction, costume design, sound, visual, and music.

Academy Award for best film editing

15. The Departed (2006)

Thelma Schoonmaker Editing Style  •  Subscribe on YouTube

The Departed brought the beloved Thelma Schoonmaker her third Oscar for Best Film Editing. Schoonmaker is best known for her collaborations with director Martin Scorsese, whose films make up the majority of her editing resume. The two have a well-developed, symbiotic relationship that produces marvelous results. Learn more about Schoonmaker's editing style.

Find out where The Departed ranks on our list of the greatest gangster films ever made. and learn about editing techniques like jump cuts and match cuts to maximize your understanding of the craft.

Academy Awards for best editing

Conclusion

The Departed also brought Martin Scorsese his first Best Director win after several grievous snubs for earlier films.

Best editing in films

14. Dunkirk (2017)

Analyzing the editing of Dunkirk

The structure of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is somewhat special in that it prioritizes escalating tension over all else. Geography, time of day, and sequencing are cast aside in favor of cutting straight from the height of tension in one storyline right into the middle of one of the other two plot arcs. Lee Smith handled this tension-filled film brilliantly in the editing room.

The idea of constantly escalating tension is illustrated beautifully through the film’s use of the Shepard Tone. Learn all about the Shepard Tone in our comprehensive breakdown of the audio illusion. 

Films with good editing

Conclusion

Dunkirk also won both sound categories at the Academy Awards: Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. If you have ever wondered what the difference between the two is, take a look out our helpful guide Sound Editing vs Mixing.

Best editing Oscar

13. Schindler’s List (1993)

The editing category at the 1994 Oscars

Steven Spielberg’s devastating holocaust film, Schindler’s List is a masterpiece of the early 1990s. The film was edited by Michael Kahn, who is Steven Spielberg’s go-to editor for each of his projects ever since Close Encounters of the Third Kind. See where Schindler’s List ranks on our list of the best Steven Spielberg films.

Academy Award for best film editing

Conclusion

Schindler’s List was nominated for a total of 12 Oscars and left the ceremony with seven wins including Best Picture.

Academy Award for best film editing

12. The Social Network (2010)

A feature-length behind-the-scenes look at The Social Network

The editing in David Fincher’s The Social Network is important to recognize and highlight. David Fincher’s recent films have been important for serving as a key part of a shift away from more traditional editing methods. Avid Media Composer has been, and still largely is, considered the industry standard editing program.

But filmmakers like David Fincher have demonstrated a preference for alternative editing methods such as the Adobe Creative Cloud, a less costly, more consumer friendly editing program with a lower barrier to entry.

If you are interested in editing yourself, you’ll need a computer to do it with. Take a look at our list of the best laptops for video editing to make your decision making process a bit easier.

Academy Awards best editing

Conclusion

Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall were awarded for their editing alongside Aaron Sorkin for the screenplay, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for the original score.

Jamie Selkirk wins the Best Film Editing Oscar

All three Lord of the Rings films contain top-tier editing but it was only the trilogy finale The Return of the King that earned the coveted Best Film Editing Oscar. Each film in the trilogy was cut by a different editor: John Gilbert on The Fellowship of the Ring, Michael Horton on The Two Towers, and Jamie Selkirk for the finale with The Return of the King.

Best editing in films

Conclusion

The Return of the King ended the trilogy with a bang and ended up winning all 11 of the Oscars it was nominated for.

Academy Award for best film editing

10. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Action editing for the truck sequence

With Raiders of the Lost Ark, Michael Kahn makes it onto our list for the second time. Having such a strong working relationship with a filmmaker as impressive and influential as Steven Spielberg is an easy way to ensure you always have excellent material to bring into the editing room.

Films with good editing

Conclusion

The start of the Indiana Jones series won four Oscars plus a Special Achievement Award for sound effects recording.

Academy Awards best editing

9. The Matrix (1999)

More than 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes information

The Matrix was groundbreaking and game changing in every sense of the words. The bold vision of the Wachowskis was finalized in the editing room by Zach Staenberg. Few films spawn as many copycats and trends as the first Matrix film did.

Academy Award for best film editing

Conclusion

Brand new recording techniques and VFX practices were being invented and used for the first time on The Matrix, which undoubtedly complicated the editing process.

Best editing Oscar

8. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Complex editing on display in the D-Day sequence

And Michael Kahn finds himself on our list for the third time with another Steven Spielberg film. Saving Private Ryan is the biggest and flashiest editing project of Michael Kahn’s three Oscar winning films. The intense D-Day landing sequence alone would be enough to make Saving Private Ryan a shoo-in for the Best Film Editing Oscar but that is far from being the film’s only masterfully edited battle sequence.

Find out where Saving Private Ryan ranked on our list of the best World War II movies ever made.

Academy Awards best editing

Conclusion

Michael Kahn has been nominated for Best Film Editing seven times in total, winning the Oscar three times.

Academy Award for best film editing

7. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

More than three and a half hours of behind the scenes footage

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the second David Fincher film on our list, again edited by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, arriving just one year after their previous Best Film Editing win. They once again pushed the notion of an alternative workflow to the promoted industry standard as a viable option.

Best editing in films

Conclusion

The editing in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is refined to perfection with David Fincher’s meticulous style.

Academy Award best editing

6. The Deer Hunter (1978)

The editing in the famous Russian Roulette scenes builds maximum tension

The Deer Hunter is yet another war film to make out list but this one is unlike all of the other Best Film Editing Oscar winning war films. The Deer Hunter is entirely focused on the human beings sent to and returning from war and seems determined to show as little of the actual war as possible. There is practically nothing in terms of typical “war movie scenes” or battle sequences, allowing the acting and characters to shine through intense drama.

Academy Award for best film editing

Conclusion

Peter Zinner’s editing of The Deer Hunter is impeccable. Even at over three hours in length, it never feels slow and every scene feels like it matters to the fullest.

Films with good editing

5. Jaws (1975)

Simple editing executed perfectly

Jaws is the final Steven Spielberg film on our list to win the Best Film Editing Oscar, but, this time, Verna Fields was the editor at the helm. The editing for Jaws became far more complicated during shooting than was expected during pre-production. The mechanical shark wound up malfunctioning constantly and could not be used in the intended way, and thus, the shark became more of an unseen yet looming force of danger throughout the film.

Best film editing

Conclusion

Jaws also won the Oscars for Best Sound and Best Music but did not win Best Picture although it was nominated.

Academy Award for best film editing

4. The French Connection (1971)

The iconic car chase, shot without permits

The editing done by Gerald B. Greenberg on The French Connection was an important stepping stone in the development of action filmmaking and in the transition from 60s filmmaking into 70s filmmaking. The shooting and editing of The French Connection feels more gritty and raw than practically any film that came before and helped usher in a new wave of stylistic filmmaking.

See where The French Connection ranked on our list of the best action films ever shot.

Films with good editing

Conclusion

The French Connection won five Oscars in total including Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.

Best film editing

3. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

How Mad Max: Fury Road uses center-framing to perfection

George Miller’s return to the Mad Max franchise after a long hiatus with Fury Road was a massive success on every level, not least of all in the editing, blowing the three previous films out of the water. Margaret Sixel’s editing is perfectly rhythmic and allows the complex and impressively coordinated action sequences to play out as cleanly as possible.

Academy Award best film editing

Conclusion

Mad Max: Fury Road cleaned up at the Academy Awards, scoring nominations in 10 categories and winning six Oscars.

Best editing Oscar winner

2. Raging Bull (1980)

Incredible editing on display in the ring

We now arrive at Thelma Schoonmaker’s second appearance on our list of Best Film Editing Oscar winners. The Martin Scorsese directed Raging Bull has some of the finest editing you can possibly find in a motion picture. The boxing matches are the flashy highlights but even in the quieter scenes, the editing remains in a league of its own, lingering long where appropriate and cutting quickly when necessary to great effect.

Academy award for best film editing

Conclusion

In her acceptance speech, Thelma Schoonmaker said the credit deserved to be paid to Martin Scorsese just as much as to her for planning and shooting the boxing matches so brilliantly.

Films with good editing

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This match cut was a monumental moment in film editing

Lawrence of Arabia is one of the just-plain BIGGEST films ever made. This grand scale is apparent in every facet of the film, from the story to the cinematography, to the very runtime of the film. With a film as complicated as Lawrence of Arabia the deck was stacked against Anne V. Coates in the editing room, but the work she delivered went above and beyond for this classic epic.

Academy Award for best film editing

Conclusion

Few individual edits are as iconic and important to film history as the single cut from a blazing match to a blazing sunset.

UP NEXT

Best Sound Editing Oscar Winners

Those were our picks for the most impressive and important winners of the Best Film Editing Oscar of all time. Now that we’ve covered film editing in such detail, let’s jump right into sound editing next. Check out our ranking of the Best Sound Editing Oscar Winners.

Up Next: Sound Editing Winners →
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