Cinematography is a vital aspect of great filmmaking. Without a strong director of photography with a point of view, a film can be somewhat lacking even if every other aspect of the movie is firing on all cylinders. Film is a visual medium after all, and great cinematography has the power to transport audiences to a new world, to put audiences in the shoes of a character, or to even relay a theme using visual metaphor.
One of the greatest cinematographers who has ever lived is Roger Deakins, whose naturalistic eye has brought unforgettable imagery to films ranging from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to Skyfall. After 14 career nominations, Deakins finally won the Best Cinematography Oscar last year for his stellar work on Blade Runner 2049, and this year Alfonso Cuarón became the first director to win the Best Cinematography Oscar for his own film. Which got me thinking—how do past winners stack up against each other?
To find out, I went ahead and ranked all the Best Cinematography Oscar winners from the 21st century so far, dating back to 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There’s a surprising amount of versatility on this list, and it’s interesting to see how the art of cinematography has evolved over the past nearly two decades as digital photography has taken hold. None of these winners are “bad” per se so I hesitate to say we start with the worst, but here are all 18 Best Cinematography Oscar winners of the 21st century ranked.