The first adventure movie to win (undeservedly) the Best Picture Oscar was Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), which also earned, for no apparent reason, the writing award, then called Motion Picture Story, for Frederic M. Frank, Theodore St. John, and Frank Cavett.
The film received technical nominations for Editing (Anne Bauchens) and Color Costume Design (Edith Head, Dorothy Jenkins, and Miles White), but the winners were "High Noon" for editing (Elmo Williams and Harry Gerstad) and John Huston's "Moulin Rouge" for costumes (Marcel Vertes).
Produced by Paramount, it was the only DeMille film to win the Best Picture Oscar. The film's inspiration derived from the Ringling Bros, Barnum and Bailey Circuses. The melodramatic story revolves around a romantic triangle between a tough manager (Charlton Heston), his beautiful aerialist (Betty Hutton), and a trapeze artist (Cornell Wilde).
The picture contains some interesting circus acts, but the most spectacular sequence is no doubt a train crash, with hundreds of animals running around. A mass entertainment, "The Greatest Show on Earth" still ranks as one of the least accountable and least distinguished Oscar-winners in the Academy's history.
Furthermore, this movie began the tradition of honoring big-budget, special-effects blockbusters with a large number of nominations, as will become evident in 1956, when "Around the World in 80 Days" won Best Picture and other honors.
DeMille won his first and only directorial nomination for this picture, but the winner was John Ford for "The Quiet Man." The Academy must have anticipated DeMille's failure to win a competitive award for it decided to honor him with a Special Oscar, in recognition of "The Greatest Show on Earth," as well as other blockbusters. This tribute was well-timed: DeMille made just one more film, "The Ten Commandments," before dying in 1959 at the age of 78.