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All that glitters: Five iconic Palme d'Or winners

  • Story Highlights
  • "Le monde du silence" becomes first ever documentary to win in 1956
  • In 1979, Coppola's unfinished version of "Apocalypse Now" takes top prize
  • Jane Campion is the only female director to win Palme d'Or, for "The Piano"
  • "Pulp Fiction" starts Tarantino's life-long love affair with Cannes in 1994
By Tom Foster
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As the Cannes Film Festival gets underway, all eyes will once again be on the contenders for the festival's top prize -- the Palme d'Or. As one of the most prestigious awards in world cinema, the Golden Palm has been the launchpad for success for many films over the decades.

Francis Ford Coppola (l.) and Volker Schlondorff celebrate their shared Palme d'Or in '79.

Quentin Tarantino and Bruce Willis promote the celebrated "Pulp Fiction" at the festival in '94.

But it's not only Hollywood films that get recognition -- just two Palme d'Or winners have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and just one American movie is competing in this year's contest. We've picked five of the most groundbreaking and iconic Palme d'Or winners from around the world since the award's inception in 1955.


"Le monde du silence" (1956)
Director: Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle
Starring: Frédéric Dumas, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Albert Falco

Cousteau's "Silent World" was the first documentary to walk away with the golden palm, having already won the Best Documentary prize at that year's Oscars. This deep-sea exploration was one of the first films to show the beauty of the ocean depths in full color, and was also the first French film to win the Palme d'Or -- until 1955 the award had been known as the Grand Prix.

What happened next: Cousteau repeated his Oscar success with "World Without Sun" in 1964. It was not until Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" in 2004 that another documentary would repeat "Le monde du silence"'s success at Cannes.

"La Dolce Vita" (1960)
Director: Federico Fellini
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée

Fellini's Roman epic has become one of the most important Italian films ever made, loaded with religious iconography, aristocratic decadence and media comment -- the film even coined the term paparazzi. Tracking a week in the life of a 1950s journalist, "La Dolce Vita" was greeted rapturously by critics in both Europe and America.

What happened next: An Oscar followed in 1962, and Fellini became a pioneer of arthouse films, following his interest in Jungian psychology. The film's 50th anniversary will be marked at this year's festival with the airing of a previously unseen behind-the-scenes documentary.

"Apocalypse Now" (1979)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall

This one nearly didn't even make the festival -- director Francis Ford Coppola needed persuading to premiere what was then an unfinished three-hour edit of the infamous Vietnam epic. His decision to go ahead was vindicated by rapturous applause from the audience at the end credits. Despite the film's incomplete state, the jury awarded it the Palme d'Or, shared with Volker Schlondorff's "The Tin Drum."

What happened next: The film is now widely regarded as an all-time classic, with its iconic helicopter attack scene to the strains of "Ride of the Valkyries" passing into folklore as one of cinema's most memorable scenes. Coppola won a Golden Globe for Best Director, and the film picked up two Academy Awards for sound and cinematography.

"The Piano" (1993)
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin

Writer and director Jane Campion is to date the only woman, and the only New Zealander, to scoop the Palme d'Or, shared that year with Chinese drama "Farewell My Concubine." Her stunning period drama featured Holly Hunter as a mute pianist, who also walked off with the Best Actress award at the festival.

What happened next: The film enjoyed extraordinary success and critical acclaim -- Hunter went on to take Best Actress awards at almost every major awards ceremony, including the Oscars and Golden Globes, while Michael Nyman's soundtrack became a bestseller.

"Pulp Fiction" (1994)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L Jackson

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Quentin Tarantino's eagerly awaited follow-up to "Reservoir Dogs" will go down in history as a Cannes classic. The collection of bloody vignettes centering around smalltime LA gangsters stormed the festival -- the whole cast was flown over for the premiere, which received rave reviews across the board, cementing Tarantino's position as one of the world's hippest directors.

What happened next: Tarantino picked up the Best Screenplay gong at the Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globes, with the film scoring a host of other awards and nominations. "Pulp Fiction" started a life-long love affair with Cannes for Tarantino, who became president of the festival's jury in 2004.

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