What is the worst film to have won an Academy Award for Best Picture?

The red carpet is rolled out each year for the Academy Awards. Cynics may describe it as little more than a ceremony of self-indulgence and career-furthering back-patting, but for the average movie fan it’s an important time of the year.

The Oscars serve multiple purposes for us cinemagoers. They showcase films that would otherwise have slipped our attention, give us glimpses of exciting new auteurs, but most importantly they allow us the opportunity to support our favourite films of the year. Only vocal support, admittedly, but the thought of our favourites being crowned “Best Picture” fills us with a smug, satisfying sensation. That “I told you so” feeling of vindication, and the very personal, if slightly unjustified, feeling of discovering it first.

The Academy Awards must be presented each year, and there’s usually a wide variety of films to choose from for the top prize. Unfortunately, however, we can’t be treated to masterpieces each year. Inevitably there are years where the quality of candidates may be slightly less than we’re accustomed to, but a “Best Picture” award must still be handed out, regardless. Which leads to an interesting question; what is the worst film to have won the “Best Picture” Academy Award?

Upon reading such a question, you may be forgiven for thinking that I am about to launch a tirade against my least favourite “critically acclaimed” motion pictures (another time perhaps?). Instead of inflicting my opinion on you, I felt genuinely intrigued by the question, so decided to do some research.

The extent of my “research” was to combine ratings from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. Hardly scientific, I think you’ll agree, but the act of reviewing a film is completely subjective, so in order to detach my own opinions from the equation, I decided that the best way to answer the question was to use the aforementioned websites to collate public opinion.

Of the eighty seven recipients of the Academy Award for Best Picture, here are the twenty five films with the lowest public rating:

Oscars 2

25. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Directed by Robert Benton – IMDB: 7.8 – Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

24. All the King’s Men (1949)
Directed by Robert Rossen – IMDB: 7.7 – Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

23. Titanic (1997)
Directed by James Cameron – IMDB: 7.7 – Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

22. The Hurt Locker (2008)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow – IMDB: 7.6 – Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

21. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Directed by William Wyler – IMDB: 7.6 – Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

20. Grand Hotel (1932)
Directed by Edmund Goulding –IMDB: 7.6 – Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

19. Oliver! (1968)
Directed by Carol Reed – IMDB: 7.5 – Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

18. Terms of Endearment (1983)
Directed by James L. Brooks – IMDB: 7.4 – Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

17. The English Patient (1996)
Directed by Anthony Minghella – IMDB: 7.4 – Rotten Tomatoes:84%

16. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Directed by Bruce Beresford – IMDB: 7.4 – Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

15. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
Directed by Elia Kazan – IMDB: 7.4 – Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

14. An American in Paris (1951)
Directed by Vincente Minnelli – IMDB: 7.3 – Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

13. Going My Way (1944)
Directed by Leo McCarey – IMDB: 7.3 – Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

12. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Directed by John Madden – IMDB: 7.2 – Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

11. Chicago (2002)
Directed by Rob Marshall – IMDB: 7.2 – Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

10. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Directed by Hugh Hudson – IMDB: 7.2 – Rotten Tomatoes: 84%

9. Out of Africa (1985)
Directed by Sydney Pollack – IMDB: 7.2 – Rotten Tomatoes: 53%

8. Gigi (1958)
Directed by Vincente Minnelli – IMDB: 6.9 – Rotten Tomatoes: 76%

7. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard – IMDB: 6.9 – Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

6. Tom Jones (1963)
Directed by Tony Richardson – IMDB: 6.8 – Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

5. Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
Directed by Michael Anderson – IMDB: 6.8 – Rotten Tomatoes: 74%

4. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille – IMDB: 6.7 – Rotten Tomatoes: 44%

3. The Broadway Melody (1929)
Directed by Harry Beaumont – IMDB: 6.4 – Rotten Tomatoes: 42%

2. Cavalcade (1933)
Directed by Frank Lloyd – IMDB: 6.1 – Rotten Tomatoes: 57%

1. Cimarron (1931)
Directed by Wesley Ruggles – IMDB: 6.0 – Rotten Tomatoes: 53%

Upon closer inspection of these results, an interesting pattern emerges; most of this list is dominated by much older films. Is this evidence of films losing their effectiveness with age? Or is it a case of their subject matter not being as relevant today?

One obvious reason for some of the above movies apparent lack of popularity may be due to the advent of the internet age. The top three movies on this list are notably much older than the majority of the rest. Chances are that the people who gave those films average scores on websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes weren’t around to appreciate them upon their release. Consequently, the people that championed their cause when they first came out, which culminated in their Oscar triumph, are more than likely not alive today to balance the votes.

Watching a film that was culturally significant eighty years ago may not resonate as much with the audiences of today. People will invariable suggest that as technology has advanced, so too has the filmmaking. Certainly it’s a point worthy of note, but to completely dismiss older films as inferior would be tantamount to lunacy. Were it not for these pioneering pictures, the landscape of today’s movie world would have been remarkably different.

No doubt people will have differing opinions regarding this list. There is, however, one thing that we can all agree on, and that’s the fact that I’ve got far too much spare time on my hands …

What do you think? Are you surprised by the films on this list? Are there any other winners that you thought should be on there? Perhaps there are films that you feel should have won a Best Picture award but were overlooked? Please feel free to sound off in the comments below.


6 thoughts on “What is the worst film to have won an Academy Award for Best Picture?

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