Many people think that the Academy Awards are the pinnacle of filmmaking and the best way to determine what the best movies of any given year were, but that’s not always true. Film is very subjective, as is all art.
But, just because a movie is declared the Best Picture winner doesn’t mean it necessarily deserves it. Fans may be surprised by how many Best Picture winners earned rather low scores on Rotten Tomatoes. From forgotten black-and-white flicks to overly-celebrated cinematic outings, these are some of the worst films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
Updated on March 29th, 2022 by Tanner Fox: Another Academy Awards ceremony has come and gone, and, while the previous year represented something of a rebound following the rough patch that was 2020, most of the interest stemmed from an on-stage altercation that took place between host Chris Rock and Best Actor winner Will Smith.
Of course, while the 2022 Oscars may not be remembered for the right reasons, things could certainly be worse. In the past, plenty of pretentious, unworthy films were nominated for one of Hollywood’s most prestigious awards, with some of them nearly coming away with a dubiously-deserved win.
15 Crash (2004) – 74%
To this day, many people don’t understand why Crash won Best Picture considering it took several missteps in its exploration of race, class, and gender in Los Angeles. Yet, despite the many controversies surrounding it, Crash managed a fairly respectable Rotten Tomatoes score.
Many feel this is one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time and were upset that it beat out Brokeback Mountain, which is what competing against. It was popular enough to get a short-lived television series on Starz.
14 Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947) – 74%
This 1947 film starred Gregory Peck as a journalist named Phil Green. He makes it his goal to take on a new assignment focused on uncovering anti-Semitism for a notable magazine. To try and get the right perspective, Gregory pretends to be Jewish so he can understand what they experience in their day-to-day lives from the bigoted people in the city.
But, when he falls in love with a woman, his life becomes even more complicated. The film won three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Elia Kazan, but it only managed to get a 74% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
13 Around The World In 80 Days (1956) – 72%
Around the World in 80 Days won five Academy Awards, and it was popular enough to get remade in 2004. The film followed a young Englishman named Phileas Fogg. Fogg makes the promise that he can travel around the entire globe in under 80 days.
When he actually does manage to begin his travel, he is followed by a police inspector who believes that Fogg is fooling everyone. However, some critics felt that, while the movie was funny and had an excellent cast, the performances helped to cover up the weak spots in the movie’s script.
12 Forrest Gump (1994) – 70%
Considering how beloved Tom Hanks was in the 1990s and how acclaimed the film would become, it might surprise fans to know that Forest Gump only rated at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and didn’t even earn the Certified Fresh score. Despite the lukewarm initial critical reception, Forrest Gump was the second highest-grossing of 1994.
It also won several other Academy Awards alongside Best Picture, including Best Actor for Hanks. Decades after its release, people still like to debate if Forrest Gump is truly a masterpiece or if it has been seriously overhyped.
11 Joker (2019) – 68%
A disturbingly authentic comic book character origin story, 2019’s Joker tells the tale of Arthur Fleck, a wayward outcast desperate to find his way in a joyless and depressing Arkham City. Eventually, his inner demons manifest in homicidal hostility as he inadvertently sparks a violent uprising against the city’s upper socialites.
Shocking, moody, and surprisingly grounded given its source material, Joker was a hit when it debuted in 2019, but critics found it to be too far removed from the otherwise approachable DC fare, and its mixed political messages irked and confused many.
10 The Great Ziegfeld (1936) – 66%
Considering the title, it’s fitting that this film follows the real story of Florenz Ziegfeld, a talented theater producer that became world-famous in the 1920s for his on-stage spectacles. He had a great love for women and often cast a large number of them in his shows.
He was also involved in a famous love triangle. That said, the movie did have some controversy upon release due to the depiction of Farida Mahzar. The movie was considered a great example of the Golden Age of Hollywood when it was first released, but it has since lost some of its luster in the eyes of many.
9 The Blind Side (2009) – 66%
Based on the true story of ex-NFL player Michael Oher, The Blind Side was a sentimental tale that saw an underprivileged youth excel as a sports star with the help of an altruistic family. While it was celebrated as an all-time great feel-good movie, modern introspection hasn’t been kind to the film’s incredible reliance on artificial sentimentality.
Eager to come across as uplifting and emotional, some critics argued that the Sandra Bullock vehicle overplayed its hand and turned into a fairy tale that was originally a much bleaker story.
8 Cavalcade (1933) – 63%
Two couples from conflicting classes, one upper-class and the other working-class, find their friendships and love lives tested as World War I breaks out and they fight to find a middle ground. Calvacade is an epic pre-Code drama produced in black and white, and it is still considered a classic to this day.
While the film was well-received, it is surprising to see that its Rotten Tomatoes score is closer to the middle range than the exceptional one. Not only did the movie win Best Picture, but it also won Best Director and Best Art Direction.
7 Bohemian Rhapsody (2019) – 60%
Representing the life of famed Queen frontman Freddie Mercury on the silver screen was no small task, and, while many felt that 2019’s Bohemian Rhapsody capture the magic of the band’s music, some critics argued that it didn’t delve enough into the backstory of its leading character.
While lead actor Rami Malek certainly looked the part, fans argued over the authenticity of his performance, and some seem to believe that the film failed to portray Mercury in the proper light.
6 Out Of Africa (1985) – 58%
Meryl Streep and Robert Redford fall in love in this epic romantic drama that revolves around Streep’s character, a wealthy and aristocratic woman who finds herself having to make a pivotal choice between a life of lavish comforts and true love.
Despite critics agreeing that both Streep and Redford’s performances were exceptional, many of them felt that the film was poorly paced and overly lengthy. Still, there is an equal amount of people who feel that Out of Africa is one of the defining romantic movies, on par with classics like Titanic and Casablanca.
5 Cimarron (1931) – 52%
Despite its middling reviews, Cimarron won the top prize at the Academy Awards and remains one of the few Western films to achieve that victory. It follows the story of a newspaper editor who convinces his wife to join him in Oklahoma.
However, once they arrive, he feels inclined to go further west, and the two remain tethered to the territory until Oklahoma finally becomes an official state. Cimarron was based on the Edna Ferber novel of the same name and is considered one of the most influential Western movies ever made.
4 Alibi (1929) – 50%
When the daughter of a police chief marries a gang kingpin in secret, she’s forced to lead a secret life as she covers for her husband’s crimes. Nominated for Best Picture nearly a century ago, Alibi is a strange film that doesn’t hold up whatsoever.
Debuted at the very end of the era of silent film, Alibi was reshot for sound, resulting in disjointed line delivery and some noticeably off-kilter performances. Few would consider it to be a classic film, but it represents an interesting period in filmmaking in which Hollywood history buffs may be interested.
3 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) – 45%
An adaptation of a 2005 novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close deals with Oskar Schell, a young boy struggling to come to grips with Aspbergers Syndrome. His father works to help him better his social skills, but, when he is killed during the September 11th attacks, Oskar is left wayward, confused, and upset.
Though the novel on which it was based is still enjoyed by many, critics wrote off Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as a self-important example of Oscar bait. Emotionally exploitative and unnecessarily long, it has since gone down as one of the worst Best Picture-nominated films from the past two decades.
2 The Greatest Show On Earth (1952) – 43%
Completely separate from The Greatest Showman, the musical starring Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman, this 1952 film had a similar story, though it ultimately received less-than-favorable reviews. It took audiences behind the scenes of the fantastical Ringling Brothers.
In spite of its dazzling spectacle, the film only managed to score a 43% approval rating from the review aggregator. It did win Best Picture, and it also won Best Story. Steve Spielberg credits the movie as one of the films that most influenced his career.
1 The Broadway Melody (1929) – 36%
The Broadway Melody is all about Vaudeville sisters Queenie and “Hank,” who take their act to Broadway in the hopes of chasing fame and fortune. However, what begins as a glitzy showstopper succumbs to a poor romantic subplot in which the two women find themselves both falling in love with the same man.
Modern-day reviews have been more kind to the film, while the original reviews were mixed. Many felt that the story itself was basic, but that it was improved by the directing style and excellent performances from the cast.
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