Cinemath Meets Oscar Beat: Who Would Win Every Best Picture Race If IMDb Voters Chose the Winner?

     February 23, 2014

shakespeare in love saving private ryan

As part of his Oscar Beat coverage, Adam wrote about how well the Best Picture winners of the last 10 years hold up.  Today we want to go deeper, look at every Best Picture race to see if the right movie won.  That could be a daunting task, since we don’t naturally have a strong opinion on the battle between Cavalcade and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang at the 6th Academy Awards.  Instead, Brendan turns to the power of numbers and the wisdom of crowds in the latest Cinemath, comparing the IMDb rating of every Best Picture winner since 1928 to the highest-rated nominee that year.

Additionally, Adam breaks down the Best Picture races by decade for historical context, noting the interesting discrepancies and surprises.  Check it out after the jump.

First, Brendan needs to clarify how treated IMDb rating ties were treated:

  • In the event of a tie with a Best Picture winner, the Best Picture winner is also the highest-rated nominee that year.
  • In the event of a tie without a Best Picture winner, the nominee with more votes is the highest-rated nominee that year.

The chart below plots the IMDb rating of every Best Picture winner and the highest-rated nominee that year from for all 85 Academy Awards.  The movies that both won Best Picture and earned the highest IMDb rating are in blue.  The Best Picture winners that do not have the highest IMDb rating are in red.  The highest-rated nominees that did not win Best Picture are green.  (Note: Javascript must be enabled to view these Google charts.  Hover over a data point to see the title and IMDb rating in parentheses.)

The highest rated nominee won Best Picture exactly 40% of the time (34 out of 85 races). If you’re forecasting, The Wolf of Wall Street is the highest-rated 2013 nominee at 8.5. 12 Years a Slave and Her trail close behind at 8.4 and 8.3, respectively.

When the highest-rated nominee and the Best Picture differ, the average difference in IMDb rating is 0.67.  There are 12 instances of a difference of at least 1 point:



Best Picture Winner Highest Rated



Cavalcade (6.2) I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (8.0)



Chicago (7.2) The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (8.8)



The Greatest Show on Earth (6.7) High Noon (8.2)



Shakespeare in Love (7.2) Saving Private Ryan (8.6)



The Broadway Melody (6.6) The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (7.9)



Chariots of Fire (7.3) Raiders of the Lost Ark (8.6)



The Great Ziegfeld (6.9) Dodsworth (8.2)



Gigi (6.9) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (8.1)



Cimarron (6.1) East Lynne (7.2)



Around the World in 80 Days (6.8) The Ten Commandments (7.9)



Going My Way (7.4) Double Indemnity (8.5)



Tom Jones (6.9) America, America (7.9)


Adam will take it from here to dive deeper into each race.

Best Picture: Wings (7.9)
Highest Rated: Wings (7.9)

east lynne posterBest Picture: The Broadway Melody (6.6)
Highest Rated: The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (7.9)

Best Picture: All Quiet on the Western Front (8.1)
Highest Rated: All Quiet on the Western Front (8.1)

Best Picture: Cimarron (6.1)
Highest Rated: East Lynne (7.2)

Best Picture: Grand Hotel (7.7)
Highest Rated: The Smiling Lieutenant (8.0)

Best Picture: Cavalcade (6.2)
Highest Rated: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (8.0)

Best Picture: It Happened One Night (8.3)
Highest Rated: It Happened One Night (8.3)

Best Picture: Mutiny on the Bounty (7.9)
Highest Rated: Mutiny on the Bounty (7.9)

Best Picture: The Great Ziegfeld (6.9)
Highest Rated: Dodsworth (8.2)

Best Picture: The Life of Emile Zola (7.4)
Highest Rated: The Awful Truth (8.0)

Best Picture: You Can’t Take It with You (8.1)
Highest Rated: Grand Illusion (8.2)

Best Picture: Gone with the Wind (8.2)
Highest Rated: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (8.4)

Many of these early Best Picture nominees are tough to track down and thus their IMDb ratings carry a bit more weight; in the home video store-less era, someone really has to work to see East Lynne.  The Academy was also a very different organization during this time period, as the majority of the voters were actually studio executives who had created the organization in order to primarily mediate labor disputes and work on the industry’s image.  With regards to IMDb ratings, it’s a tad surprising that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington edges out The Wizard of Oz in the 1939 race by a full two tenths, but that banner year includes a number of now-classic Best Picture nominees like Stagecoach and the Best Picture winner Gone with the Wind.  Perhaps we have “movie days” in countless middle school history classes to thank for the wide exposure to Mr. Smith.

Best Picture: Rebecca (8.3)
Highest Rated: The Great Dictator (8.5)

how green was my valley posterBest Picture: How Green Was My Valley (7.9)
Highest Rated: Citizen Kane (8.5)

Best Picture: Mrs. Miniver (7.7)
Highest Rated: The Magnificent Ambersons (8.0)

Best Picture: Casablanca (8.7)
Highest Rated: Casablanca (8.7)

Best Picture: Going My Way (7.4)
Highest Rated: Double Indemnity (8.5)

Best Picture: The Lost Weekend (8.1)
Highest Rated: The Lost Weekend (8.1)

Best Picture: The Best Years of Our Lives (8.3)
Highest Rated: It’s a Wonderful Life (8.7)

Best Picture: Gentleman’s Agreement (7.4)
Highest Rated: Great Expectations (8.0)

Best Picture: Hamlet (7.9)
Highest Rated: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (8.4)

Best Picture: All the King’s Men (7.6)
Highest Rated: The Heiress (8.2)

The World War II era produced plenty of brilliant films that have stood the test of time, but “the greatest,” Citizen Kane, doesn’t even hold the highest IMDb rating of the decade.  That honor is a tie between It’s a Wonderful Life and Casablanca.  Of the three, only Casablanca won Best Picture, but the 1941 race is certainly interesting.  The winner, John Ford’s drama How Green Was My Valley, isn’t discussed nearly as often as the films that it beat for the big trophy: Citizen Kane, the noir classic The Maltese Falcon, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion.

Best Picture: All About Eve (8.4)
Highest Rated: Sunset Blvd. (8.6)

the greatest show on earth posterBest Picture: An American in Paris (7.3)
Highest Rated: A Streetcar Named Desire (8.1)

Best Picture: The Greatest Show on Earth (6.7)
Highest Rated: High Noon (8.2)

Best Picture: From Here to Eternity (7.8)
Highest Rated: Roman Holiday (8.1)

Best Picture: On the Waterfront (8.3)
Highest Rated: On the Waterfront (8.3)

Best Picture: Marty (7.8)
Highest Rated: Mister Roberts (7.9)

Best Picture: Around the World in Eighty Days (6.8)
Highest Rated: The Ten Commandments (7.9)

Best Picture: The Bridge on the River Kwai (8.3)
Highest Rated: 12 Angry Men (8.9)

Best Picture: Gigi (6.9)
Highest Rated: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (8.1)

Best Picture: Ben-Hur (8.2)
Highest Rated: Ben-Hur (8.2)

The 50s are a curious decade in that some of the time period’s best and long-lasting films were not even nominated for Best Picture.  Pictures like Seven Samurai, The Searchers, Rear Window, and North by Northwest are now considered classics, but at the time they failed to land on the Academy’s radar for the top trophy.  Nevertheless, there are still some notable films to be found like Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and one of the highest rated films on this entire list: 12 Angry Men (though Ben-Hur is the only winner of the three).  Additionally, 1952 provides a massive discrepancy between the Best Picture winner and the highest rated nominee, as High Noon is a full 1.5 higher than that year’s champion, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Best Picture: The Apartment (8.4)
Highest Rated: The Apartment (8.4)

in the heat of the night posterBest Picture: West Side Story (7.7)
Highest Rated: Judgment at Nuremberg (8.3)

Best Picture: Lawrence of Arabia (8.4)
Highest Rated: Lawrence of Arabia (8.4)

Best Picture: Tom Jones (6.9)
Highest Rated: America, America (7.9)

Best Picture: My Fair Lady (7.9)
Highest Rated: Dr. Strangelove (8.6)

Best Picture: The Sound of Music (8.0)
Highest Rated: The Sound of Music (8.0)

Best Picture: A Man for All Seasons (8.0)
Highest Rated: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (8.2)

Best Picture: In the Heat of the Night (8.0)
Highest Rated: The Graduate (8.1)

Best Picture: Oliver! (7.5)
Highest Rated: The Lion in Winter (8.2)

Best Picture: Midnight Cowboy (8.0)
Highest Rated: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (8.2)

This decade is definitely not lacking for quality Best Picture nominees, and the IMDb community agrees with the Oscar winners on three occasions during the 1960s: The Apartment, Lawrence of Arabia, and The Sound of Music.  Some of the other gaps are quite close, as only one tenth of a point separates Best Picture winner In the Heat of the Night from top IMDb nominee The Graduate in 1967.  Indeed, many see this year as one of the most impactful and groundbreaking in the history of cinema, as evidenced by the incredibly varied Best Picture nominees.  It would mark a shift from the more traditional Hollywood fare of the previous decades to the decidedly boundary pushing films of the 1970s immediately following Midnight Cowboy’s win in 1969.

Click to Page 2 for the breakdown from 1970-2012

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  • David

    Pretty good stuff here, guys, but you might want to fix the “Click to Page 2″ link.

    • Brendan Bettinger

      Thanks! Should be fixed now

  • scififan

    It should be noted that IMDB’s ratings charts are now rendered pointless. There are rabid fan bases for some mediocre movies, and the classic films no longer hold any strength on the list. No matter how much you rate it, “The Dark Knight” will never actually be the 4th best film of all time, and “Jaws” deserves MUCH more than being #202 on the list. You know that something is seriously flawed when the half-baked “The Prestige” rates two places above the classic “The Shining”, which is #55 now. It makes no sense, and is not even worth using as a guide anymore like it was 10 years ago.

    • AFilmGuy

      I completely agree. And it’s a real shame, too, because the real values of cinematic gems like those of Bergman, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Ozu, Vertov, Fellini, Antonioni, Godard, etc. are buried under this ignorance that the common fan base adopts. It’s frustrating knowing that so many of these fan bases are so heavy-handed mainstream viewers that films like The Prestige sit above The Shining, where the latter is an undeniable work of cinematic art. It just doesn’t make sense. I think a huge part of the problem is that viewers mesh personal opinions and values with the values of the cinema. In other words, they only think good films are the ones they enjoy. I’ve had films I absolutely couldn’t stand to watch, like many of Godard’s films, but I won’t deny or argue against his brilliance. He’s fantastic (at least his older works). Not many casual movie-fans will have that separation.

    • Redemption

      I don’t agree with you at all. I think there’s no question IMDBs list is the best available, especially among lists that the public has a say with. The problem with other lists (like Sight and Sound) is that they are not updated enough, basically concluding that no recent movies are worth remembering. IMDB ratings are not a measure of the “best” movies of all time, they are the publics view of their favorites. I’m sure you understand that “best” is different from “favorite”, so no one has ever said The Dark Knight is the 4th best movie of all time. However, if you took a poll of peoples favorite movies, I guarantee TDK, Shawshank, and the Godfathers would be right near the top of the list. Personally, TDK is my favorite movie. Seen it at least 15 times, can’t get enough of the opening, ending, acting, cinematography, editing, and writing (among other things). But I would never claim that it is the best movie of all time.

      The issue here is that you view the list as a ranking, and I don’t think that is fair at all. Few people will say that Shawshank is a better movie than The Godfather. Instead, we should look at it as 250 great movies that any real movie fan needs to see. Can you really envision a list where everyone thinks it accurately ranks movies? How can you compare a movie like Gravity to a movie like Spirited Away side by side? Overall, I think the list does a great job of pulling movies from every decade and every genre. There are so many movies I would have never seen if not for the list. Is The Prestige ranked too high? Probably. Do The Hobbits have any right being on the list? Absolutely not. Is Wolf Scorseses 3rd best movie and the best movie of 2013? No chance, but no list is going to be perfect. And I think time has a way of fixing many of these complaints since these movies may eventually slide off the list entirely.

      • scififan

        I think the problem is not that people like “The Dark Knight” and others more than other films, but it’s the fact that most of the younger generations haven’t even seen most movies older than themselves. The fact that these excellent old movies are not being watched is a massive issue, especially when you see what the current movie climate is like. People need to see the classics and the “best” movies, and even if they don’t enjoy them, they can at least know the foundation that the entire movie landscape is built upon.

        20 years ago, I grew up in an area with a little video rental store down the road. I would rent as much as I could just to watch them – and most of the selections I picked were based on the AFI Top 100 films list. I watched the classics – some I loved, some I hated… some have grown on me over time. The problem today is that the “Top 250″ list has so many films that now outrank the old gems. If I were growing up today, there are things that would work against me, and I probably would never see 80% of the films that I have – 1. there are no/very few video rental stores left. 2. Netflix and etc don’t carry the majority of these movies. 3. The list I’d be making of must-see films would have me watching “The Prestige” before the hundreds or even thousands of films worthy of viewing before it.

        That’s my issue with the IMDB list. It’s created by a generation of film watchers who haven’t seen anything older than 2000, or 1990. I’ve known so many people who haven’t seen ANY old movies, and it’s sad. That’s our history and art and it’s too often ignored. The way I look at it is, if a 6 year-old sequel to a reboot of a comic book franchise is your favorite movie, then you probably haven’t seen a lot of movies, let alone many that are over 20 years old. I enjoyed “TDK”, don’t get me wrong – I own it, I’ve watched it 5-6 times, but so many people have it in their Top 5 movies list… it’s the “cool” movie to like now, just like the original Batman was. I’ve asked this to friends before about their favorite movies – “Why do you like it?” “What are the elements of the movie that you like?” Is it the script? The photography? The actors? Is it a perfect movie? No plot holes? The common responses are usually “I dunno. I just like it.”

        Sorry to go off on a rant. I just feel like our history of films are being lost on generations of people who will never even get the option to see the old classics. Lists like IMDB’s top 250 are washing out all the classics so many people won’t even be familiar with the title or even perk an interest in seeing it.

  • SomeGuy

    I agree the most with the highest rated films of the 90s. Though, I am personally torn between ‘Dances with Wolves’ vs. ‘Goodfellas’.

  • GrimReaper07

    Shocked that The Help has a higher rating than the other nominees. I thought that, while decent enough, it was one of the worst Oscar nominees from that year. Tree of Life or Midnight in Paris should have won.

  • Hunter

    Glad the IMDB users are all on board for the LOTR trilogy.

  • Jamie Teller

    Hell yeah, AMERICA AMERICA!

    Seriously, though, it’s a much better film than TOM JONES.

  • Person

    Really surprised that Crash is the highest-rated movie from 2005 on IMDb, I thought for sure it would be trounced by Batman Begins, Sin City, Brokeback Mountain, and/or Munich (my personal pick for best of that year).

    Also surprised about 2011 — is The Help really the highest rated movie from that year?! A year that had Drive, Fincher’s TGWTDT, and The Ides of March, to name a few?

    Maybe it’s the passage of time, but the Oscars seem to have been right more often than not until the early-to-mid 1980s. This whole article kinda reinforces a point I’ve been making with my friends for years: even if the Oscar for Best Picture doesn’t go to THE best movie, it almost always goes to one of the year’s best movie, and a truly bad movie has rarely ever won (maybe half-a-dozen times by my count, but then again, I’m a populist).

    Very interesting piece overall, nicely done.

    • Adam Chitwood

      We only counted ratings for Best Picture nominees, not every film released that year.

      • Person

        Ohh didn”t see that, my bad!

        Even then, can’t believe Crash is the highest-rated out of the nominees in its year. Same with The Help, especially since that was a 9-nominee year (Moneyball? Descendants?).

        Also a little surprised Gandhi beat out popular favorite ET, but not complaining. Love both, but Gandhi is better.

      • Lee Harvey Cobblepot

        It’s insane to me that “Crash” is a blue dot.

  • Scullibundo

    Shame on you for not mentioning the real classic from 2005, Spielberg’s Munich.

  • Muthu Kumar V

    This is bullshit…And Oscar is bullshit…

  • orianalianna

    Who cares about movie awards?!

  • orianalianna

    I thought Rum Diaries was a hugely underrated film.

  • TigerFIST

    Yeah this was very nice!

  • milo

    Shakespeare in Love totally deserved it, even with the oscar win it’s an underrated movie and Saving Private Ryan is probably the most overrated thing Spielberg has done. Sure, the long opening battle is absolutely amazing. But after that the movie is so weak, terrible dialogue, lame plot, not especially strong performances, pandering over the top patriotic cheese. “Earn this!” Really?

    Great essay on it from William Goldman, and I totally agree with it.

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