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

Click here to return to Page 1

Best Picture: Patton (8.1)
Highest Rated: Patton (8.1)

kramer vs kramer posterBest Picture: The French Connection (7.8)
Highest Rated: A Clockwork Orange (8.4)

Best Picture: The Godfather (9.2)
Highest Rated: The Godfather (9.2)

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

Best Picture: The Godfather: Part II (9.1)
Highest Rated: The Godfather: Part II (9.1)

Best Picture: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (8.8)
Highest Rated: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (8.8)

Best Picture: Rocky (8.1)
Highest Rated: Taxi Driver (8.4)

Best Picture: Annie Hall (8.2)
Highest Rated: Star Wars (8.8)

Best Picture: The Deer Hunter (8.2)
Highest Rated: The Deer Hunter (8.2)

Best Picture: Kramer vs. Kramer (7.8)
Highest Rated: Apocalypse Now (8.5)

Widely considered the best decade in cinema history, there’s a solid amount of agreement between the Academy’s taste and the IMDb ratings here despite the abundance of quality among the nominees.  Six of the ten years match up, with the biggest discrepancy coming in 1979 between winner Kramer vs. Kramer and IMDb champ Apocalypse Now, but even then it’s only a difference of six tenths.  In fact, I’d argue that every single Best Picture winner and IMDb champion of this decade has stood the test of time and gone on to become a classic; there’s not a dud to be found.

Best Picture: Ordinary People (7.9)
Highest Rated: Raging Bull (8.3)

driving ms daisy posterBest Picture: Chariots of Fire (7.3)
Highest Rated: Raiders of the Lost Ark (8.6)

Best Picture: Gandhi (8.1)
Highest Rated: Gandhi (8.1)

Best Picture: Terms of Endearment (7.4)
Highest Rated: The Right Stuff (7.9)

Best Picture: Amadeus (8.4)
Highest Rated: Amadeus (8.4)

Best Picture: Out of Africa (7.2)
Highest Rated: The Color Purple (7.8)

Best Picture: Platoon (8.2)
Highest Rated: Platoon (8.2)

Best Picture: The Last Emperor (7.8)
Highest Rated: The Last Emperor (7.8)

Best Picture: Rain Man (8.0)
Highest Rated: Rain Man (8.0)

Best Picture: Driving Miss Daisy (7.4)
Highest Rated: Dead Poets Society (8.0)

There’s a surprising choice here from the IMDb ratings that may serve to slightly undermine their validity as a fool-proof predictor of a film’s long-lastingness.  In the 1982 race, Gandhi won Best Picture and also stands as the highest-rated nominee, but one can’t deny that fellow nominees E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Tootsie are probably the more “classic” films.  I also would’ve expected a lower IMDb rating for 1989 winner Driving Miss Daisy, but the gap between it and that year’s highest-rated nominee (Dead Poets Society) is only six tenths.  The 1980s weren’t exactly a banner decade for film, though, as the studio blockbuster took hold of Hollywood.  This might explain why many of the Best Picture nominees have long been forgotten—is anyone still fawning over 1983 nominee The Dresser?

Best Picture: Dances with Wolves (8.0)
Highest Rated: Goodfellas (8.8)

titanic-movie-posterBest Picture: The Silence of the Lambs (8.6)
Highest Rated: The Silence of the Lambs (8.6)

Best Picture: Unforgiven (8.3)
Highest Rated: Unforgiven (8.3)

Best Picture: Schindler’s List (8.9)
Highest Rated: Schindler’s List (8.9)

Best Picture: Forrest Gump (8.8)
Highest Rated: The Shawshank Redemption (9.3)

Best Picture: Braveheart (8.4)
Highest Rated: Braveheart (8.4)

Best Picture: The English Patient (7.4)
Highest Rated: Fargo (8.2)

Best Picture: Titanic (7.7)
Highest Rated: L.A. Confidential (8.3)

Best Picture: Shakespeare in Love (7.2)
Highest Rated: Saving Private Ryan (8.6)

Best Picture: American Beauty (8.5)
Highest Rated: American Beauty (8.5)

Here in the 90s we have one pretty large discrepancy between Best Picture winner and IMDb favorite, and I’m sure you can guess in which race it occurs.  Who can forget the look of utter surprise on Harrison Ford’s face when he read “Shakespeare in Love” as the 1998 Best Picture winner instead of heavy favorite Saving Private Ryan.  Indeed, Steven Spielberg’s WWII picture has an IMDb rating a full 1.4 higher than the romantic comedy.  Another interesting race comes in 1997.  Though Titanic’s box office success and zeitgeist invasion may lead one to believe it’d have a heavy public following, its IMDb rating is surpassed by Curtis Hanson’s excellent noir-tinged drama L.A. Confidential.

Best Picture: Gladiator (8.5)
Highest Rated: Gladiator (8.5)

crash posterBest Picture: A Beautiful Mind (8.2)
Highest Rated: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (8.9)

Best Picture: Chicago (7.2)
Highest Rated: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (8.8)

Best Picture: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (8.9)
Highest Rated: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (8.9)

Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby (8.1)
Highest Rated: Million Dollar Baby (8.1)

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

Best Picture: The Departed (8.5)
Highest Rated: The Departed (8.5)

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men (8.2)
Highest Rated: No Country for Old Men (8.2)

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire (8.1)
Highest Rated: Slumdog Millionaire (8.1)

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker (7.6)
Highest Rated: Inglourious Basterds (8.3)

Best Picture: The King’s Speech (8.1)
Highest Rated: Inception (8.8)

Best Picture: The Artist (8.0)
Highest Rated: The Help (8.1)

Best Picture: Argo (7.8)
Highest Rated: Django Unchained (8.5)

There’s quite a bit of consensus between Best Picture winner and IMDb rating in the 2000s, which may suggest that recent films skew closer towards consensus picks rather than objective perspective.  IMDb was widely used when many of these films were released, and the hurry to rate a film immediately after seeing it—still high on the rush from the theater—may have resulted in some inflated numbers.  The fact that all three Lord of the Rings films rank extremely high on the IMDb system isn’t a huge shock, but it’s incredibly surprising to see that the highest rated nominee of 2005 is CrashPaul Haggis’ film is one of the worst-reviewed ever to win Best Picture and has been seen as one of the bigger “mistakes” in Oscar history, and yet its IMDb rating is higher than fellow nominees like Brokeback Mountain and Good Night, and Good Luck—films that seem much more likely to stand the test of time than Crash.  Another slight surprise comes in 2011, where The Help—an impressive commercial success—outranks The Tree of Life, Hugo, and Midnight in Paris.


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