Peter Eramo Ranks: The Top 10 Worst ‘Best Picture’ Oscar Winners Ever!

Let’s face it, the Oscar for “Best Picturerarely goes to the actual best picture of any given year. Since the inception of the Academy Awards in 1928, there have been a number of doozies that walked away with the industry’s most prestigious award – some sub-par films, some average, some just not very good at all. In light of this thinking, I have compiled my own list – “The Top 10 Worst Best Picture Winners of All-Time

Of course this is only my personal opinion, so I encourage you to comment and give me your own thoughts here. In looking over my Top 10, there aren’t many “bad” films listed (well, two or three of them, perhaps). But, by including these films, I am not saying they are “bad” per se, but rather, either (1) they are average, decent films that probably should not have even been nominated or (2) given the competition of that particular year, said film had no business winning at all.

Take a look at this past year, for instance. “The Hurt Locker” won the highest honor and I wouldn’t even put that in my Top 15 films of the year. However, it was sort of a weak year for great films and because of that, I excluded it from this list. I know everyone says “Ordinary People” (1980) and “Dances with Wolves” (1990) were undeserving of winning “Best Picture” – that “Raging Bull” (1980) and “Goodfellas” (two phenomenal films by Martin Scorsese) were the better films. This is probably true and I would agree with this sentiment. However, I could not include the films of Robert Redford and Kevin Costner on this particular Top 10 List because, quite frankly, I think they are both 4-star films in their own right. Is “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) a better film than Coppola’s masterpiece that is “Apocalypse Now”? I certainly don’t think so. However, “Kramer vs. Kramer” won and I love the movie, so this too is also omitted.

 I desperately wanted to include “Titanic” (1997) on this list. It’s not a very good film and has not aged well at all (even though it’s only been 13 years). I find the film manipulative on many levels and the script is downright hokey and poor. However, I understand why it won and it was, at the time, a great cinematic achievement on a technical level. On top of this, there were not many other films that stood out in 1997, so sadly, I could not include the over-hyped “Titanic” on this prestigious list. I don’t think “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) is a very good movie at all. The guy-with-a-disease does make for great Oscar bait, but there wasn’t much to admire in this histrionic film. And really – there wasn’t much to pick from during that anemic year for films, so I couldn’t even include this either!

A “Best Picture” Oscar winner should be an instant classic. It should stand the test of time. It should be a film that, years and decades from its release, will be remembered and looked at as a testament to its time. Some “Best Picture” winners that encapsulate this tenet are: “Gone with the Wind” (1939), “The Godfather” films (1972, 1974), “Schindler’s List” (1993), “Unforgiven” (1991), “From Here to Eternity” (1953) and “On the Waterfront” (1954). In any case, look it over, tell me what you think – and enjoy!

10. The English Patient (1996)

I actually like this film, but given the other notable films of that year, I had to put this on the list. I mean, come on…who actually fell in love with this movie and can watch it over and over? It certainly has the looks of a “Best Picture” winner. It’s grand and epic in scope – Oscar loves that, I know. But with films like “Fargo,” “Secrets and Lies,” “Breaking the Waves,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Sling Blade,” (my personal #1 film for 1996) and “Big Night,” I sadly had to include this. Elaine Benes from “Seinfeld” had this film pegged – she was at least honest enough to admit her displeasure of this film – and was alienated by everyone (including her current boyfriend) for her candor.

9. Gigi (1958)

There have been a number of musicals to win for “Best Picture” (“Oliver!,” “The Sound of Music,” “My Fair Lady”), but this is an average-at-best MGM musical that no one really remembers today.  It’s overlong and there is hardly any dancing in the film, if at all. The passage of time also shows “Touch of Evil,” “Vertigo,” “Mon Oncle,” “The Defiant Ones” and “A Night to Remember” as being much stronger films. I mean, really…what film class is breaking down and analyzing “Gigi” over classics by Orson Welles and Jacques Tati from that same year?

8. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Another example of a good film that, for some reason, got away with the grand prize. I would think most people look at this movie and think how slow and boring this is. How engaging can a movie about running be to begin with? I know it’s considered by many to be a classic “sports” film, but, like golf and billiards, running is not a sport. I think Warren Beatty’sReds” was a masterpiece of a film. Also, released in 1981 and remembered with much greater fondness than the scintillating “Chariots of Fire” are “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond,” and the extraordinary “Das Boot.”

7. Forrest Gump (1994)

Run, Forrest, run! For 15 minutes of film, just run! I know, I know, it’s a modern, American classic right? You laughed, you cried, it had great music and Tom Hanks was amazing. Whatever. I did like it though. It was hard not to like. The visual effects of putting Forrest next to a whole slew of notable 20th century figures was cool (but really, how many times could you do it?) and the love story at the core of the movie is sweet and touching. But 1994 was actually a great year for film. I couldn’t even put this movie in my Top 15 with other great achievements like: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Quiz Show,” “Il Postino,” “Hoop Dreams,” the masterful “Natural Born Killers,” Krzysztof’sRed” and yes, even “Pulp Fiction” which is over-rated in its own right, but still, a better choice than this schmaltzy, calculating, and poorly edited film. For Academy voters, this was the easy, safe pick for that year. Yeah, Forrest…keep running!

6. The Departed (2006)

The year of the “Long Overdue” award masking as “Best Picture” and “Best Director” respectively. I love Martin Scorsese and am a huge fan of so many of his films, but this had no business winning the top two awards of the night, let alone have the honor of being nominated. If any film actually stood out that year, Scorsese would have gone home empty-handed once again. But alas, no such film existed. Here, the thinking was, “Well, he’s made some brilliant films in the past, but because there was stiff competition those years, he just never won the big one. Let’s give him his Oscar now.” Nicholson is over-the-top (shocker), Wahlberg (who I actually like) was a disaster and really, it doesn’t even measure up to the original 2002 film “Infernal Affairs.”

5. Cavalcade (1933)

The movie is downright dull and overlong. There’s no way around it. It made for a boring play and here, it is a boring and stilted British movie. The film follows a pair of British aristocrats over the span of three decades and the turbulent times in which they live (1899-1933). There have been some terrific British films over the years. This is not one of them. If I wanted to see how World War I, the death of Queen Victoria, & the sinking of the Titanic affected society, I could watch a special on the History channel and be more entertained. Some excellent films that were snubbed in lieu of this snoozefest were: “King Kong,” “I am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang,” “Little Women” and “She Done Him Wrong” (yes, even at 66 minutes…it leaves much more of an impact than the siesta that is “Cavalcade”).

4. How Green Was My Valley (1941)

I am not sure how this film beat out a film that changed the face of motion pictures as we know it (“Citizen Kane”), but it did. I’m not one of those people who think that “Citizen Kane” is the end-all-and-be-all, but come on…it changed the way we view and create cinema. John Ford was a terrific filmmaker, but this is another lackluster, tedious film whose only claim to fame is that it bested Orson Welles’ magnum opus. The movie centers on the sorrowful lives of coal miners and is better suited for viewing in a college class on sociology or labor relations than as a piece of entertainment. Other worthy films that were released this year besides “Citizen Kane”: “Suspicion,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Little Foxes,” and yes, even Disney’s “Dumbo” is the greater work.

3. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

This is a sweet film with some very touching moments. Morgan Freeman is outstanding here as is Jessica Tandy (who won a “Best Actress” Oscar here). But “Best Picture”??? Do you really look back to 1989 and think back on this as being the year’s Best Picture?! If you are saying, “Yes” as you read this now, I’m calling you a liar. The film’s director wasn’t even recognized as a “Best Director” nominee. This was a year where voters wanted to feel good about themselves by selecting a movie that (haphazardly) shows the evils of racism. On that level, I felt the film to be a bit insulting, to be honest. It treats its viewers like idiots, thinking we had no idea how poorly blacks were treated in the South in 1948 and that yes, racism is bad. Thank you. It ranks so high on the list for these reasons and because it indefensibly beat out such grand triumphs of film such as: “Cinema Paradiso,” “Dead Poet’s Society,” “Born on the 4th of July,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

2. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

On any list like this one, this film you will most surely find. For all of its impressive locations and cast of actors, this is another long (3+ hours), tedious, uninteresting film. It is outdated, to be sure, with no sense of adventure or wonder to it at all (unlike the Jules Verne story that it is based on). Watch it now – tell me it doesn’t feel like you’re watching some homemade travel videos – or even those archaic educational videos you used to watch in the 6th grade. How this won “Best Picture,” I have no idea – but with cameos by more than 40 of Hollywood’s stars at the time, my thinking is that there were so many people associated with this film in one way or another, that enough votes went its way. “The Searchers,” “The Ten Commandments, “Giant” and “Anastasia” would have been much more admirable picks – all films that when we watch them today, over 50 years later, still entertain and engage us.

1. Chicago (2002)

This one was a travesty. I’ll start by saying that I did see it on Broadway years ago and loved it. It was great, sexy entertainment filled with wonderful choreography. And unlike some Broadway musicals that made successful transitions to the world of film, this just plays as silly entertainment geared to the “Glee” demographic. It plays more like the failed musical adaptations such as “Rent” and “Phantom of the Opera” than it does the ones which actually encapsulate the essence of what made the musicals great in the first place (like “West Side Story” or “An American in Paris”). The songs are great, sure – it’s a great musical. But when you leave it to a Hollywood cast who are there for box-office power and not their singing chops (John C. Reilly, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere), the songs fall flat. It was a weak year for good movies, but no one is ever going to look back at 2002 and think, “Oh, ‘Chicago’ was the best movie that year!” “Chicago” isn’t a good movie that beat out the more deserving…it is a poor, glitz-over-substance film that beat out the more deserving. Those films would be: “Adaptation,” “Talk to Her,” “Gangs of New York,” “Frida” and “The Pianist.”



42 Responses to Peter Eramo Ranks: The Top 10 Worst ‘Best Picture’ Oscar Winners Ever!

  1. LifeAfterLost says:

    I have a thought on the whole Shakespeare in Love – Saving Private Ryan dilemma. I think that Shakespeare in Love had to win over the slightly better Saving Private Ryan. Just a second, before everyone blows up on me. I think that Saving Private Ryan is probably one of the best movies of the 1990s and a personal top 15 at the very least. I also don’t think Shakespeare in Love is a bad film, it’s a slow comedy that’s for sure but it will always be known as the film that beat Saving Private Ryan, right? Going back to my point is that I think when Shakespeare won it saved Ryan from this very topic. If Saving Private had won then I think it’d be included in this very topic: most overrated Best Picture winners. I think it’ll be hard to visualize Ryan as an overrated BP winner but just think: if it had won wouldn’t we be talking about how it’s just an Oscar-bait film and very formulaic? This is all just my honest opinion; I don’t know what everyone else thinks and I certainly don’t hope to change anyones views on the argument but it’s just to add, say, another opinion.

    • well stated here. Very good points made. Hard for me to speak on this topic, because I am not a fan of Private Ryan — I know, I know…kill me. It’s beautifully made, of course – but I am not a fan of the actual screenplay, story, or the characters. Your point of it being considered over-rated if it had one is a valid one. When a comedy wins, it’s tough for people to swallow. But every once in a while they are victorious — and they are the ones that end up getting the “overrated’ billing when they win. People see dramas as being better pics simply because of the subject matter and execution — I am guilty of this too — but 1999 was a relatively weak year. I have to give Private Ryan another shot though — perhaps I will change my views.

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  3. suhail Rahman says:

    my top 10 worst pictures to win the Best Picture Oscars are
    1938 – you can’t take it with you
    1944 – Going my way
    1948 – Hamlet
    1961 – West Side Story
    1963 – Tom Jones
    1968 – Oliver
    1977 – Annie Hall
    1984 – Amadeus
    1998 – Shakespeare in Love
    2002 – Chicago

  4. suhail Rahman says:

    I have watched all the 82 academy award winning best pictures.
    From my point of view, there are movies which have won the Best Picture Oscar though not deserving and movies which should have won the best picure but have not won.
    The latest example in the 90’s was in 1998 when Saving Private Ryan should have won the best picture but it went to less deserving Shakespeare in Love. In the Naughties, 2005 best picture should have gone to Brokeback Mountain or to Munich but Crash won.In 2008, Benjamin Button should have won the Best Picture but Slumdog Millionaire won.
    Even the nominations should be reduced to 5 instead of 10.
    2010 Oscar’s was more of quantity with 10 nominations.
    oscar nominations should be reduced to only quality and quantity and hope 2011 nominations for best picture should be worth it.

  5. Christen says:

    I found this post so interesting because I am currently in the process of writing a blog about my attempt to watch every movie to win the “Best Picture” Oscar. I am only in the 1940s so far, so I’ll let you know when I’m done. But you forgot Cimarron! WORST MOVIE EVER. If you are looking for the best American films ever made, it’s best to stick with AFI. The Oscar for Best Picture is more about best production of that year, rather than cinematic achievement. Thinking in those terms, the award winners become a little easier to swallow. And also apparently Orson Welles pissed everyone off so much they refused to give it to him for Citizen Kane 🙂

  6. Christen says:

    I was very interested to read your post, especially as I am currently writing a blog detailing my attempt to watch every “Best Picture” Oscar. Still in the 1940s so I’ll have to wait to see if I agree with you…but you left of Cimarron. WORST MOVIE EVER. Still, I think if you want to look for best cinematic achievement, you should probably look to AFI’s Film List. The Oscar for Best Picture is more about biggest production of that year, rather than best film. If you think of it like that, the film choices begin to make sense. Also apparently Orson Welles pissed everyone off in 1941 🙂

    • Cimarron is very close, yes. Could very easily have made this list — I have seen the movie and agree with you. I’ll be curious to get your thoughts once you’ve watched all the films…let me know and come up with your own Top 10 to share. I’d like to see that. Thanks for commenting!!!

  7. CMrok93 says:

    Totally agree with you on numero uno. Chicago just is so overrated, and makes Best Pictures look bad in my opinion, and the only reason won, was because the Oscars needed a musical to win.

    • Thank you, sir. I still get a bit nauseous when I think about it. Not a great year for movies so it had little competition, but not at all deserving of a nom, let alone a win.

  8. Dan says:

    Some of your choices I can’t argue with (partly due to the fact I haven’t seen two of them). Chicago is a classic case of Mr Oscar getting it wrong. However, I must take issue with Forrest Gump, Chariots of Fire, and The Departed. Granted, The Departed won for the wrong reasons (ie. Scorsese deserved to win an Academy Award…for anything…just for being a genius) but it’s still a great film. Did Lord Of The Rings 3 really deserve its Best this and that Oscars when the first film is actually better?

    Chariots and Forrest Gump are classics – both deserving but then again Zemeckis should have won for one of his better movies – namely Back To The Future or the Roger Rabbit.

  9. Sebastian says:

    Hey now. Don’t be insulting the Glee demographic. Just because we’re runty, mole people doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings. I do agree with you on Chicago though. Gangs of New York should have won.

    Speaking of that, I’m gonna jump on the bandwagon and say that I thought that The Departed deserved the Oscar. Yes, it was a career award, but, I thought the movie was damn good. It was certainly better then the other nominees that year, which all stood out in my mind.

    I do have to agree with you on Crash, though. I’m also a big sucker for that movie. I know I’m being foolish, but, I don’t know. That movie just does something for me.

    By the way! Great blog! This is my first time reading, and I will be returning in the future!

    • Thanks for your comments Sebastian. Greatly appreciated. Sorry for the knock on Glee. Sometimes I can’t help myself. And don’t be embarrassed that you like Crash. I know many who knock it, but I love the movie and was thrilled it beested its competition. And yes, many are in your corner regarding The Departed. I didn’t realize so many people liked that movie. I saw it twice and still had issues with it. Oh well….thanks again and look forward to more of your insightful comments.

  10. inhandInnonia says:

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


  11. P says:

    What do you think about the film, “Million Dollar Baby?” I don’t think it should have won.

    • Good question. I loved the film,I must say. I thought the very end was a bit incomplete and could have been tidied up a bit, but I did love the movie and was glad to see it win. I also loved “Eternal Sunshine,” “Sideways,” “The Dreamers” and “Huckabees” in that same year.

      • P says:

        “Million Dollar Baby” seems like a made for TV movie with a big cast and director. I view the movie “Blind Side” in the same way. It goes from point A (beginning) to point B (ending) via a straight line. No suprises and very predictable!

        I liked, “Sideways” also…

        Good Stuff!

        • Agreed, that “The Blind” side played like a very good After-School movie. But not MDB at all! I remember going to see that film BEFORE the cat was let out of the bag — and nobody had any idea what to expect. The studio did a great job at keeping it secret for a time. Then word of mouth spread and people knew what was coming. But I saw it early and it hit me like a punch in the face…not at all predictable. I thought all the performances were terrific and it showed a nice sense of humor too.
          Yes, “Sideways” is amazing.

  12. Alan says:

    You honestly couldn’t put Forrest Gump in your top 15? I’m sure you can name 15 great films from 1994, but can you really look at that list and say Forrest Gump is definetly below ALL 15? Really?

    • OK, perhaps this was hyperbole. I liked the movie, like I said. I can honestly say that I thought the following films were better (in my opinion): Shawshank, Quiz Show, Hoop Dreams, Il Postino, Red, Pulp Fiction, Legends of the Fall, Bullets Over Broadway, The Secret of Roan Inish and Natural Born Killers. But again, only my opinion.

  13. Heather says:

    I’m with you on most of these especially Chicago. That one still has me scratching my head, especially when Adaptation was so insanely brilliant.

    The Departed may not have been Scorsese’s best flick, but I felt like it was the best movie of the year and one of the best of the decade, besides incredible performances, it is still an extremely tense re-watch. LOVE IT.

    And Forrest Gump? I’m nostalgic for it, and still like to watch it, but over Pulp Fiction and Shawshank? Nonsense. Utter nonsense.

    Another one that has my head shaking is “Crash”. Seriously? I mean seriously. Munich all the way for me that year.

    • I’m sorry, Heather. I’m a big sucker for “Crash.” Loved it. I know many thought it didn’t desreve it, but I stand by my humble opinion. The year that “The Departed” was released was SO WEAK….I’m not against it because it’s not among his best. I just didn’t particularly care for the movie…

  14. Patrizia says:

    I dont agree with you on chicago and forest. i thought they were great.

    • That’s fine, Patrizia. That is part of what I want this site to be about….everyone has their own opinions and no one’s is right and no one’s is wrong…good for you for sticking up for your movies! (as much as I may disagree….HA!)

  15. Jim Hill says:

    You can throw “My Fair Lady” in there for me. Not that it isn’t a classic but it certainly is a let down in comparision when you put it side by side with “Dr. Strangelove”.

    • I was looking at that, Jim. I really was only because of Kubrick’s film. But I actually love “My Fair Lady” (up until the final 5 minutes, which kind of ruins it for me). I am not a musical fan, but I love the “Pygmalion” adaptation. It’s a good choice to throw in the mix though, considering “Strangelove” may be the greatest black comedy ever made….

  16. Castor says:

    Love Forrest Gump but you are right that Shawshank was more deserving. Chicago was probably the biggest head scratching Oscar moment in recent memory.

    • I like “Forrest” too…like I said, it’s hard not to like. But 1994 had some truly great films. I always thought that this was just a safe pick. Could have been cut a bit and I do think it was a bit manipulative at times.

  17. Aaron says:

    I disagree on Forest Gump since its inclusion doesn’t support the title of the post “Worst” Best Picture Oscar. There are many other best picture winners that were far worse.

    I would have to say that Slumdog Millionaire was one of the worst Best Picture selections ever. However, I believe most of the films nominated for that category were poor considering many other films released that year.

    • I would be interested to know your other choices for films that won the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar and did not deserve it, more so than “Forrest.” Like I said, a good film. But there were some remarkable films that came out that year that were greater achievements, in my estimation. “Slumdog” was very good. Did I think it was the Best Film of that year? No, but it was close, considering the very slim pickings that year. I think “Cimarron” could have easily made the list…as well as “Greatest Show on Earth,” “Titanic” and “Shakespeare in Love” but went with “Forrest” simply because there were about 10-15 movies that I thought were better.

      • Geronimo1618 says:

        What man, you mean to say that ‘The Dark Knight’ was not a good movie?? Superhero movies can’t be good enough for the Oscars? I think it was one of the most satisfying movies of the decade and IMDB agrees..

        • I’m not sure where you get the idea that I think “The Dark Knight” is not a good film. It hadn’t even been brought up in the conversation, nor was the genre of superhero flicks. I am assuming that you mentioning it because I stated it was slim picking the year that “Slumdog” took hom the Oscar. I stand by that. Action and superhero flicks can certainly be considered for the Oscars, if they are good enough. Same goes for horrof films. “The Dark Knight” was a very good movie. I don’t think it was “Best Picture” caliber. I don’t need IMDB to support my criticism and reviews.

          • Aaron says:

            Peter, it is funny that you are interested in my other opinions regarding Best Picture winners that didn’t deserve it. I was just recently invited by The Final Oscar, a website that takes a look back at previous Oscar winners. I was invited to discuss the 1995 Best Picture nominations. I’m currently working on that currently. I think they will post take in late May.

            I guess what all these discussions come down to is how the Academy Awards is a game of politics and the popular consensus is just flooded with opinions. If one really finds out how the Oscars are calculated and how producers and studios purchase ad space to promote their films, everyone will see that the Oscars comes down to a complete joke.

            Also, congratulations on the traffic spike from Listverse. You surely created quite a monster according to those comments.

            • Of course I am interested. Always curious to see what other film fans think. I must take a look at The Final Oscar website. Sounds intriguing. As for 1995, I think the right film won of the 5 nominated. Wonder what you are thinking in that regard. Yes, the Awards is a game of politics and the media has a lot to do with who wins and who does not. I’m still a sucker for them though.

  18. Tracey says:

    “So obtuse…” I loved Forrest Gump and I love Tom Hanks. But Shawshank was my favorite and I’m still a little bothered that it lost. That’s one of my “watch it anytime, anywhere movies”.

  19. Thank you, Brooke. Glad to find that there are others wise enough to see what Chicago and Gump truly are….a whole lotta fluff and little else!

  20. Brooke says:

    I definitely agree with Gump and Chicago. And The Departed was definitely a career award, not a picture award.
    Well done!

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