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Top 10 Worst Movies to Win Best Picture

Sometimes, the Academy of Arts and Sciences leaves you saying, “wait, you chose that as the Best Picture winner?”  People have said this phrase quite a bit over the years, and there’s no doubting that the Academy has made some serious mistakes in the Best Picture category.  But what are the worst movies to win best picture?

For the purpose of this list, it’s worth noting that the movies on this list aren’t necessarily bad films, but they pale in comparison to other films nominated that same year or have not had anywhere near the same amount of influence on the art form.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions:

Honorable Mentions

Gigi

The Broadway Melody

Out of Africa

Around the World in 80 Days

Forrest Gump

The Great Ziegfeld

Hamlet

The King’s Speech

Chariots of Fire

The Greatest Show on Earth

Now, let’s take a look at the films that actually made the list:

#10: Annie Hall (1977)

Annie Hall gets dragged through the coals time and time again as one of the most unforgivable best picture winners ever.  The rom-com is a pleasant experience that deserves a watch, but when compared to one of the other nominees, there isn’t much of a question as to what is the more important movie.

Star Wars changed the game forever when it released in theaters, starting the franchise race that we see today in movies.  Annie Hall works as a film, but it does not have a cultural impact today.  Take a walk around town and you’ll find at least one group of people discussing Star Wars lore.  There’s definitely a discussion to have about which film is empirically the better movie, but the ultimate form of art is the impact that it has on those that come later.  Annie Hall does not succeed in that regard.

worst movies to win best picture

image via Variety

#9: Chicago (2002)

Chicago does a great job of editing around its actors that can’t dance worth a lick.  It’s a fine musical that serves its purpose to genre lovers.  However, when you consider the films that it went up against, there’s absolutely no way it deserved to win Best Picture.

Chicago went up against The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gangs of New York, and The Pianistthree films that are remembered much more fondly than the second-rate Broadway adaptation.

If nothing else, Chicago deserved to lose to Gangs of New York based solely on Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as Bill the Butcher.

worst movies to win best picture

image via theaceblackblog.com

#8: Dances With Wolves (1990)

If you’ve been able to sit through Dances With Wolves more than once, more power to you.  Essentially, Dances With Wolves boils down to long-winded discussion of an already featured premise.  You know where the story is going, and you have to wait way too long for it to get there.

To make matters worse, Dances With Wolves beat out what many consider one of the best movies ever made: GoodfellasMartin Scorsese’s epic continues to be regarded as the gold standard for the modern mob film, deconstructing what it takes to become a gangster and the perils that come with it.

The Academy decided that Kevin Costner staring out into the distance was a better choice, however.

worst movies to win best picture

image via Variety

#7: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

A more proper name for Shakespeare in Love is Oscar Bait: The Movie.

Shakespeare in Love is a fine film, but there’s no doubting that it plays directly into the generic elements of an old-timey Best Picture winner with its production design and story that revolves around the creation of art.

But, the real crime is what the film beat that year.  The Academy chose this romantic drama over films like Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and Life is Beautiful.  

Really, Academy?  C’mon now!

worst movies to win best picture

image via Miramax

#6: Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

There’s an argument to make that Driving Miss Daisy is the worst film out of the five nominees in the 1990 Oscar ceremony.  Beating out films like Dead Poets Society, Born on the Fourth of July, Field of Dreams, and My Left FootDriving Miss Daisy is another film with an unnaturally glossy depiction of strengthening race relations between two people.

Morgan Freeman is always lovely, and Driving Miss Daisy is a harmless, feel-good film.  But, a “harmless, feel-good film” isn’t what deserves the distinction as the best movie of the year.

worst movies to win best picture

image via NY Daily News

#5: The English Patient (1996)

The English Patient might be the ultimate manifestation of “Oscar bait” in the eyes of many people.  Sure, Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas are a lovely pair, but using war as the backdrop for a WASPy love story just feels wrong.  With a runtime, of almost two hours and forty-five minutes, there’s really nothing to fully recommend about this movie.  “Pretentious” is the first descriptor that comes to mind when discussing this film.

Films such as Fargo and Jerry Maguire have gone on to become favorites, and no one ever refers to The English Patient outside of it not deserving to win Best Picture.

worst movies to win best picture

image via Sky.com

#4: Cimarron (1931)

Some films age very poorly, and Cimarron is one of those films.  Filled with bad stereotypes and a plodding story, Cimarron just doesn’t work in today’s day and age.

The film puts all of its action at the front of the movie, making the rest of the movie drag almost to a halt.  In fact, the film is one of the few Best Picture winners to boast a “rotten” grade on Rotten Tomatoes, signalling that most of the film community feels the same way.  If not for its Best Picture win, Cimarron would not be remembered today.

worst movies to win best picture

image via pre-code.com

#3: The Artist (2011)

When was the last time someone had a conversation about The Artist that didn’t include why it didn’t deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture?  My guess is that it was 2012 right before The Artist was declared the best movie of the previous year at the Oscars.

The Artist is a pleasant film, but it has had no cultural impact.  The only thing that its win proved was that Hollywood loves rewarding films that romanticize filmmaking and the history of cinema.

The silent film beat out other nominees such as The Descendents, Moneyballand Hugo.  If the Academy wanted to reward a film that praised the history of film, it should have chosen Hugo instead.

worst movies to win best picture

image via The Red List

#2: How Green Was My Valley (1941)

How Green Was My Valley is a fine film that has received solid reviews from critics, but another film came out in 1941 that changed the art form forever.  That film was none other than Citizen Kane (not to mention that How Green Was My Valley also beat out The Maltese Falcon, but I digress).

I will concede that there’s definitely some revisionist history in play here as Citizen Kane was under a serious legal battle for its depiction of William Randolph Hearst, causing its theatrical run to dwindle to only a few screens and making its run for the Oscar almost impossible.

However, whatever your opinion of Citizen Kane, it revolutionized cinema forever.  Many outlets claim it as the best movie ever made as it told a story that is still extremely powerful to this day.  As for How Green Was My Valley, I’m fairly certain that this is probably the first time that most people reading this article have ever heard of it.

worst movies to win best picture

image via Letterboxd

#1: Crash (2005)

Did you know that racism is bad?

That phrase is what Crash amounts to in its bland story that weaves multiple connected stories together with little to no character depth.  Surely race relations and xenophobia are worthy themes for a film, but Crash boils them down to the most basic understanding, adding nothing new to the conversation.  It has an interesting idea that other films like The Place Beyond the Pines have pulled off, but Crash doesn’t stick with any of the characters long enough for them to resonate.

One could make that argument that the other four films to receive a nomination that year (Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, and Munich) were more deserving of the award.  But, Crash went on to win, solidifying the narrative that the Academy was full of old, white males looking for a pat on the back.

worst movies to win best picture

image via Sky.com


Thanks for reading!  What are your thoughts on the worst movies to win best picture?  Comment down below!

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Nick Kush

A current young professional, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society. You can follow Nick at the official MovieBabble Twitter account @MovieBabble_

32 Responses

  1. tidalscribe says:

    Interesting points here and I agree with a lot of them, but some films we only know are classics after they have stood the test of time or been rediscovered. I loved The English Patient – not just because it was blissffully free of car chases! The sweeping scenery that only a cinema can do justice to, it is a film that is beautiful. But we also loved Fargo. I also enjoyed The Artist, it was fun, we all loved the dog, it was a feel good movie, but of course that may not make it a classic, but which films should get the prizes, those that cheer everyone up or those that are deep and teach us something? I always laugh about Star Wars, I liked the original film, but had no desire to ever see it again; soon after we had our first baby, who would have guessed our grandchildren would be going to the cinema to see Star Wars films!

    • Nick Kush says:

      I definitely agree to a point, but I think it’s somewhat possible to figure out which movies will stand the test of time in some capacity. Take this year’s Oscars for instance. It’s not my favorite movie of the year, but Get Out was massive in terms of seeping into the public conscienciousness whereas The Shape of Water didn’t really have that same effect. I like both movies just fine, but I think it’s pretty obvious that Get Out will be on the one movie from 2017 that people remember. Just a thought!

  2. When I think of The English Patient, I have to agree with Elaine from Seinfeld – why does it have to be so long? I couldn’t finish it. Even starting it was problematic for me.

  3. Pam Young says:

    Thanks for that. I feel represented by a film critic now. Wish someone would do this for “10 Worst Best-Sellers (books) to be Recommended as ‘Top Ten Reads” by The Editorial Club” — NY Times, Washington Post, etc.

  4. nobody talks about Hugo at all if you talk about cultural impact

    • Nick Kush says:

      Cultural impact is only part of the conversation! Many think that Hugo is a better film than The Artist! Obviously that’s completely opinion, however

  5. I think comparing Annie Hall to Star wars is like comparing apples and oranges. Does a movie win an oscar for his cultural impact or cinematic value? They are two different things and I believe that the influence of a film can only been seen over time and has nothing to do with winning academy awards.

  6. I would add An American in Paris to my list!

    • Nick Kush says:

      Gene Kelly consistently melts my heart away so I think I’d have to disagree with that one! lol

  7. domholder says:

    Interesting list but I beg to differ regarding Dances With Wolves. Did it deserve the Oscar above Goodfellas, no of course not, but the vitriol aimed at that movie since that win has been staggering. Its a fantastic piece of film making, likewise the English Patient. Neither will be first on your list for a Friday night fun fest but they are beautiful movies that reward patience and 2nd viewings.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I would partially agree with you there with Dances with Wolves (not The English Patient lol) but to each his own!

  8. alarmelvalli says:

    We’ve to agree this! ?✌️

  9. dbmoviesblog says:

    The English Patient is on this list? Pretentious? Nothing to recommend there? You must be out of your mind. It is one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces ever created.

  10. d1n0mann94 says:

    Hey! I liked #10 and #3!

  11. Susan says:

    The Greatest Show on Earth; what a ridiculous pile of crap, especially Jimmy Stewart as Buttons, the lovable clown who killed his wife. I love the Penn and Teller version, though.

  12. tazastle says:

    I was going to disagree with you about Chicago, one of my favourite film musicals (I can’t resist a cheesy musical!) until you mentioned its competition. There were much more deserving films that year!

    thegeekyfilms.wordpress.com

  13. I agree with your list and conclusions. The Seinfeld character, Elaine Benice (Julie Louis Dreyfess) summed up The English Patient for me.

  14. Shane Coules says:

    Great article, Nick. Spot on with Crash, although I disagree with you on Annie Hall – it’s a bona fide classic and has been hugely influential (both in film and the fashion world), and I’d watch it over Star Wars any day of the week!

  15. thebeasley says:

    I will never understand why the most boring film ever made (Dances With Wolves) won best picture. Mind-blowing.

  16. Nick Kush says:

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