Oscar: Best Picture Winners–Good and Bad per Film Critics

Oscar-Winning Films: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Critics Choices

Part One in a Series of Three Articles

Since the Oscar is the most coveted award in the film world it’s legitimate to ask how good they are artistically, or rather, what do critics think of the 78 Oscar-winning films and how they grade them.

To answer this question, I use as an indicator Rotten Tomatoes, a barometer of taste so to speak, which polls about 200 critics around the country. The RT grade is based on the percentage of positive versus negative reviews. This percentage may continue to change as more critics post reviews of these pictures, particularly the old ones.

For purposes of convenience, I have divided all winning pictures into three subgroups, each spanning 26 years:

Group A: from the first year 1927-8 to 1954
Group B: From 1955 to 1979
Group C: From 1980 to 2006

1927-8 to 1954

Grade 100 (All Positive Reviews)

Wings (1927-8): 100
Rebecca (1940): 100
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): 100
All About Eve (1950): 100
On the Waterfront (1954): 100

Grade 90-99

All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30): 95
It Happened One Night (1934): 96
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935): 96
You Can’t Take It With You (1938): 95
Gone With the Wind (1939): 96
Casablanca (1943): 98
The Lost Weekend (1945): 95
Hamlet (1948): 95
All the King’s Men (1949): 95
An American in Paris (1951): 98

Grade 80-89

Grand Hotel (1931-2): 86
How Green Was My Valley (1941): 86
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947): 88
From Here to Eternity (1953): 87

Grade 70-79

Mrs. Miniver (1942): 79
Going My Way (1944): 73

Grade 60-69

Cavalcade (1932-3): 60
The Great Ziegfeld (1936): 61
The Life of Emile Zola (1937): 67

Grade 50-59

No film

Below 50

Broadway Melody (1928-9): 42
Cimarron (1930-1): 40
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952): 42

Conclusions

According to this survey, of the first 26 Oscar-winning pictures, only 5 films (about 20 percent) have received grade 100, namely all the posted reviews are positive, though not necessarily with grade A; grade B also counts as a positive review.

The three worst pictures in that era are Broadway Melody, the first musical to ever win an Oscar, “Cimarron,” a soap opera, and Cecil B. DeMille’s circus adventure, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

In general, most of the poorly rated pictures are in the first decade of the Oscar, which may reflect changing tastes, changing conventions, and changing yardsticks applied to the evaluation of movies.

Of the three Oscar-winning musicals in these 29 years, only one, Minnelli’s MGM “An American in Paris,” ranks high. The other two, “Broadway Melody” and “Great Zigefled” are among the worst rated films.

Films Rated by Decade

1920s

Wings (1927-8): 100
Broadway Melody (1928-9): 42
All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30): 95

1930s

Cimarron (1930-1): 40
Grand Hotel (1931-2): 86
Cavalcade (1932-3): 60
It Happened One Night (1934): 96
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935): 96
The Great Ziegfeld (1936): 61
The Life of Emile Zola (1937): 67
You Can’t Take It With You (1938): 95
Gone With the Wind (1939): 96

1940s

Rebecca (1940): 100
How Green Was My Valley (1941): 86
Mrs. Miniver (1942): 79
Casablanca (1943): 98
Going My Way (1944): 73
The Lost Weekend (1945): 95
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): 100
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947): 88
Hamlet (1948): 95
All the King’s Men (1949): 95

1950s

All About Eve (1950): 100
An American in Paris (1951): 98
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952): 42
From Here to Eternity (1953): 87
On the Waterfront (1954): 100