The Worst Movies Ever Nominated For Oscars

Sometimes, the Academy gets it wrong. Hilariously, terribly wrong.

(Photo Illustration: Diana Quach/Vocativ)
Feb 26, 2016 at 12:56 PM ET

While the Academy Awards are intended to showcase the very best that filmmaking has to offer, any film buff worth their weight in Oscar gold can tell you that this isn’t exactly the case.

This year, the Twilight fan fiction-inspired Fifty Shades Of Grey slipped into the running in the category of Best Original Song for The Weeknd’s R&B track “Earned It.” When it registered that the guilty pleasure box office sensation now holds the distinction of having been “Oscar-nominated,” many were whipped into a frenzy.

Inspired by the blowback, Vocativ set about finding the worst films to be nominated for an Oscar, ever. Using IMDb scores, we analyzed all of the available IMDb ratings for Oscar-nominated films since 1928 to find how travesties like this could possibly happen. The culprit: secondary categories.

For the record, Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t actually the worst film to ever be nominated for an Oscar, as far as IMDb users are concerned. (It’s tied for the fourth worst, thank you very much.) However, if The Weeknd beats out his competitors, the film critics called “disappointingly devoid of tension” and “wildly confused” will become the worst film to ever win an Oscar in the ceremony’s 87-year history. A Fifty Shades win would dethrone the current holder of the dishonor, the 1977 romantic-comedy drama You Light Up My Life, which received the award for the same cursed category for its eponymous theme, which catapulted one-hit wonder Debby Boone to the top of Billboard charts.

Vocativ’s analysis revealed that the nominations of these two stinkers harken to a larger trend: films nominated in the category of Best Original Song have an average rating of 6.86, the lowest of all categories. Of the 10 worst films to ever be nominated for an Oscar, all scoring under 4.6, half had received nominations for Best Original Song—and nothing else. This year, however, Fifty Shades is standout in that the other IMDb-rated films in this category scored respectably high ratings of 6.9, 7, 7.4, and even an 8.1 for the environmentally-conscious documentary Racing Extinction.

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Other low-averaging categories included Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, and Best Hair and Makeup. In these realms, duds like Adam Sandler’s Click, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, and Norbit, the absolute worst movie to ever be nominated (according to IMDb users), manage to sneak into the most prestigious award ceremony in filmmaking, though none won.

Despite the overall lackluster feelings these films inspired in viewers overall, the films nominated in categories other than best picture or director are widely respected when viewed only through the lens of the category they were nominated in. As Salon pointed out last year, talented makeup artists often work their magic with mediocre films, managing to convincingly transform “three healthy middle-aged white men into an old man, an American Indian, and an HIV-positive trans woman.” In the case of the worst Oscar nominees, Sally Kirkland was believed to be on the path to stardom after her performance in Anna. Special effects nerds raved over When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth. And yes, even the harshest critics respected the makeup work in Norbit. This year, with 50 Shades Of Grey, The Weeknd’s single earned him a Grammy win for Best R&B Performance at the Grammys this year.

Unsurprisingly, the marquee categories received highest ratings, with films nominated for Best Picture and Best Director both scoring averages of 7.65 and 7.74. The highest IMDb rated film ever to be nominated for any category at the Oscars was The Shawshank Redemption, which lost its run for Best Picture to Forrest Gump in 1994. In the past 50 years, the worst film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar was In Old Arizona, a western romance film from the late 1920s. The lowest-rated film to ever win Best Picture was Cimarron, a 1931 drama set in an Oklahoma boom town. Indicative of how tastes change over time, modern audiences found that the film (which was nominated in seven major categories) was worth a failing score of 6.0.