The Data Is In: The Most Overrated Best Pictures In Oscars History

Is "La La Land" really the most overrated film in Academy Award history? An investigation

Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Feb 24, 2017 at 1:43 PM ET

When the Academy Award nominations were announced, armchair critics (naturally) took to social media to express their feelies. One major point of outrage surrounded this year’s Oscar darling, the romantic musical comedy-drama “La La Land.” Some bold contrarians (like Aziz Ansari’s character in a recent SNL skit) panned it as — gasp! — overrated.

The film earned a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations including Best Picture, putting it in the same category as “Titanic” and “All About Eve.” But for all the hype bestowed by critics, many audiences seem to be underwhelmed (or at least aware of the controversy surrounding whether or not its all it’s cracked up to be). Even the New York Times is on the fence about it. According to a Vocativ analysis of Twitter chatter since the morning the Oscars were announced, “La La Land” was tweeted in conjunction with the word “overrated” 4,753 times — at least 8 times more than any of the other nine Best Picture-nominated films this year.

Of course, not everyone who goes and sees a film is hot-headed enough to tweet about their reactions like they are, say, president of the United States. The truth of the matter is that all of the Best Picture nominations this year, including “La La Land,” have been judged relatively kindly by both critics and theater-goers, according to data from the movie and TV rating site Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates critic reviews. Critics rated “La La Land” better than everyday audiences by a mere 1 percent, which may indicate that while its haters disliked it enough to speak out, this animosity doesn’t reflect the silent majority.

Where critics and pedestrian viewers were most in disagreement turned out to be for a film that was relatively under-appreciated by critics: “Hacksaw Ridge,” a war drama directed by Mel Gibson, who is controversially up for Best Director. (That is, as under-appreciated as a film can be considered while still receiving an Oscar nod.) While audience members gave the film a score equivalent to 9 out of 10, critics gave it a less favorable 7.2. “Hidden Figures,” too, a film about black women who worked on NASA’s space program in the early 1960s, was also liked by audiences more than critics, with a difference of 1.4 on a 10-point scale.

If “Hacksaw Ridge” were to win for Best Picture, it would actually become the most under-appreciated film in history to win, dethroning the 1965 film “A Thousand Clowns,” which the New York Times called “extraneous and inharmonious” at the time. “A Thousand Clowns” is now credited with having influenced Wes Anderson.

As for overrated films that critics prefer more than audiences, the drama “Manchester By The Sea” takes the cake this year. While critics rated it 8.9, audiences gave it an 8.2. By this metric, “Rocky” is the most overrated Oscar-winning film in history, with audiences giving it a 6.4 compares to critics’ 8.4. (You can see Vocativ’s full data set for this analysis here).

The Rocky findings are pretty much on par with what people have been saying for years. When it won in 1976, Sylvester Stallone had already taken off his tie, presumably because he didn’t expect that he’d be going onstage after his best actor loss. Film historians today have questioned whether the bicentennial affected the voters’ decision and called its win “embarrassing.” While many considered the film’s plot flimsy, it managed to beat out heavyweights like “Taxi Driver” and “All the President’s Men.”

Similarly, when “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan” as one of its seven Academy Awards, many balked, and the film has since made it onto a number of “worst Best Picture” lists and forum postings. Titanic has received the same treatment, especially now that we can look back on the CGI without the rose-colored glasses.

All in all, there have only been four times in which a Best Picture-winning film’s score matched for both audiences and critics: “Argo,” “Gandhi,” “The Departed,” and “The King’s Speech.” Though “The Godfather” is considered the best by audiences, “Hidden Figures” and “Hacksaw Ridge” currently rate higher, meaning a win for either of them would result in the designation of fan favorite. Critics’ top choice, “The Godfather Part II,” remains unchallenged.