Worst-reviewed Best Picture Oscar winners

The Academy Award winners that movie critics didn't like

Best Picture. It's the big one. The most important award on Oscars night. And why not? It's the crowning achievement for a movie so good it's very literally the best film of the year, destined to be a forever loved classic. But it's not always that simple.

We used online reviews aggregator RottenTomatoes.com, which gives every film a score based on how many good and bad reviews they get, to find the Best Pictures with the worst scores – the films whose appeal has waned since their moment in the spotlight.

While we can never see 'The Godfather' or 'The Sound Of Music' going out of fashion, the same can't be said of these winners...


The Broadway Melody (1928)
Score on the Tomatometer: 38% Rotten

Director Harry Beaumont with chorus girls (Credit: REX)

Unsurprisingly, for a film made 85 years ago (two years before Clint Eastwood was even born), 'The Broadway Melody' doesn't do much for today's online critics. It was a landmark in its day; the first ever talkie to win Best Picture and the first ever musical to be released by MGM – but trailblazers don't always stand the test of time.

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A musical comedy romance about two sisters looking for their big break on Broadway (which was apparently the plot to all films released in the 20s), 'The Broadway Melody' wowed audiences who had no concepts of talking musicals – nor, for that matter, films that featured sequences shot in Technicolour. Flash forward to the modern age, though, and anyone who is impressed by scenes shot in colour of people talking is probably too busy laughing at Adam Sandler movies to appreciate an oldie like this.

What the critics said: "A tedious musical comedy embedded in a routine story like a fly in celluloid." (TIME Magazine)

Charlton Heston in The Greatest Show on Earth (Credit: REX)The Greatest Show On Earth (1952)
Score on the Tomatometer: 41% Rotten

Roll up! Roll up! Cecil B. Demille's 1952 Best Picture winner had a suitably grandiose title, but circus drama 'The Greatest Show On Earth' doesn't hold much weight with audiences more used to the theatrics of Cirque de Soleil. Director DeMille put on one hell of a show – including a jaw-dropping train crash scene – but it's possible that giddy Academy voters were overawed by the real-life Barnum & Bailey circus acts the movie contained.

Cliché-ridden and over-acted by a cast including Betty Hutton and Charlton Heston, 'The Greatest Show On Earth' is now considered one of the least-deserving Best Picture winners due to its bloated run-time, scrambled criss-cross plotting and endless, cheeseball cameos (Bob Hope and Bing Crosby both appear). Perhaps there's a reason why James Stewart's clown character didn't want to remove his make-up.

What the critics said:
"A great big lumpen mass of a movie that... ultimately collapses under the weight of the clichés it carries round with it." (Film4)

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Cimarron (1931)
Score on the Tomatometer: 57% Rotten

Not short on confidence (the film's modest tagline was 'Terrific As All Creation!'), 'Cimarron' won Best Picture at the Academy Awards; the first and only Western to do so until ‘Dances With Wolves’ in 1990. Compare it to Kev's magnus opus these days, however, and Wesley Ruggles' epic comes across as more than a little dated. And sexist. And racist.

Boasting an impressive land-rush opening sequence (shot with over 5,000 extras in the days before CGI and copy & paste), 'Cimarron's story of a newspaper editor with a thirst for adventure starts big but quickly runs out of steam, totting up the dubious racial stereotypes and piling on and more misery on co-star Irene Dunn. Little wonder it has few fans nowadays.

What the critics said: "Maybe the most undeserving Best Picture winner ever." (John Urbancich, Sun Newspapers Of Cleveland)

The Great Ziegfield (1936)
Score on the Tomatometer: 59% Rotten

Another feted MGM musical (there really was nothing else to do in 1936), 'The Great Ziegfield' is another showbusiness pot-boiler about the dangers of success and the allure of Broadway. William Powell played the theatre magnate whose stage show went from strength to strength over the course of three butt-numbing hours.

'The Great Ziegfield' undoubtedly features some of the era's finest actors – star Luise Rainer was the first performer to win back-to-back Oscars, truly the Tom Hanks of her day – but it suffers from 'ropey old biopic syndrome', with numerous historical inaccuracies ignored in order to 'better' tell Ziegfield's rags-to-riches story. The fact it beat out MGM's own, far-superior 'A Tale Of Two Cities' to Best Picture might give you a clue as to why it's no longer thought of highly.

What the critics said: "Unless you were in an air conditioned movie house in Topeka, Kansas in 1936, I can't see why anyone would want to sit through all three hours of this." (Jamie Gillies, Apollo Guide)

Robert Redford in Out Of Africa (Credit: REX)Out Of Africa (1985)
Score on the Tomatometer: 63% Fresh

Scraping a 'Fresh' rating by the skin of its teeth, 'Out Of Africa' is nonetheless one of the gassiest Oscar winners in recent memory. Sure, its A-list pairing of Meryl Streep (two Oscar wins and three nominations at the time) and Robert Redford (one win, one nomination) proved irresistible for critics, as did its stunning African setting. But revisit it today and it's desperately worthy and has all the pace of an asthmatic snail. You can practically fly to Africa in the time it takes to watch it.

What the critics said: "For all that it may come out of Africa, the film's final destination is not many miles from Disneyland." (Time Out)

The Life Of Emile Zola (1937)
Score on the Tomatometer: 70% Fresh

No relation to pint-sized former Chelsea striker Gianfranco, Émile Zola was a French author who kicked against the pricks, blew the lid off an army scandal and was sued for libel for his trouble. It's exactly the kind of tub-thumping 'fight the power' biopic that Oscar loves, which explains its three wins and seven nominations. It's also why you've probably never heard of it.

Still thought of highly, 'The Life Of Emile Zola' is the kind of over-earnest film project Sean Penn might feign interest in these days – a grandstanding account of injustice that manages to send you to sleep when it should be inspiring you.

What the critics said: "Carefully mounted, well directed and acted, but basically the sort of well-meaning pap out of which Oscars are made." (Geoff Andrew, Time Out)

Cavalcade (1933)
Score on the Tomatometer: 71% Fresh

Yet another early Oscar winner that makes for, shall we say, 'challenging' viewing today. 'Cavalcade' isn't lacking in prestige (it's based on the 1931 Noël Coward stage play) or chutzpah (it was sold as "Picture of a generation!") but when all is said and done, it's basically 'Downton Abbey' with a budget.

Drawing on world events between 1899 and 1933 to colour its story of upper-class English residents and their servants, 'Cavalcade' often feels like it has no real story of its own to tell. One scene, in which the camera pans away from a honeymooning couple on a cruise only to reveal they're standing on the deck of the SS Titanic, must have packed an emotional punch back in the 30s, but it feels like a mildly titter-worthy punchline today.

What the critics said: "A creaky tearjerker filled with shrill messages about patriotism and anti-war feelings." (Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews)

Forrest Gump (1994)
Score on the Tomatometer: 71% Fresh

Forrest Gumph... Only 71% (Credit: REX)

1994's contest for Best Picture was of the utmost quality – shame, then, that arguably the weakest of the five nominated films ended up taking the prize. 'Forrest Gump' – with its all-American simpleton hero, special effects wizardry and embarrassingly reductive tales of patriotism – beat out 'Pulp Fiction', 'Four Weddings And A Funeral', 'Quiz Show' and 'The Shawshank Redemption'. Stupid is as stupid does indeed.

It's not a dreadful movie, by any means – Forrest is certainly one of Tom Hanks' most memorable roles – but a Best Picture it is not. Come the close, Gump has single-handedly won the Vietnam War, become a millionaire and fathered that weird kid from 'The Sixth Sense'. It's so emotionally manipulative you can practically feel Robert Zemeckis yanking on your heart-strings.

What the critics said: "A vile, irresponsible film whose massive success says some very frightening things about America." (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)

So, do you think film critics got it right with these films? Or is 'Forrest Gump' a timeless classic? Please let us know in the comments section below...