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The 10 Most Undeserving Best Picture Oscar Winners Ever

07 February 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Caio Coletti

undeserving best picture winners

It’s true that, as the years pass and cinema becomes more and more available to audiences worldwide, it becomes increasingly clear that the Oscars are an imperfect ceremony. They celebrate a narrow-minded and often traditionalist view of moviemaking and its unreceptiveness to foreign excellence is very frustrating. However, truth is the Oscars were always like this, and they often shower undeserving movies with awards.

Below, you’ll find 10 Best Picture Oscar winners that I consider undeserving, be it because there were better films on the running that year or simply because they are not that good.


10. The Last Emperor (1987)

The Last Emperor

The 80s were a complex time for the Oscars, as much as they were a complex time for cinema. After the transforming decade that preceded it, American cinema was walking the fine line between innovation and nostalgia for earlier, simpler times. The Last Emperor took the Best Picture prize in 1988 because it was lavishly produced and told a worthy story, yes, but it’s impossible to miss that it was also the safest choice.

James L. Brooks’ classic Broadcast News was also in the running, as was Adrian Lyne’s explosive Hitchcockian psychosexual thriller Fatal Attraction, which would have been the most divisive and bold choice. To top that, Brian de Palma also released The Untouchables that year, and didn’t even get a Best Picture nomination.


9. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Chariots of Fire (1981)

While probably the most memorable sports movie of all time, Chariots of Fire was up against such good competition in 1982 it’s hard to believe it still took the top prize of the night. There was the moving drama On Golden Pond, starring screen legends Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda; Warren Beatty’s fiery political epic Reds; and, most baffling of all, Steven Spielberg’s timeless classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, probably the best action/adventure movie ever made.

The Academy was never great at reading the zeitgeist. If it were, Raiders would have taken the prize, as it became an instant landmark of American cinema. Chariots of Fire is absolutely one of the best movies of that year, but it’s a footnote in the history of cinema if compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark.


8. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind

The Academy likes Ron Howard for a lot of reasons. First, he’s a lovely man by all accounts and a very well-liked part of the artistic community since his childhood years. Second, as a director he makes exciting middlebrow dramas that become crowd-pleasers with their inspirational, normally real-life stories. The Oscars love to reward that, because it’s safe, and 2002 was a year in which the Academy was particularly keen on being safe.

Running against A Beautiful Mind in the Best Picture category were an epic adventure that forever changed the game for the genre (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring); an exuberant musical that brought on a jukebox-mania (Moulin Rouge!); and a Robert Altman masterpiece with a top-notch cast (Gosford Park); and a disturbing Todd Field drama (In the Bedroom). Giving out Best Picture to any of them would be divisive, so the Academy went with the one no one really hates, but no one really loves either.


7. Million Dollar Baby (2004)

2005 was not the greatest year for the Oscars, but Million Dollar Baby was not the best choice they could’ve made. The big story that year was the grudge match between two veteran filmmakers: Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) and Martin Scorsese (The Aviator). The fact that Eastwood was victorious once again, and Scorsese didn’t get his Oscar until two years later, for The Departed, shows that the Academy is not keen on taking a risk or making changes.

The Aviator is not Scorsese’s finest, but it’s a masterclass anyway, a compelling drama that follows the life of a brilliant, fascinating man. Eastwood’s film, on the other hand, is a moving epic that certainly earned the Best Actress Oscar for Hilary Swank, but doesn’t really present anything new or exciting from a filmmaking point of view.


6. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

driving miss daisy

Almost 30 years after its triumph in the Best Picture category, Driving Miss Daisy is still probably the most despised and criticized Academy Award winner ever. Spike Lee famously criticized the film in any interview he could get, as did hip hop group Public Enemy and sketch show In Living Color. As the years passed, even Morgan Freeman admitted the film was “a mistake”, even if it stands as one of his most celebrated performances.

Truth is, whatever you think of Driving Miss Daisy politically or socially, even technically there were better films in the running in 1990. Be it Peter Weir’s superbly directed classic Dead Poets Society or Oliver Stone’s haunting Born on the Fourth of July, the Academy chose a high-minded, low-risk, well-meaning, big-message movie instead of true cinematic heavyweights.



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  • Mortimer

    The Last Emperor is very good movie, certainly better than others you mentioned from that year. It’s between Full Metal Jacket (not nominated) and The Last Emperor for me.
    While I agree that Million Dollar Baby isn’t especially good movie The Aviator isn’t Best Picture material either; it’s a movie without soul, weakest Scorsese’s movie in the past 20 years. Eternal Sunshine deserved BP that year and it wasn’t even nominated.
    Argo is 2012, not 2011. That year The Master wins hands down (not even nominated, of course).

    • Filipe Bezerra

      heck of a movie, loved it!

  • Richo

    You forgot Forrest Gump, the most overrated film in history. Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Interview With The Vampire, Ed Wood, The Madness of King George, The Last Seduction, all far superior films from 1994.

    • What about Chungking Express, Trois Couleurs: Blanc & Rouge, & Natural Born Killers.

    • Relf

      Ehm no, Pulp Fiction takes the prize for the most overrated movie in the history of cinema

      • Richo

        Ehm, pull your head out of your arse. Pulp Fiction is a much better film than Forrest Gump. It’s not even close.

        • Relf

          Aaah no. Pulp Fiction is mediocre. It’s overrated. It’s cool for brain dead idiots who are ignorant of world cinema. It’s a collage of shots stolen from other better films. Pulp Fiction will find in due time her place as the most overrated movie in the history of the medium.

          • MAGA

            ^Mouth breather alert^

          • Richo

            Oh dear.

          • Michael Anon

            And Forrest Gump is what? A celebration of “don’t think for yourself, just do what everyone tells you to do, and you’ll do fine”? It’s the most disgusting film ever made.

          • Relf

            It is definitely overrated but the most disgusting film ever made? No kid, that “honour” is for Quentin “copy paste” Tarantino. His movies are truly disgusting, immoral, lacking any thematic depth, worthless…..

          • Max Sommers

            One of the best films ever made. Its “immorality” is one of its strong points.

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    What’s with all the negative attitude lately? Why not make a list of the 10 most deserving Best Picture winners? Really, this article doesn’t help anyone IMHO. It’s just hate.

    • Rudi

      Because negativity is the most effective form of click bait. I agree with you, there was a time when ToC was all about sharing a passion and discussing it. This also has its toll on the comment section where people are often insulting each other.

    • Footlight Movement


  • Abhishek

    Life of Pie had a eye catching direction which it got. It was not a better movie than Argo. Yeah we can talk about Amour and Django!

    • Mortimer

      Best movie of 2012 wasn’t even nominated. Django is weaker, overlong, boring version of Inglorious Basterds.

  • Nick Botton

    La La Land (if it does win, which it most likely will).

    • Footlight Movement

      no its not.the Competition this year is weak so La La Land probably gonna Win it.

  • DonkeYes

    Million Dollar Baby is a way better movie than the Aviator. I wouldn’t say that both are great but the Aviator is underwhelming considering who made it and its potential.

    • Max Sommers

      I thought the Aviator was fantastic. Bottom line is that this kind of thing is always so subjective. I have no problem with any of those films, even with “Driving Miss Daisy”, which obviously fails if considered as social commentary, but is fine if just considered in terms of the specific set of characters that it is about. There is not one there that I would not rather watch than “Titanic”, and they are all better than a lot of the more forgettable winners, the names of which I seem to have forgotten.

  • Nelsonoca Galvis

    Thank for no put to Forrest Gump always appear in this kind of lists

  • Filo

    The Hurt Locker

  • I disagree with Driving Miss Daisy and Million Dollar Baby, because out of the nominees for Best Picture they where the most deserving. They where not the best of their respective years, but out of the nominees MDB was way better than the Aviator (the best movie of that year was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind imo, but it wasn’t nominated) and on 1989 DMD was better than Born on the 4th of July, Dead Poets Society, My Left Foot and Field of Dreams (the best of that year was Sex lies and videotape and When Harry Met Sally imo, but neither where nominated)

    • I do agree with a lot of the choices, 1981 should have gone to Reds, 2005 – Brokeback Mountain, 2010 – Social Network, Inception, Black Swan, 127 Hours, 2012 could have gone to pretty much anyone except for Argo lol (my favorite movie of that year is The Cabin in the Woods, but it was not gonna be nominated for shit)

  • Hemant Deokar

    what about There Will Be Blood (2007) lost to No Country For Old Men.

    • Max Sommers

      What about them? Two outstandingly good films.

    • John W. Thackery

      They’re both masterpieces.

  • Jordi

    Good list. But where is “The Artist”?

  • Michael Anon

    Gee, another article that screams “RACISM” as soon as a black guy doesn’t win, just what I wanted!

  • Gogzilla

    Crash was not only undeserving, it was one of the worst movies I ever saw. Didn’t even finish it.