Oscar Best Picture Race: Critics vs. The Academy

  • Publish Date: February 10, 2015
  • Comments: ↓ 8 user comments

This year's best picture nominees

With the February 22nd date of this year's Academy Awards ceremony fast approaching, it's time to take a quick look at this year's best picture race—as well as those from the past two decades—to see where critics and Oscar voters diverge.

First, as a recap, here are this year's best picture nominees:

Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won *
Boyhood 100 BFCA Bos Chi LA Lon NY Tor
Selma 89  
Birdman 88  
The Grand Budapest Hotel 88 OFCS SE
Whiplash 88  
The Imitation Game 73  
American Sniper 72  
The Theory of Everything 72  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
The LEGO Movie 83  
Gone Girl 79  
A Most Violent Year 79 NBR
Guardians of the Galaxy 76  
Nightcrawler 76  
Goodbye to Language 75 NatSoc

* Key to critic awards: BFCA = Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critics Choice Awards), Bos = Boston Society of Film Critics, Chi = Chicago Film Critics Association, LA = Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Lon = London Film Critics' Circle, NatSoc = National Society of Film Critics, NBR = National Board of Review, NY = New York Film Critics Circle, OFCS = Online Film Critics Society, SE = Southeastern Film Critics Association, Tor = Toronto Film Critics Association

If Boyhood captures this year's best picture trophy as widely expected, it will mark the second year in a row that Academy voters have opted for the year's best-reviewed film. That, however, is not the norm. More often than not, the best picture Oscar does not go to the critics' favorite movie of the year. In fact, those films don't always get nominated by the Academy. And, as you can see below in our quick look back at the last two decades of best picture nominees, having the best reviews among just the nominated films isn't even enough to guarantee a win.

Previous years: The last 20 best picture races

According to the data below, the year's overall highest-scoring (i.e., best-reviewed) film ...

  • Has won best picture in just 3 of the 20 years (15%)
  • Has been nominated but did not win best picture in 7 of the 20 years (35%)
  • Was not nominated for best picture in 10 of the 20 years (50%)

Though it does not apply this year (since Boyhood, the year's highest-scoring film, was nominated), in the 10 years when the high-scoring overall film was not under consideration for best picture, the Oscar went to the highest-scoring nominee just 3 times (30%). The Oscar has actually been awarded to the lowest-scoring (worst-reviewed) nominee three times as well.

Since the best picture nominee pool was expanded six years ago, no film below fourth place among the nominees (ranked by Metascore) has won the Oscar. And, in the same period, the lowest winning Metascore was Argo's 86. In other words, if you were thinking of picking American Sniper, The Imitation Game, or The Theory of Everything in your Oscar pool, you may want to reconsider.

Of course, what stands out the most when looking at past years is that Academy voters and film critics appear to be two very distinct groups, and there is no predicting when their tastes will overlap. A high Metascore is no guarantee of victory; nor are previous awards handed out by various critic groups. (See The Social Network four years ago, which swept nearly every major award but could not grab the Oscar.) What's especially striking is the number of great films that never even get nominated, including numerous titles that have scored 90 or higher.

See for yourself: Below are each year's best picture nominees, ranked by Metascore from best- to worst-reviewed. The Oscar best picture winner each year is marked with a star (Winner), while each year's highest-scoring film is marked with a 1st.

2014 (86th) Academy Awards (Films released in 2013)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won *
12 Years a Slave Winner 1st 97 BFCA Bos Chi Lon OFCS SE
Gravity 96 LA
Her 91 LA NBR
American Hustle 90 NY
Nebraska 86  
Dallas Buyers Club 84  
Captain Phillips 83  
Philomena 76  
The Wolf of Wall Street 75  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Before Midnight 94  
Inside Llewyn Davis 92 NatSoc Tor
All Is Lost 87  

* Key to critic awards: BFCA = Broadcast Film Critics Association (Critics Choice Awards), Bos = Boston Society of Film Critics, Chi = Chicago Film Critics Association, LA = Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Lon = London Film Critics' Circle, NatSoc = National Society of Film Critics, NBR = National Board of Review, NY = New York Film Critics Circle, OFCS = Online Film Critics Society, SE = Southeastern Film Critics Association, Tor = Toronto Film Critics Association

85th Academy Awards (2012 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Zero Dark Thirty 1st 95 Bos Chi NBR NY
Amour 94 LA Lon NatSoc
Argo Winner 86 BFCA OFCS SE
Beasts of the Southern Wild 86  
Lincoln 86  
Django Unchained 81  
Silver Linings Playbook 81  
Life of Pi 79  
Les Misérables 63  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
The Master 86 Tor
Moonrise Kingdom 84  
Looper 84  
84th Academy Awards (2011 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
The Artist Winner 89 BFCA Bos Lon NY
Moneyball 87  
The Tree of Life 85 Chi OFCS Tor
The Descendants 84 LA SE
Hugo 83 NBR
Midnight in Paris 81  
War Horse 72  
The Help 62  
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 46  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
A Separation 1st 95  
Take Shelter 85  
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 85  
Certified Copy 82  
Beginners 81  
Melancholia 80 NatSoc
Drive 78  
Bridesmaids 75  
83rd Academy Awards (2010 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
The Social Network 1st 95 BFCA Bos Chi LA Lon NatSoc NBR NY OFCS SE Tor
Toy Story 3 92  
Winter's Bone 90  
The King's Speech Winner 88  
The Kids Are All Right 86  
127 Hours 82  
True Grit 80  
Black Swan 79  
The Fighter 79  
Inception 74  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
A Prophet 90 Lon
Animal Kingdom 83  
Blue Valentine 81  
Another Year 80  
82nd Academy Awards (2009 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
The Hurt Locker Winner 1st 94 BFCA Bos Chi LA NatSoc NY OFCS
Up 88  
An Education 85  
Avatar 83  
Up in the Air 83 NBR SE
District 9 81  
Precious 79  
A Serious Man 79  
Inglourious Basterds 69 Tor
The Blind Side 53  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Crazy Heart 83  
Fantastic Mr. Fox 83  
In the Loop 83  
The White Ribbon 82  
The Messenger 77  
A Single Man 77  
81st Academy Awards (2008 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Slumdog Millionaire Winner 86 BFCA Bos NBR
Milk 84 NY SE
Frost/Nixon 80  
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 70  
The Reader 58  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 1st 97  
WALL-E 94 Bos Chi LA OFCS
Waltz With Bashir 91 NatSoc
Happy-Go-Lucky 84  
Hunger 82 Tor
Rachel Getting Married 82  
Tell No One 82  
The Wrestler 81 Lon
Wendy and Lucy 80 Tor
Iron Man 79  
The Visitor 79  
80th Academy Awards (2007 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
There Will Be Blood 92 LA NatSoc
No Country for Old Men Winner 91 BFCA Bos Chi Lon NBR NY OFCS SE Tor
Atonement 85  
Michael Clayton 82  
Juno 81  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Ratatouille 1st 96  
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly 92  
Persepolis 90  
Once 88  
Away from Her 88  
The Bourne Ultimatum 85  
The Savages 85  
Knocked Up 85  
Sweeney Todd 83  
Eastern Promises 82  
79th Academy Awards (2006 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
The Queen 91 Tor
Letters From Iwo Jima 89 LA NBR
The Departed Winner 86 BFCA Bos Chi SE
Little Miss Sunshine 80  
Babel 69  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Pan's Labyrinth 1st 98 NatSoc
United 93 90 Lon NY OFCS
Borat 89  
The Lives of Others 89  
Half Nelson 85  
Children of Men 84  
Old Joy 84  
Volver 84  
Casino Royale 81  
Dreamgirls 76  
78th Academy Awards (2005 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Capote 88 NatSoc
Brokeback Mountain 87 BFCA Bos LA Lon NY SE
Good Night, and Good Luck 80 NBR
Munich 74  
Crash Winner 69 Chi
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
The Best of Youth 1st 89  
The Constant Gardener 82  
Downfall 82  
Pride & Prejudice 82  
The Squid and the Whale 82  
A History of Violence 81 OFCS Tor
King Kong 81  
Syriana 76  
77th Academy Awards (2004 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Sideways 1st 94 BFCA Bos Chi LA Lon NY SE Tor
Million Dollar Baby Winner 86 NatSoc
The Aviator 77  
Ray 73  
Finding Neverland 67 NBR
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Before Sunset 90  
The Incredibles 90  
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 89 OFCS
Maria Full of Grace 87  
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 83  
Vera Drake 83  
Hotel Rwanda 79  
The Motorcycle Diaries 75  
76th Academy Awards (2003 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
LOTR: The Return of the King Winner 1st 94 BFCA Chi NY OFCS SE
Lost in Translation 89 Tor
Mystic River 84 Bos NBR
Master and Commander: Far Side of the World 81 Lon
Seabiscuit 72  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
The Triplets of Belleville 91  
American Splendor 90 LA NatSoc
Finding Nemo 90  
The School of Rock 82  
A Mighty Wind 81  
The Station Agent 81  
City of God 79  
Dirty Pretty Things 78  
75th Academy Awards (2002 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 88 OFCS
The Pianist 85 Bos NatSoc
Chicago Winner 82 BFCA
The Hours 81 NBR SE
Gangs of New York 72  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Spirited Away 1st 94  
Bloody Sunday 90  
Y Tu Mamá También 88  
Talk to Her 86  
About Schmidt 85 LA Lon
Far From Heaven 84 Chi NY
The Quiet American 84  
Adaptation. 83 Tor
Rabbit-Proof Fence 80  
Minority Report 80  
The Piano Teacher 79  
Punch-Drunk Love 78  
74th Academy Awards (2001 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring 92  
Gosford Park 90  
In the Bedroom 86 LA
A Beautiful Mind Winner 72 BFCA
Moulin Rouge! 66 Lon NBR
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Werckmeister Harmonies 1st 92  
Ghost World 88  
In the Mood for Love 85  
Lantana 84  
No Man's Land 84  
Shrek 84  
Amores Perros 83  
Waking Life 82  
Mulholland Drive 81 Bos Chi NatSoc NY OFCS
Memento 80 OFCS SE Tor
The Royal Tenenbaums 75  
Black Hawk Down 74  
73th Academy Awards (2000 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 1st 93 LA Tor
Traffic 86 NY
Erin Brockovich 73  
Chocolat 64  
Gladiator Winner 64 BFCA
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Yi yi: A One and a Two... 92 NatSoc
Almost Famous 90 Bos Chi OFCS SE
Chicken Run 88  
The Wind Will Carry Us 86  
Before Night Falls 85  
You Can Count on Me 85  
High Fidelity 79  
Best in Show 78  
Pollock 77  
The Virgin Suicides 76  
Billy Elliot 74  
Cast Away 73  
Wonder Boys 73  
Quills 70 NBR
72nd Academy Awards (1999 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
American Beauty Winner 86 BFCA Chi Lon NBR OFCS SE
The Insider 84 LA
The Cider House Rules 75  
The Sixth Sense 64  
The Green Mile 61  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Topsy-Turvy 1st 90 NatSoc NY
Being John Malkovich 90 Lon NatSoc
Toy Story 2 88  
All About My Mother 87  
Boys Don't Cry 86  
The Straight Story 86  
The Iron Giant 85  
Election 83  
Three Kings 82 Bos
Magnolia 77 Tor
The Talented Mr. Ripley 76  
The Matrix 73  
71st Academy Awards (1998 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Saving Private Ryan 1st 90 BFCA Chi LA Lon NY OFCS SE Tor
Shakespeare in Love Winner 87  
The Thin Red Line 78  
Elizabeth 75  
Life Is Beautiful 59  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
The Truman Show 90  
Rushmore 86  
Out of Sight 85 Bos NatSoc
A Simple Plan 82  
Happiness 81  
Central Station 80  
Affliction 79  
The Last Days of Disco 76  
Bulworth 75  
Gods and Monsters 74 NBR
70th Academy Awards (1997 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
L.A. Confidential 1st 90 BFCA Bos Chi LA Lon NatSoc NBR NY OFCS SE
The Full Monty 75  
Titanic Winner 74  
Good Will Hunting 70  
As Good As It Gets 67  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
The Sweet Hereafter 90 Tor
Boogie Nights 85  
The Apostle 83  
In the Company of Men 81  
Donnie Brasco 76  
Grosse Pointe Blank 76  
The Full Monty 75  
The Ice Storm 72  
69th Academy Awards (1996 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Secrets & Lies 1st 91 LA
Shine 87 NBR
The English Patient Winner 87  
Fargo 85 BFCA Chi Lon NY SE
Jerry Maguire 77  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Sling Blade 84  
Welcome to the Dollhouse 83  
Trainspotting 83 Bos
Flirting with Disaster 81  
Big Night 80  
The People vs. Larry Flynt 79  
Lone Star 78  
Breaking the Waves 76 NatSoc
68th Academy Awards (1995 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Sense and Sensibility 84 BFCA Bos NBR
Babe 83 Lon NatSoc
Il Postino 81  
Apollo 13 77 Chi SE
Braveheart Winner 68  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Crumb 1st 93  
Toy Story 92  
To Die For 86  
Leaving Las Vegas 82 LA NY
Get Shorty 82  
Dead Man Walking 80  
Before Sunrise 77  
The Usual Suspects 77  
Heat 76  
The Brothers McMullen 73  
Casino 73  
The City of Lost Children 73  
67th Academy Awards (1994 films)
Best Picture Nominees Metascore Major Critic Awards Won
Pulp Fiction 94 Bos LA NatSoc NBR SE
Quiz Show 88 NY
Forrest Gump Winner 82 NBR
Four Weddings and a Funeral 81  
The Shawshank Redemption 80  
Notable films not nominated for best picture:
Hoop Dreams 1st 98 Chi
Little Women 87  
The Last Seduction 85  
The Lion King 83  
Four Weddings and a Funeral 81  

More Oscar coverage to come

Check back later this week as we take a closer look at predicting the key Oscar races. Next week, just before the ceremony, we'll reveal our users' predictions and sort through the experts' picks in all 24 categories. In the meantime, give us your own Oscar picks, and review this year's nominees.

 

Comments (8)

  • LatinCritic13  

    Where's The Dark Knight at?! This film completely changed EVERYTHING....

  • LOTRfan  

    Only three films won oscar for best picture also number one in critical acclaimed
    1. The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King
    2. The Hurt Locker
    3. 12 Years A Slave

    I'm glad LOTR also on the list.

  • JM23  

    "If Boyhood captures this year's best picture trophy as widely expected"

    As another comment pointed out, Boyhood is far from a lock to win. In fact, I don't think there's any question that Birdman is the favorite now. Birdman won the SAG, DGA, and PGA, and 7/8 films that have done that previously went on to win the Best Picture. Another comment mentioned The Dark Knight being a glaring omission, and that is true as well. The Dark Knight is largely credited as the reason Best Picture changed from 5 nominees to 10 nominees. Besides that, this is a well done article. Very interesting to see the reception of Best Picture nominees all on one page.

  • Clayton333  

    Sue F -

    Your comments are so full of contradictions and falsehoods that I don't even know where to begin. First of all, you say you rarely see mainstream movies, and yet list an extremely mainstream film (American Sniper) as the best of the year. The Grand Budapest Hotel also got a wide theatrical release. If you weren't aware, critics don't vote for the Academy Awards. That said, Whiplash is both critically-acclaimed and a Best Picture nominee, so I'm not sure how it's "too mainstream" for the critics. And is it "indie" or "mainstream"? You can't seem to decide. You complain that entertaining films are not "the Hollywood way", and then go on to complain that a dry offering with limited mainstream appeal like Mr. Turner hasn't been nominated for Best Picture.

    Yes, I know it's incredibly devastating (heh) when our personal favourites aren't given every single award there is, but you might want to find a more focused approach in pointing out why this critic or that awards body is so incredibly misguided and why you're so much more sophisticated than them.

  • Nassim  

    Should be noted that A Separation won Best Foreign Language Film (and Pan's Labyrinth was nominated) and Ratatouille and Spirited Away won best animated features, so it's not like they had been completely snubbed.

  • SueF  

    I rarely see mainstream movies and stick to Indies. Here are the best films of last year. 1) American Sniper; 2) Whiplash; 3: The Grand Budapest Hotel; and 4) Mr. Turner. American Sniper did not get higher critics ratings because of its politics - its neutral on the issue of the war and does not pander to the liberal left that is the film critic. Whiplash is entertaining and thus, to mainstream for the critics. Mr. Turner was inexplicably ignored as Mike Leigh's films generally are. The best performance of the year was Tim Spall as Turner. Boyhood is a stunt film. Michael Apted did it much better in the Up series (7 Up - 56 Up so far). That Boyhood will stand as a best picture award winner along side Casablanca, Alls Quiet on the Western Front, The Best Years of Our Lives and the Apartment is a travesty. It put me to sleep. Birdman, ditto. Only Ed Norton's performance was outstanding. Best Actor - Tim Spall, but if Ralph Fiennes won, I could live with that. Eddie Redmayne was good, but the film was more like a good BBC Masterpiece Theater show and his performance, not great. He was better in Birdsong, which was a BBC miniseries. Bill Murray in St. Vincent was not acknowledged. Naomi Watts in the same film was great also, but the film was entertaining and that is not the Hollywood way.

  • dmj  

    The Dark Knight should definitely be included as a notable film not nominated for an Oscar in 2008.

  • Halo_Insider  

    Boyhood isn't *quite* expected to take the BP prize anymore. Now, it seems like more people are going for Birdman, seeing as how it swept PGA, DGA, and SAG, which, given how they have actual members of the Academy voting in them, are far more reliable precursors than the critics' prizes.

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