Which Best Picture Do People Actually Still Like?

Movies are like a box of chocolates

When someone asks “What was the greatest motion picture of all time?” generally the answer is something like Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ 1941 drama. It sits at the top of the list of the American Film Institute’s reckoning with a solidity that is unlikely to be cracked.

That said, Citizen Kane didn’t make the lists of a recent survey of the general public and self-described “avid film fans” of their favorite movies—movies that won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Although Citizen Kane was nominated, the 1942 Best Picture went to How Green Was My Valley, directed by John Ford. If there is any satisfaction that the late Welles could derive from this situation, it could be in knowing that Ford’s film didn’t make AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time list, nor is in the top 20 of the surveys conducted by Morning Consult of the favorite Oscar winners.

The number-one Ocscar-winning film in the survey among the general public: Forrest Gump, the 1994 Robert Zemeckis movie. Zemeckis received the Best Director award and America’s favorite, Tom Hanks, won Best Actor for the role.

Forrest Gump received a net favorability rating (a favorable score minus negative scores) of 76 percent.

Forrest Gump isn’t the favorite film among the “avid film fans.” James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) is their choice, receiving a net favorability rating of 80 percent. Cameron, too, took the statuette for Directing at the 70th Academy Awards for the film.

Titanic, which is the number-two choice among the general public, did exceedingly well at those awards, winning for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Music, Original Song, Sound, and Sound Effects Editing. (One could argue that the boat was the real star of the film because Titanic received two acting nominations—Kate Winslet for Actress in a Leading Role and Gloria Stuart for Supporting Actress—and neither won.)

The number-two film for the “avid film fans”? Forrest Gump.

Both groups agree on the third and fourth favorites.

Rocky, the 1976 film directed by John G. Avildsen, has a rating of 62 percent among the general viewers and 72 percent among the fans. Avildsen received Best Director for the film. While Sylvester Stallone didn’t win an award at the ceremony, he did have the opportunity to present with Muhammad Ali at the 49th awards.

And at number four, with 62 percent from all adults and 70 percent from fans, is The Godfather (1972). Actually, The Godfather didn’t do particularly well at the 45th Academy Awards. Yes, Marlon Brando was Best Actor. But in terms of acting, that was it. Arguably the fact that James Caan, Robert Duvall and Al Pacino were all nominated for their work in the movie as Supporting Actor reduced their odds. The winner for that category? Joel Grey for Cabaret. And while you might think that Francis Ford Coppola certainly took an Oscar home for the Directing category—no, that went to Bob Fosse, for Cabaret. Coppola did win that night: Writing (Screenplay-based on Material From Another Medium). He co-won with Mario Puzo.

While the first four slots show a high consistency, it would be hard to find two different films than those selected for the fifth position: Rain Man with 57 percent net-positives for the all adults and The Silence of the Lambs”at 69 percent for the fans.

(Here’s a metric to discern regular movie-goers from fans: Note how much higher the favorability percentages are for the movies the fans like.)

Rain Man, released in 1988, did reasonably well at the 61st Oscars. It had one nomination for an acting category: Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor. Barry Levinson won for Directing. And Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow received an Oscar for Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen).

The brightness of Tom Cruise’s smile in Rain Man is one of the few things in the universe that could overcome the pervasive darkness of The Silence of the Lambs, which started scaring people in 1991. Not only was it Best Picture at the 64th Academy Awards, but Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor, Jodie Foster Best Actress, Jonathan Demme received the statuette for Directing, and Ted Tally for Writing (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published).

Although the people surveyed watched all the Best Picture winners since Wings (1929), there is clearly a bias toward films of a more recent vintage.

That is, in top 10 of the all-adult list, the oldest movie is Gone With the Wind (1939), which The Sound of Music (1965) and Braveheart (1995) brackets. It isn’t too far outside the realm of speculation to think that “GWTW” does as well as it did thanks to regular showings on TCM.

The oldest movie in the top 10 for fans is Casablanca (1943). Although it appears on the list in 13th position, given that the fans gave 68 percent thumbs up to Braveheart (1995), Gladiator (2000), The Sound of Music, and The Godfather Part II, it is 10, with 61 percent. Again, the Casablanca rating might have a lot to do with TCM—and supporting that contention is that GWTW is right behind it, with 58 percent.

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Stephen Macaulay

Stephen Macaulay writes about the music industry for Glorious Noise (www.gloriousnoise.com).He began his career in Rockford, Illinois, a place about which Warren Zevon once told a crowd, “How can you miss with a name like Rockford?”

One thought on “Which Best Picture Do People Actually Still Like?

  • March 13, 2023 at 12:06 am

    Forrest Gump. When the aliens arrive, I want them to find the disclaimer I will plant in my yard.


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