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  • Carson Cook

Lions & Palmes & Bears, Oh My: A Festival Awards Comparison

For decades, Berlin, Cannes, and Venice have been widely considered the “Big Three” international film festivals by the general film community, making each festival’s top prize — the Golden Bear, Palme d’Or, and Golden Lion, respectively — highly prestigious and highly coveted. But how well does that prestige, typically bestowed via a small jury at each festival, translate to critical and audience appreciation over the years?

To answer this question (which we know can’t really be done, but play along with us), we attempted to measure modern public critical reception for each award from 1960 (a clean starting point where all three festivals had more or less stabilized) to the present. Similar to our approach to find the most well-regarded Oscar winners, we charted the average score (transposed to a 100 point scale for ease of comparison) for each award winner on the social film site Letterboxd, which we chose over other rating systems for several reasons: (a) Letterboxd has a robust film community which includes regular film lovers and professional critics, (b) the site has less of a review spamming reputation compared to audience ratings on the likes of IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes, and (c) they have a larger selection of available rating aggregations than a site like Metacritic, which tends to simply not feature several films from a given dataset. In years where the top prize was awarded to more than one film, the scores were averaged, resulting in a single score for that particular year.

On average, here’s how the Big Three stack up:

There winds up being a fairly clear hierarchy through each decade and in the ultimate overall averages: (1) Cannes, (2) Venice, and (3) Berlin. This delineation mostly passes the smell test in terms of how it seems the arthouse populace values these three awards, but every decade — and every year — has its own highs and lows when it comes to what films have stood the test of time. Read on to see how each decade played out:

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: Palme d'Or Winner, 1964



Average Score: 71.3

High-Water Mark: 1961 — La Notte, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni (84.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1960 — El Lazarillo de Tormes, dir. César Fernández Ardavín (62.0)


Average Score: 77.3

High-Water Mark: 1962 — O Pagador de Promessas, dir. Anselmo Duarte (86.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1965 — The Knack ...and How to Get It, dir. Richard Lester (64.0)


Average Score: 76.8

High-Water Mark: 1966 — The Battle of Algiers, dir. Gillo Pontecorvo (86.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1960 and 1968 — Tomorrow Is My Turn, dir. André Cayatte / Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed, dir. Alexander Kluge (68.0)

Apocalypse Now: Palme d'Or Winner, 1979



Average Score: 69.9

High-Water Mark: 1977 — The Ascent, dir. Larisa Shepitko (86.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1978 — (TIE) Las truchas, dir. José Luis García Sánchez / What Max Said, dir. Emilio Martínez-Lázaro / Ascensor, dir. Tomás Muñoz (59.3)


Average Score: 75.6

High-Water Mark: 1976 — Taxi Driver, dir. Martin Scorsese (84.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1970 and 1975 — MASH, dir. Robert Altman / Chronicle of the Years of Fire, dir. Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina (70.0)


Between 1969 and 1979, the Venice Film Festival was either not organized or was not competitive, so the Golden Lion was not awarded.

The Green Ray: Golden Lion Winner, 1986



Average Score: 71.6

High-Water Mark: 1984 — Love Streams, dir. John Cassavetes (82.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1983 — (TIE) Ascendancy, dir. Edward Bennett / La colmena, dir. Mario Camus (59.0)


Average Score: 76.5

High-Water Mark: 1984 — Paris, Texas, dir. Wim Wenders (86.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1981, 1986, and 1987 — Man of Iron, dir. Andrzej Wajda / The Mission, dir. Roland Joffé / Under the Sun of Satan, dir. Maurice Pialat (72.0)


Average Score: 76.3

High-Water Mark: 1986, 1987, and 1989 — The Green Ray, dir. Éric Rohmer / Au revoir les enfants, dir. Louis Malle / A City of Sadness, dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien (82.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1983 — First Name: Carmen, dir. Jean-Luc Godard (70.0)

Sense and Sensibility: Golden Bear Winner, 1996



Average Score: 73.1

High-Water Mark: 1998 — Central Station, dir. Walter Salles (88.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1992 — Grand Canyon, dir. Lawrence Kasdan (62.0)


Average Score: 80.3

High-Water Mark: 1996 and 1998 — Pulp Fiction, dir. Quentin Tarantino / Eternity and a Day, dir. Theodoros Angelopoulos (86.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1990 and 1992 — Wild at Heart, dir. David Lynch / The Best Intentions, dir. Bille August (74.0)


Average Score: 74.3

High-Water Mark: 1993 — (TIE) Short Cuts, dir. Robert Altman / Three Colours: Blue, dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski (81.0)

Low-Water Mark: 1996 and 1998 — Michael Collins, dir. Neil Jordan / The Way We Laughed, dir. Gianni Amelio (66.0)

Spirited Away: Golden Bear Winner, 2002



Average Score: 72.9

High-Water Mark: 2002 — (TIE) Spirited Away, dir. Hayao Miyazaki / Bloody Sunday, dir. Paul Greengrass (83.0)

Low-Water Mark: 2001 — Intimacy, dir. Patrice Chéreau (60.0)


Average Score: 77.0

High-Water Mark: 2002 — The Pianist, dir. Roman Polanski (84.0)

Low-Water Mark: 2004 — Fahrenheit 9/11, dir. Michael Moore (68.0)


Average Score: 76.4

High-Water Mark: 2005 — Brokeback Mountain, dir. Ang Lee (82.0)

Low-Water Mark: 2009 — Lebanon, dir. Samuel Maoz (68.0)

Shoplifters: Palme d'Or Winner, 2018



Average Score: 71.0

High-Water Mark: 2011 — A Separation, dir. Asghar Farhadi (84.0)

Low-Water Mark: 2018 — Touch Me Not, dir. Adina Pintilie (56.0)


Average Score: 78.0

High-Water Mark: 2019 — Parasite, dir. Bong Joon-ho (92.0)

Low-Water Mark: 2013 — Blue is the Warmest Color, dir. Abdellatif Kechiche (68.0)


Average Score: 71.6

High-Water Mark: 2018 — Roma, dir. Alfonso Cuarón (82.0)

Low-Water Mark: 2013 and 2015 — Sacro GRA, dir. Gianfranco Rosi / From Afar, dir. Lorenzo Vigas (64.0)

Nomadland: Golden Lion Winner, 2020



Average Score: 72.0

High-Water Mark: 2020 — There Is No Evil, dir. Mohammad Rasoulof (74.0)

Low-Water Mark: 2021 — Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn, dir. Radu Jude (70.0)


Only one prize awarded so far: 2021 — Titane, dir. Julia Ducournau (72.0)


Only one prize awarded so far: 2020 — Nomadland, dir. Chloé Zhao (78.0)


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