The Best Best Picture Nominees (& Other Oscar Stats)
What's the best set of Best Picture nominees? How many times has the worst film won? What about the best film?
Well thanks to Letterboxd, Google Sheets, and our own number-crunchers, we've got loads of answers for you. Just 8 days before the big ceremony, let's have some fun with Oscars numbers.
All statistics are based on Letterboxd movie average scores.
Best (& Worst) Set of Best Picture Nominees
Almost every set of Best Picture nominees has one or two great films...the Academy just rarely selects one of them as the winner. So what better way to ensure a great winner than to have a bulletproof list of nominees? Here are the 5 best.
5. 1976 & 1979 (tie)
Average score: 4.02
All the President's Men: 4.1
Bound for Glory: 3.6
Taxi Driver: 4.2
Kramer vs. Kramer*: 3.9
All that Jazz: 4.2
Apocalypse Now: 4.4
Norma Rae: 3.9
Breaking Away: 3.7
Average score: 4.04
The Godfather*: 4.5
The Emigrants: 4.2
Average score: 4.06
Ford v. Ferrari: 3.9
The Irishman: 3.9
Jojo Rabbit: 4.1
Little Women: 4.2
Marriage Story: 4.0
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood: 3.8
Average score: 4.18
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest*: 4.3
Barry Lyndon: 4.3
Dog Day Afternoon: 4.2
And the worst set of nominees is...the second ever Oscars, coming in with a 2.62 average. Held in 1929, only one of five nominees tops 3.0 on Letterboxd today.
Very Right and Very Wrong Winners
What do you think is more common - the best nominee winning or the worst nominee winning?
Perhaps surprisingly, the Academy gets it very right more often than they get it very wrong...but only because of a strong streak in recent years.
The Academy has awarded Best Picture to the film with the lowest rating among that year's nominees 16 times. Take a look at the list:
The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
All the King's Men (1949)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Tom Jones (1963)
My Fair Lady (1964)
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
As you can see, the bulk of these entries came in the first half of Academy history, including an abysmal 3-year run in the 40s. Note that we've only had three(!) in the last 40 years, and none since Crash in 2005.
It's also worth noting that this is relative - in a year with strong nominees, sometimes the "weakest" is still pretty good. A lot of movies on this list score under 3.0, but others aren't completely worthless. Gandhi, for example, has a 3.6.
The Academy has awarded Best Picture to the film with the highest rating among that year's nominees 23 times. Take a look at the list:
All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30)
It Happened One Night (1934)
On the Waterfront (1954)
The Apartment (1960)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
The Sound of Music (1965)
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather Part II (1974)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Schindler's List (1993)
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
The Departed (2006)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
This list is something of a mirror-image to the very low lows. Whereas 11/16 of the lows came by 1964, 16/23 of the highest have come since 1965. The shift is even starker in recent years, with 10 highs and only two lows coming in the last three decades. Slumdog Millionaire and Marty were the highest-rated nominees in their years despite only sitting at 3.8 on Letterboxd.
This and other trends poses an interesting question: has the Academy improved in both its nominees and its victors, or is Letterboxd biased toward the last 50 years of film history over the first 50 years?
Other Fun Stats
Here are some other fun stats you can use to wow - or at least mildly amuse - your Oscar party guests.
Lowest High: In both 1928-29 and 1930-31, the highest rated nominee sat at an abysmal 3.2 (The Patriot and The Front Page, respectively).
Since the recent expansion of Best Picture nominees, the lowest year was 2011, when The Help, Moneyball, and The Tree of Life tied at 3.8 for the highest-rated among the nine nominees. That's right: nine movies and the Academy didn't pick a single one above 3.9. In every other year from the expansion, the list of nominees has included at least one movie at 4.1 or higher.
Highest Low: In 1975, the Academy had its first and only perfect-4 year, with the lowest-rated Jaws still sitting at 4.0 on Letterboxd.
Recently, and in perhaps an even more impressive feat, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood was the lowest rated movie of the nine nominated in 2019, at 3.8.
Smallest Range: 1982 saw all five nominees within a few points of each other, rated between 3.6 and 3.9. 2008 was even closer: from the year Slumdog took home the top prize with only a 3.8, every nominee is between 3.6 and 3.8.
2 Point Drought: Despite a rash of two-point-something nominees in the Academy's first few decades, there hasn't been a Best Picture nominee rated under 3.0 since 2005's winner Crash, sitting at 2.9. Crash itself ended a streak of over 40 years without a sub-3 nominee, which had held strong since 1967's Doctor Dolittle.
High Bar for International Films
Average score for every Best Picture Nominee: 3.67
Average score for every non-English Best Picture Nominee: 4.10
The average bumps up even higher if you exclude the few non-English films that were nonetheless American production. Either way, it's clear and unsurprising evidence that the bar is much higher for International films at the Oscars.