• Carson Cook

The Most Well-Regarded Oscars

United Artists

Two narratives I often hear thrown around about the Oscars and their waning importance/relevance: (1) they don’t reward the best movies, and (2) they don’t reward movies that the general public has seen en masse. Both points pass the validity smell test — take Green Book’s reputation and The Hurt Locker’s box office, for example — but I was curious what the data had to say about these claims so I went ahead and crunched some numbers.

To measure the public critical reception to the Oscars (we’ll look at the box office figures tomorrow), I isolated the films that won the “Big 8” categories — Best Picture, Best Director, the four acting awards, and the two screenplay awards — for each film year (not ceremony year) going back to 1957, the first year all eight categories existed in more or less their current form. For each winner, I charted their average score (transposed to a 100 point scale for ease of comparison) on the social film site Letterboxd, which I 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 simply didn’t feature several films from our dataset.

Once I had the Letterboxd rating for each winner, I averaged the eight ratings to obtain an average score for each film year at the Oscars (yes, this does mean that a film has more weight for winning multiple top awards).

Based on the results, we can perhaps extract a slight upward trend in how well the Oscar winners have been regarded over time, but for the most part things tend to fluctuate year-to-year — the films bottom out around an average rating of 65/100 (1963), peak just over 82/100 (1974 and 1976), and hang around in the 70s most of the time. All things considered, we could probably do a lot worse.

The full rankings are included in the table below for your perusal. Notice any trends? Drop us a line and let us know!