The Best of The Best Pictures: Part 1

Casablanca is timeless and holds up in comparison with movies from any age.

We all have our own opinion of which movies are the greatest of all time. What if we polled a half a million people?  What would the consensus greatest movies of all time be? Using the feedback we get from websites such as IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic we can do that. With the Academy Awards being presented this coming Sunday, I thought it would be fun to rank the Best Picture winners using the same algorithm I use for the Objective Top Twenty.

Recently, Entertainment Weekly published their special Academy Award edition in recognition of 90 years of Oscar. They divided their issue into four parts to recognize the different eras of movie production. This division also makes a lot of sense when using feedback data to rank movies. The older the movie, the less data there is to support the movie. It creates a statistical bias towards the more recent movies. By comparing Best Picture winners against movies from their own era, you end up with a more meaningful comparison of a movie’s greatness. This makes sense to me and so I’m organizing the Best Picture winners into the same eras used by Entertainment Weekly.

The first era is The Golden Age from 1928 to 1946. It goes from the birth of “talkies” to post-World War II. Here’s the ranking:

Top Objective Best Picture Winners
The Golden Age (1928 – 1946)
Movie (Award Year) IMDB Rating Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Cinema Score Metacritic Objective “Really Like” Probability
Casablanca (1943) 8.5 97% NA 100% 76.77%
Gone With The Wind (1939) 8.2 93% NA 97% 76.77%
Best Years of Our Lives, The (1946) 8.1 96% NA 92% 76.77%
It Happened One Night (1934) 8.1 98% NA 87% 76.77%
Rebecca (1940) 8.2 100% NA NA 75.79%
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) 8.1 100% NA NA 75.79%
Lost Weekend, The (1945) 8.0 100% NA NA 75.79%
You Can’t Take It With You (1938) 8.0 91% NA NA 75.41%
Wings (1928) 7.7 95% NA NA 74.25%
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) 7.8 94% NA NA 74.25%
How Green Was My Valley (1941) 7.8 90% NA NA 74.25%
Grand Hotel (1932) 7.6 86% NA NA 74.25%
Mrs. Miniver (1942) 7.6 92% NA NA 74.25%
Going My Way (1944) 7.2 78% NA NA 73.01%
Life of Emile Zola, The (1937) 7.3 75% NA NA 73.01%
Great Ziegfeld, The (1936) 6.8 65% NA NA 69.87%
Cimarron (1931) 6.0 53% NA NA 64.81%
Broadway Melody, The (1929) 6.2 35% NA NA 64.81%
Cavalcade (1933) 6.0 61% NA NA 64.68%

The list makes sense to me. I’ve seen all but a handful of these movies. Casablanca is timeless and holds up in comparison with movies from any age. There are also some pretty mediocre movies on this list. Winning Best Picture doesn’t mean that it’s a great movie. Only the test of time adequately measures greatness.

Entertainment Weekly designates the next era as The Musicals Age. It’s kind of an odd designation. It may be based on the fact that six of the twenty Best Picture winners from this age were musicals and several more were nominated. The post war period introduced Americans to the nuclear threat. Musicals were an avenue of escape. The period ends in 1966. Many students of film history also believe that 1966 was ebb tide for the Hollywood Studio System which makes it a good cutoff point for this era.

Top Objective Best Picture Winners
The Musicals Age (1947 – 1966)
Movie (Award Year) IMDB Rating Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Cinema Score Metacritic Objective “Really Like” Probability
All About Eve (1950)  8.3 100% NA 98% 76.77%
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)  8.3 98% NA 100% 76.77%
On the Waterfront (1954) 8.2 98% NA 98% 76.77%
Bridge on the River Kwai, The (1957)  8.2 94% NA 87% 76.77%
Ben-Hur (1959) 8.1 86% NA 90% 76.77%
Apartment, The (1960) 8.3 93% NA NA 75.79%
West Side Story (1961)  7.6 94% NA 86% 74.46%
Marty (1955) 7.7 100% NA NA 74.25%
My Fair Lady (1964) 7.9 96% NA NA 74.25%
From Here to Eternity (1953) 7.7 92% NA NA 74.25%
Sound of Music, The (1965) 8.0 86% NA NA 74.25%
All The King’s Men (1949) 7.6 97% NA NA 74.25%
Hamlet (1948) 7.8 91% NA NA 74.25%
An American in Paris (1951) 7.2 95% NA NA 73.07%
Man for All Seasons, A (1966) 7.9 82% NA NA 73.01%
Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) 7.4 77% NA NA 73.01%
Tom Jones (1963) 6.7 83% NA NA 69.87%
Gigi (1958) 6.8 77% NA NA 69.87%
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) 6.8 74% NA NA 69.87%
Greatest Show on Earth, The (1952) 6.7 44% NA NA 66.32%

The three movies at the top of the list are the consensus great movies of the era and none of them are musicals. Based on my ranking system, All About Eve and Lawrence of Arabia finish tied for first, just a hair ahead of On the Waterfront. What makes these three movies special is a topic for another day. As with Casablanca, these three masterpieces hold up against the best movies of any age.

Next week I’ll share with you the ranking of the remaining 52 winners. This ranking will include the first look at where Sunday’s Best Picture winner fits into the list of greats, goods, and mediocres, at least as of now.

Author: Mad Movie Man

I love good movies. In my prior life I worked with predictive models. I've combined my love of movies with my prior experience to create a simple Bayesian probability model to help select movies that you will probably "really like".

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