Best of the Best Pictures: Part 2

How does The Shape of Water measure up, objectively, to other Best Picture winners of The Modern Age?

Last Sunday night The Shape of Water became the 90th recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture. How does it measure up, objectively, to other Best Picture winners? As of today…not very well.

As with last week’s post, I’ve organized the movies into the same time frames Entertainment Weekly used in their Oscar special edition. This puts The Shape of Water into what EW calls The Modern Age which encompasses the years 1987 to the present. The movies are ranked based on the probability that the average IMDB voter will give the movie a rating of 7 or higher. There is a tie breaker system in place.

Top Objective Best Picture Winners
The Modern Age (1987 – 2018)
Movie (Award Year) Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Cinema Score Metacritic Objective “Really Like” Probability
Forrest Gump (1994) 72% A+ 82% 76.63%
Argo (2012) 96% A+ 86% 76.38%
Million Dollar Baby (2004) 90% A 86% 76.38%
Rain Man (1988) 89% A 65% 76.38%
Silence of the Lambs, The (1991) 95% A- 85% 76.21%
Departed, The (2006) 90% A- 85% 76.21%
American Beauty (1999) 88% B+ 86% 76.21%
Braveheart (1995)  77% A- 68% 76.21%
Schindler’s List (1993) 97% A+ 93% 76.04%
Lord of the Rings, The: The Return of the King (2003)  93% A+ 94% 76.04%
Titanic (1997) 88% A+ 75% 76.04%
Gladiator (2000) 76% A 67% 76.04%
12 Years a Slave (2013) 96% NR 96% 75.77%
Spotlight (2015) 97% NR 93% 75.77%
Hurt Locker, The (2009) 97% NR 94% 75.77%
No Country for Old Men  (2007) 93% NR 91% 75.77%
King’s Speech, The (2010) 95% NR 88% 75.77%
Birdman (2014) 92% NR 88% 75.77%
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) 91% NR 86% 75.77%
Unforgiven (1992) 96% B+ 85% 75.74%
Beautiful Mind, A (2001) 75% A- 72% 75.74%
Crash (2005) 74% A- 69% 75.74%
Chicago (2002) 85% A- 82% 74.90%
Driving Miss Daisy (1989) 81% A+ 81% 74.59%
Moonlight (2016) 98% NR 99% 74.58%
Artist, The (2011) 95% NR 89% 74.58%
Last Emperor, The (1987) 92% A- 76% 73.67%
Shakespeare in Love (1998) 92% A 87% 73.64%
Dances with Wolves (1990) 82% A+ 72% 73.64%
English Patient, The (1996) 84% A- 87% 72.89%
Shape of Water , The (2017) 92% NR 87% 70.45%

Is The Shape of Water really the least likable Best Picture winner of the last 32 years? While it could be, in the long run it probably won’t be.

One of the objective criteria I use is the total number of IMDB votes. If a movie is likable, it will continue to be sought out for viewing long after it has left the theaters. The Shape of Water is just beginning this process of attracting new viewers. Where “word of mouth” goes in the years to come for this movie is unknown. I’m pretty confident though that it will get enough new IMDB voters to pull it past the four movies ahead of it.

An adjustment to another one of the criteria could also improve the position of The Shape of Water. From 1986 to 2008, CinemaScore generated and published a score for every single Best Picture winner. From 2009 through 2017, the movie Argo in 2012 is the only Best Picture winner to have a posted score on the CinemaScore website. Not having a score disadvantages a movie in the rankings. I don’t know whether this trend is due to a change in CinemaScore’s methodology or whether the industry has amped up the practice of using limited releases to build momentum for a movie. Whatever the reason, it is a flaw I need to correct.

Finally, a movie that wins Best Picture, like Argo and Crash, with 6 total nominations is on equal footing with a movie like The Shape of Water that has 13 total nominations. To determine whether the additional nominations increase the “really like” probability will take a more robust database than I have right now. If it does improve the odds, this is another opportunity for The Shape of Water to move up in the rankings.

All of this being said, The Shape of Water has a long way to go before it earns a place among the classic “really like” movies.


Because I had too much to say about The Modern Age, I’m holding off on publishing the rankings from 1967 to 1986 until next week.

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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