Total Recall

The 10 Worst-Reviewed Best Picture Nominees

We run down the most critically derided Best Picture noms.

by | January 26, 2015 | Comments

The Oscars are supposed to celebrate cinematic excellence, but it doesn’t always work out that way; in fact, over the years, Academy voters have ended up nominating any number of movies whose reputations later took a nosedive. With the 87th Academy Awards fast approaching, we’ve decided to take a not-so-fond look back at some of the least-loved Best Picture nominees from the previous 86. It’s time for Total Recall!

10. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) 50%

“Wait,” you might be saying. “‘The Greatest Show on Earth?’ Isn’t that the circus?” It is indeed, and for this 1952 extravaganza, director Cecil B. DeMille turned to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey — including 1400 human performers, hundreds of animals, and all their assorted gear — to form the backdrop for a drama about circus hopefuls (played by Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, and a makeup-covered James Stewart) struggling to make their way into the big top. Critically divisive during its theatrical run, The Greatest Show on Earth ended up winning Best Picture through what many saw as the Academy’s desire to give a belated show of recognition for DeMille; today, it’s frequently derided as one of the worst winners in Oscar history, and panned by outlets like Film4, where it’s described as “A great big lumpen mass of a movie that won a couple of Oscars and is studded with stars, but ultimately collapses under the weight of the clichés it carries round with it.”

9. Alibi (1929) 50%

Directed by the eccentric noir pioneer Roland West, Alibi is actually a pretty fascinating example of early experiments with a variety of film techniques, including unusual camera angles and sound — but as an involving viewing experience, it doesn’t hold together as well. As Dennis Schwartz put it in his review, “The story pales when viewed in modern times, and the acting that was thought so wonderful at the time is simply atrocious by modern standards.” Slant’s Fernando F. Croce was a little more forgiving, saying that “Alibi is awkwardly suspended between the gliding camera of silent cinema and the stagnant medium-shot of early talkies.”

8. Naughty Marietta (1935) 56%

This 1935 adaptation of the Victor Herbert operetta stars Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and you have to say this much for the duo: People really liked them, because they went on to star in seven more hit films after this, and Naughty Marietta has even been preserved in the National Film Registry. In other words, it’s better-loved than a great many of the films on this list, but this tale of a strong-willed Spanish princess (MacDonald) who trades places with a servant and flees on a ship bound to New Orleans in order to avoid an unwanted marriage hasn’t aged particularly well; in fact, its longest-lasting contribution is arguably its inclusion of the song “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life,” described by the Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr as “the parodist’s favorite.” At the time of its release, critics seemed somewhat indifferent to Marietta‘s charms, with Variety complaining that “The comedy being insufficient to sustain this much footage, with no especially exciting action, provides serious handicaps.”

7. Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) 38%

Admittedly, not every castle-bound period piece is created equal, but on the surface, 1969’s Anne of the Thousand Days would seem to have everything going for it. For starters, you’ve got the story of an heir-hungry king plotting to have his wife executed as a means of freeing himself up to find a new wife who will bear him a son — and if that isn’t enough, you’ve got Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold heading up your cast. Certainly some members of the Academy felt that Anne was worth honoring; after all, the movie walked away with an impressive 10 nominations, winning one (Best Costume Design). The critical community, however, was far stingier with its praise, with many scribes singling out the movie’s 145-minute length and rather doddering pace as compelling reasons to stay away (as TIME’s review snidely quipped, “it has perhaps one minor fault: the first two hours”). And while the New York Times’ Vincent Canby couldn’t take issue with the way the production was mounted, it all amounted to little more than a shrug: He deemed it “one of those almost unbearably classy movies, like A Man for All Seasons and Becket, that have a way of elevating the reputations of moviemakers without doing much for the art.”

6. The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) 43%

Well, give it credit for a descriptive title, anyway: The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is exactly what it says it is, a collection of song-and-dance skits performed by pretty much everyone MGM had on the lot in 1929. Unsurprisingly, given its cavalcade of stars, Revue was a financial success, but as a cinematic experience, it didn’t hold up for a number of critics — including Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader, who admitted it was “by far the most popular” of “the cycle of all-star studio revues that came with the advent of sound,” but cautioned that “the waning of some of the celebrities featured makes it seem a little creaky today.”

5. The Broadway Melody (1929) 38%

In technical terms, The Broadway Melody is a dazzling example of where film was headed as the 1920s ended — it’s the first talkie to win Best Picture, one of the first musicals to use Technicolor, and the first Hollywood musical to feature recorded dialogue. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t live up to all the technological wizardry employed to bring it to the screen; many critics pointed out the series of hoary clichés employed throughout its storyline, which follows the romantic ups and downs of actors in a Broadway revue. Though some scribes praised it — and now it’s regarded as a somewhat important curio of the era — the majority sided with TIME’s writeup, which dismissed it as “A tedious musical comedy embedded in a routine story like a fly in celluloid.”

4. The Robe (1953) 38%

The first CinemaScope release, The Robe filled up its increased aspect ratio with a Biblical epic that imagines the fate of the Roman soldier who wins Christ’s robe in a dice game at the crucifixion. Needless to say, it isn’t the cheeriest fate — and while The Robe earned enough money to justify a sequel, and was nominated for five Academy Awards (winning two in the bargain), the movie’s critical destiny was pretty gloomy too. While some scribes enjoyed the production’s sheer spectacle, most reviews echoed the sentiments written by Empire’s Kim Newman, who dismissed it as “Overblown melodramatic biblical nonsense.”

3. Doctor Dolittle (1967) 27%

More than 30 years before Eddie Murphy and a cast of CGI-assisted animals launched a new Dr. Dolittle franchise, Rex Harrison conversed in polar bear and python (and cursed in fluent kangaroo) in this notoriously troubled adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s classic book. Though a fervent studio campaign eventually netted Dolittle seven Oscar nominations, the movie was an unmitigated disaster — both at the box office, where it recouped only half of its $18 million budget, and among critics. “It will put the kids to sleep,” cautioned TV Guide, “but it may kill you.”

2. Blossoms in the Dust (1941) 33%

A drama based on the true story of a woman who battled back against sneering high-society types to help orphaned children find better homes, 1941’s Blossoms in the Dust is essentially the definition of a “worthy film.” Sadly, the end result — starring Greer Garson as the noble Edna Gladney — failed to resonate with pretty much anyone outside the Academy, where it was nominated for four Oscars (and took home the trophy for Best Art Direction). Bemoaning its “sentimentally sugary flavor which also extends over the romantic portions of the film,” Variety grumbled, “There is no comedy relief.”

1. Anthony Adverse (1936) 20%

Released during an epic-friendly era and adapted from a massive 1,200-plus page novel, Anthony Adverse brought all the trappings of a sweeping costume melodrama (globetrotting storyline, life-and-death duels, hidden identities, characters with last names like Bonnyfeather) and a suitably inflated 141-minute running time. It worked, sort of — Adverse was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning four — but critics were mostly unimpressed, including Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times, who dismissed it as “a bulky, rambling and indecisive photoplay which has not merely taken liberties with the letter of the original but with its spirit.”


Finally, here are some scenes from a critically reviled film about the Academy Awards — The Oscar, from 1966:



Tag Cloud

Neflix VOD hispanic heritage month 2019 Nat Geo Peacock films Captain marvel binge book adaptation twilight best Sneak Peek worst movies X-Men Reality Competition Musicals Women's History Month Lifetime Christmas movies TV leaderboard Comic-Con@Home 2021 Anna Paquin comedies CMT sag awards President monster movies Pet Sematary NYCC Opinion witnail universal monsters Spring TV lord of the rings Ghostbusters Kids & Family mockumentary Holiday cancelled TV series 2020 Sundance TV Amazon Prime 2021 doctor who facebook satire Emmy Nominations archives Country toronto New York Comic Con BBC One 21st Century Fox History Nominations Musical USA Network GLAAD See It Skip It Disney streaming service BAFTA Heroines IFC streaming The Walt Disney Company animated Rom-Com sitcom Endgame stand-up comedy Lucasfilm Fox Searchlight concert Podcast medical drama ABC CBS All Access directors Hallmark indiana jones Writers Guild of America venice king arthur heist movie black comedy ABC Signature Black History Month crossover Spike jurassic park composers Walt Disney Pictures period drama movies TV renewals Turner halloween TIFF Grammys ABC Family 1990s remakes Rock TCA 2017 independent MCU 45 Countdown richard e. Grant Comics on TV Starz Mystery revenge prank Mindy Kaling Fox News Box Office olympics a nightmare on elm street book unscripted adaptation vs. Disney Channel TV movies PaleyFest dogs Exclusive Video franchise posters Disney Plus Sony Pictures Tarantino docudrama Travel Channel Mary Tyler Moore ID Amazon Studios TruTV Discovery Channel halloween tv American Society of Cinematographers black breaking bad Fargo spy thriller cops strong female leads thriller Amazon Prime Video Image Comics cancelled television cars The Witch comic book movies Marvel Studios Black Mirror cancelled TV shows reboot 20th Century Fox Drama scary movies A24 Esquire fresh batman christmas movies adventure PlayStation Cosplay rotten movies we love AMC scorecard live action cancelled Crunchyroll Pirates parents free movies news Paramount Brie Larson APB Netflix Fantasy based on movie Masterpiece Classic Film aliens Stephen King Set visit E3 historical drama AMC Plus science fiction Lionsgate Hear Us Out scene in color 2017 talk show kaiju Shondaland FXX blockbuster Nickelodeon Vudu slasher ratings Tokyo Olympics Superheroe HBO Go Video Games foreign chucky Apple TCA Food Network Tubi trophy toy story know your critic marvel comics Schedule The Academy cults Teen Shudder disaster tv talk MSNBC suspense Premiere Dates travel classics Music nbcuniversal police drama HBO comiccon supernatural target pirates of the caribbean Polls and Games Winter TV Creative Arts Emmys ViacomCBS Tags: Comedy godzilla hispanic australia SXSW blockbusters Epix 2015 superman video on demand new star wars movies Toys Columbia Pictures Martial Arts BET Awards saw TLC Valentine's Day Adult Swim Winners SundanceTV space fast and furious Election zombies Logo OWN kids GIFs rotten Hollywood Foreign Press Association Sundance Now game of thrones psycho NBA Disney Certified Fresh comic mcc war miniseries CBS crime thriller green book CW Seed Cannes true crime sequel Warner Bros. high school 99% Summer Character Guide aapi Comedy Central GoT ghosts Western Universal Film Festival Binge Guide spanish language Animation boxoffice Marvel YA Trophy Talk live event mission: impossible TV Land versus Infographic politics critic resources YouTube cats ITV TNT Star Trek comics indie superhero YouTube Red zero dark thirty First Reviews canceled TV shows Alien SDCC BBC award winner Horror psychological thriller Red Carpet 24 frames San Diego Comic-Con Superheroes series Biopics Pacific Islander asian-american The Walking Dead Sci-Fi political drama Interview feel good game show sequels OneApp Cartoon Network 72 Emmy Awards spanish RT21 critics VICE documentary USA deadpool WGN screen actors guild Calendar all-time japanese royal family Pixar Wes Anderson golden globes Photos adenture nfl hist BET docuseries die hard telelvision TCA Awards Super Bowl genre teaser jamie lee curtis dreamworks rt labs spain 90s Awards Tour DC Comics Lifetime dark comic book movie art house Sundance A&E japan zombie Acorn TV Apple TV Plus rt archives werewolf WarnerMedia streaming movies Turner Classic Movies Instagram Live The CW 79th Golden Globes Awards Ellie Kemper documentaries spider-verse comic books CNN dexter TCA Winter 2020 kong Hallmark Christmas movies young adult international El Rey 2016 crime drama Apple TV+ Dark Horse Comics 007 rt labs critics edition sopranos Reality Pop criterion Fall TV Hulu hidden camera Star Wars DC streaming service Holidays Awards transformers dramedy Universal Pictures movie anime new york worst anthology cinemax action-comedy basketball wonder woman Film VH1 RT History justice league FX on Hulu Academy Awards theme song spider-man stoner Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Britbox Bravo LGBT video Elton John children's TV Amazon Mudbound BBC America james bond Trailer hollywood dragons dceu FX YouTube Premium Syfy crime serial killer television 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards slashers football dc social media cartoon technology biography Spectrum Originals Mary poppins FOX The Arrangement scary stop motion E! Chernobyl PBS 93rd Oscars Television Academy DirecTV golden globe awards Pop TV legend Christmas National Geographic festival festivals name the review boxing italian Showtime Song of Ice and Fire IFC Films Oscars Arrowverse child's play Tumblr south america cooking discovery what to watch The Purge MTV king kong Family obituary Trivia Quiz Crackle sports renewed TV shows mob screenings emmy awards 73rd Emmy Awards 2018 TBS Watching Series Broadway women Comedy Marathons reviews Legendary 71st Emmy Awards 4/20 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt DC Universe Rocketman trailers debate popular TV One HBO Max Mary Poppins Returns canceled blaxploitation Comic Book Baby Yoda romantic comedy Tomatazos biopic rom-coms Pride Month Marvel Television Paramount Plus Thanksgiving elevated horror Ovation gangster vampires razzies Emmys joker Disney+ Disney Plus Avengers LGBTQ IMDb TV Year in Review mutant Prime Video Extras french DGA laika new zealand Action Rocky singing competition Best and Worst diversity spinoff Freeform Television Critics Association HFPA casting harry potter Netflix Christmas movies nature finale quibi First Look ESPN latino NBC Paramount Network robots Funimation romance marvel cinematic universe natural history TCM