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) 40%

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

worst 90s 93rd Oscars Paramount Plus PlayStation australia aapi latino LGBTQ Epix twilight Winter TV Fantasy superhero Best Director universal monsters cancelled new york concert Turner children's TV WGN Logo Chilling Adventures of Sabrina posters Discovery Channel 2017 name the review thriller broadcast NBC crime Horror Brie Larson ratings Hulu Sundance TV OneApp TV renewals Reality Competition critic resources sports SXSW FX Binge Guide TCA Winter 2020 Super Bowl Country werewolf fast and furious strong female leads gangster cooking indie streamig Paramount doctor who DC streaming service Food Network 73rd Emmy Awards Television Critics Association new zealand historical drama Oscars Funimation 2018 kong mockumentary Adult Swim 4/20 cinemax dreamworks Crackle Legendary best cartoon summer preview Quiz CBS All Access hispanic Pet Sematary RT21 scary movies Interview TCM teaser A&E 20th Century Fox vs. women comic transformers Best and Worst elevated horror jurassic park DC Universe Superheroe Britbox Sci-Fi canceled TV shows game show comics Lifetime Christmas movies streaming movies Sony Exclusive Video Classic Film Awards Tour romantic comedy mcc Amazon Prime vampires Shondaland USA Network Tumblr video Apple TV Plus Fox News Awards cops PaleyFest television all-time composers festivals Marvel Studios unscripted target scene in color Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt revenge nfl AMC Plus sag awards Character Guide YouTube Red Walt Disney Pictures 1990s Emmy Nominations critics video on demand leaderboard Elton John action-comedy young adult blockbusters Extras ESPN remakes lord of the rings black comedy series Emmys diversity rt archives Tokyo Olympics worst movies The Walt Disney Company blaxploitation franchise scene in color film series Box Office chucky zombies obi wan CW Seed Nat Geo ABC Signature james bond binge joker golden globes pirates of the caribbean 21st Century Fox National Geographic comedies Infographic japanese king kong CMT Chernobyl 2020 The CW FX on Hulu Thanksgiving The Walking Dead south america true crime TV Land cancelled TV shows Calendar Hallmark toronto news Cartoon Network X-Men kaiju OWN Star Wars dogs boxing Tomatazos satire 2015 Cannes Comic-Con@Home 2021 crossover supernatural debate CNN LGBT Apple Star Trek Ovation spanish laika aliens Western Comedy Nominations kids cults Premiere Dates talk show Amazon Marvel italian YouTube cancelled TV series New York Comic Con Biopics spider-verse 2016 sopranos Sundance Now Pop Reality Universal obituary Mindy Kaling Cosplay slasher space directors police drama green book Disney Plus rom-coms Musical Heroines Tubi Fox Searchlight die hard reboot Pride Month romance ITV Drama jamie lee curtis Trivia Hollywood Foreign Press Association Anna Paquin The Purge Star Wars Celebration natural history canceled black Prime Video MSNBC Comics on TV Avengers scene in color series dark rt labs critics edition technology basketball serial killer superman Travel Channel 2019 TCA Awards Hallmark Christmas movies Marvel Television Apple TV+ BBC One Animation know your critic what to watch streaming Schedule USA BAFTA ViacomCBS docuseries Rock parents football FOX IFC Films halloween tv reviews FXX trophy NBA See It Skip It summer TV renewed TV shows Song of Ice and Fire 2021 Creative Arts Emmys disaster stand-up comedy wonder woman period drama Family halloween crime thriller APB spain adenture Pop TV First Reviews Geeked Week biopic RT History marvel comics HBO Max spanish language Disney Channel movies The Witch rotten movies we love suspense golden globe awards Starz Paramount Pictures saw slashers Pacific Islander batman Spring TV nature Alien CBS war Columbia Pictures 72 Emmy Awards Disney Hear Us Out MCU game of thrones psycho award winner TruTV IMDb TV indiana jones dceu Indigenous Amazon Studios anime psychological thriller classics BET Awards spider-man DirecTV scorecard 94th Oscars Writers Guild of America based on movie Disney+ Disney Plus IFC child's play Teen finale TV richard e. Grant Trailer international olympics docudrama Lucasfilm Syfy sequels Fargo mutant Stephen King South by Southwest Film Festival screen actors guild Best Actor witnail Ellie Kemper Netflix Christmas movies Music genre Wes Anderson YouTube Premium singing competition GoT Spike scary MTV sequel science fiction Valentine's Day Winners godzilla Best Picture medical drama TBS 79th Golden Globes Awards comic books 007 independent Ghostbusters Fall TV boxoffice razzies dramedy comiccon Freeform sitcom Disney streaming service travel Focus Features asian-american cars Mary Tyler Moore Rocketman Polls and Games Broadway monster movies Watching Series PBS Lifetime Opinion Martial Arts GIFs Amazon Prime Video Peacock Sundance Sneak Peek emmy awards Musicals Women's History Month Rocky Comedy Central hispanic heritage month documentary Action theme song adaptation MGM Tarantino dragons target foreign Superheroes zero dark thirty YA TCA SXSW 2022 marvel cinematic universe anthology Turner Classic Movies Instagram Live Film VOD art house blockbuster animated Oscar justice league Showtime AMC popular Kids & Family Mudbound E! deadpool ID casting free movies Photos HBO BBC America First Look Esquire ABC Family cancelled television Crunchyroll Countdown Nickelodeon VH1 french tv talk fresh SDCC Academy Awards Arrowverse mission: impossible festival new star wars movies TV movies Marathons breaking bad ABC The Academy Election Set visit DGA Rom-Com SundanceTV Certified Fresh live action interviews spy thriller BET TCA 2017 hidden camera telelvision Best Actress VICE Holiday 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards rt labs Red Carpet robots miniseries Vudu Black Mirror zombie WarnerMedia Mary Poppins Returns Video Games versus Film Festival high school El Rey christmas movies biography 99% rotten legend HFPA History 45 Podcast films Baby Yoda book crime drama venice 71st Emmy Awards feel good Tags: Comedy adventure discovery screenings TNT Mary poppins Native comic book movies Toys Black History Month political drama ghosts royal family stop motion harry potter NYCC comic book movie stoner Mystery GLAAD hollywood facebook king arthur cats toy story dexter nbcuniversal criterion 24 frames Pirates Shudder live event TLC Pixar a nightmare on elm street Summer Masterpiece Image Comics documentaries Endgame spinoff Neflix Netflix TIFF Warner Bros. politics Grammys A24 Paramount Network movie prank scene in color American Society of Cinematographers Bravo Holidays mob book adaptation Trophy Talk TV One archives summer TV preview DC Comics Sony Pictures Captain marvel Dark Horse Comics BBC social media hist trailers Acorn TV The Arrangement heist movie dc Comic Book HBO Go Spectrum Originals japan Television Academy E3 Lionsgate President Universal Pictures quibi San Diego Comic-Con Year in Review Christmas