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The stats that prove Oscars Best Picture winners are overrated

Words: Josh Rakic
Photo: Flickr/marvelousroland

In the court of public opinion, these were the best movies of the past six years

Movies are the only thing more subjective than fashion, music, comedy or television. It’s the one realm we can all relate to, thanks to the fact that almost every cinema around the world plays pretty much the same movies, giving audiences equal opportunity to see them.

But come awards season, the most successful, popular and highest-grossing films are always overlooked in favour of niche movies almost no one has seen. 

So to pay tribute to the movies deemed lesser by The Academy, we’ve scoured the history of the USA’S top–grossing films since 2010 and tallied Rotten Tomatoes top critics and audience scores with actual tickets sold to bring you the decade’s most popular films.

Here’s our list of the Best Picture Oscar winners by public opinion.

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Inception (2010)

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Of the five movies nominated for Best Picture, only two were among the year’s top 10 grossing films. Toy Story 3 comes in at number one with 53 million tickets sold and Inception places at number two with 37 million tickets sold. In the past six years, this is the only time the year’s top-grossing film has even been nominated for Best Picture –and a sequel of a long-standing property no less. 

Unusually again, both critics and audiences alike agreed. Toy Story 3 averaged a Rotten Tomatoes top critic score of 100 and an audience score of 89, with Inception’s rating at 86-91. But the Best Picture award went to King’s Speech, which sold just three million tickets in the US with an impressive approval rating of 90 to 92 for top critics. Black Swan (87-84) and The Social Network (100-86) both registered limited ticket sales and public appeal by comparison, despite being critical darlings.

Actual winner: King’s Speech
Winner by public opinion: Inception because it’s the only entirely original concept of the three, with high public and critical approval and big ticket sales.

The Help (2011)

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Independent movies really gained in popularity in 2011. But of the nine movies nominated, not one made the top 10 grossing films list, with The Help (65-89) narrowly missing out and finishing 11th for the year with 21 million tickets sold. By comparison, the winner for Best Picture, The Artist, sold just 630,000 tickets in the States despite a 100 percent collective rating by top critics. Then there’s the final instalment of the Harry Potter series, which was far and away the biggest movie of the year 48 million tickets sold in the USA alone.

Actual winner: The Artist
Winner by public opinion: The Help because it’s based on a well-received book about a group of black maids and has an excellent audience rating.

Argo (2012)

Like in 2011, not one of the nominated films featured in the top 10 highest-grossing films. But with names like Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino and David O Russell in the mix, the nominees for Best Picture were stacked with well-known entities. Of the nine films, the Lincoln biopic sold 18 million tickets to eventual winner Argo’s 14 million. Though the latter was far better received. But none came close to the numbers of The Avengers, the debut coming together of Marvel’s collective superstars, which sold a whopping 78 million tickets to score an approval rating of 82 to 91.

Actual winner: Argo
Winner by public opinion: Argo because of its high audience approval and its telling of a previously untold story.
Should have been nominated: The Avengers

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Captain Phillips (2013)

The lean towards independent films continued in 2013. The best received films were winner 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, though they sold only five and two million tickets respectively – far inferior to juggernaut threequel Iron Man 3, which notched up 53 million ticket sales. But with a Rotten Tomatoes critic-versus-audience score of just 63 to 79, the latter lacked viewer satisfaction. The creeper? Captain Phillips with 13 million tickets sold and a 91-89 approval score.

Actual winner:12 Years A Slave
Winner by public opinion: Captain Phillips
Should have been nominated: Frozen because it’s the only original screenplay in the top 10 highest-grossing films and because it sold 36 million tickets while also having a high Rotten Tomatoes approval rating. 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Arguably the most contentious win this decade is 2014’s Birdman, a cinematic masterpiece that didn’t translate to ticket sales with a Rotten Tomatoes critic to audience score of 94-77 and just three million in ticket sales. No film, except for fellow nominee Boyhood (100-81), has had such a large discrepancy in critic to audience satisfaction and won. American Sniper (82-84) was the only film to crack the top 10 highest-grossing list from eight nominees with 41 million tickets sold, while Grand Budapest Hotel was the next highest-grossing film with seven million tickets sold. Whiplash (95-94) had the best overall score, but sold only 700,000 tickets. In fact, not one of the nominated films was in the top 10 for ticket sales, while the largely ignored Guardians of the Galaxy – a previously unknown quantity – was number one with 41 million tickets sold.

Actual winner: Birdman
Winner by public opinion: Guardians Of The Galaxy

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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One of the best years for film of the decade so far, audiences and critics alike agreed on Spotlight winning Best Picture, with an approval rating of 98-93. But The Big Short sold a million more tickets but wasn’t as well received (85-88), while audience favourite Room (91-93) sold only 600,000 tickets. The year included blockbusters Mad Max (98-86 for 18 million tickets) and The Martian (94-91 for 27 million tickets sold), with Straight Outta Compton falling narrowly behind with a rating of 77-91 for 19 million tickets sold. But far and away the biggest film was the seventh instalment of Star Wars, which sold 88 million tickets for an approval of 89-89.

Actual winner: Spotlight
Winner by public opinion: Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens was a known quantity but was a successful movie despite its lacklustre predecessors.
Should have been nominated: Straight Outta Compton

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