This isn’t about the best, though. This is about the worst.
Granted, bad movies usually don’t get a shot at taking the biggest prize on Oscar night, but mediocre projects, occasional head-scratchers and the odd controversial pot-stirrer do make their way into best picture from time to time – and some even win. Which means maybe “Joker’ does have a fighting chance going into the 92nd annual Academy Awards on Sunday (ABC, 8 p.m. ET/5 PT).
Knowing that the actual best picture unfortunately doesn’t always win, here are the 10 worst winners that the Oscars have awarded, ranked according to comparative terribleness.
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10. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008)
The story of an orphaned young man (a pretty great Dev Patel) who rises from the slums to win the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” – only for his victory to be questioned because of his background – is 99% of a very fine film. But at the very end, the movie features a giant song-and-dance routine – a shout-out to traditional Bollywood – that a little-too-seamlessly transitions out of the final scene and yanks you out of a satisfying ending. (Honestly, it’s a weird pet peeve. And now I’ve got “Jai Ho” stuck in my head.)
9. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998)
As a concept, it’s a cool idea: Imagine a romance between Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) who auditions, disguised as a man, for one of his plays that helps the Bard write “Romeo and Juliet.” Part romantic comedy and part experimental Shakespearean biopic with references aplenty, it’s a tempest of random stuff never settling into cohesion but does remind you that old William was kind of a hip cat.
8. ‘Out of Africa’ (1985)
Hoo boy, this sprawling epic romance is great to look at, and there’s an embarrassment of acting riches with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford as a married Danish writer and a big-game hunter respectively who fall for each other in Nairobi. Which is all good if you can stay awake through the slow-paced narrative and 160-minute run time. When people speak of an “Oscar movie,” “Out of Africa” is the kind of thing you automatically think of – for better or worse.
7. ‘The English Patient’ (1996)
Take the excessive length of “Out of Africa” and double the melodrama. Congrats, you’ve got this World War II picture that’s both ambitious and pretentious. A horribly burned pilot (Ralph Fiennes), once a cartographer, tells the military nurse (Juliette Binoche) treating him about the time he fell in love with a married British woman (Kristin Scott Thomas) while mapping the Sahara. Much to the chagrin of her jealous husband (Colin Firth), unsurprisingly.
6. ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (1956)
Huge back in the day, “80 Days” is a breezy, all-too-cheery affair starring David Niven as an English dude who wagers that he can go around the globe in just under three months and runs into an all-star cast of colorful characters, including 40-plus cameos from Marlene Dietrich, Cesar Romero, Peter Lorre, Buster Keaton, Frank Sinatra and more. If that’s all it takes to win Oscar, “The Cannonball Run” should have cleaned up.
5. ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ (1989)
In hindsight, it’s perhaps looked down upon more for being the movie about a black driver (Morgan Freeman) and his elderly white charge (Jessica Tandy) that won best picture instead of “Born on the Fourth of July” the same year Spike Lee’s influential “Do the Right Thing” didn’t even get a nomination. Still, “Daisy” is an emotionally manipulative, forgettable dramedy – one could even say Hoke-um – that has not aged well.
4. ‘Cavalcade’ (1933)
Before the Crawleys of “Downton Abbey,” there were the Marryots, whose family, friends and servants experience the ups and downs of life from New Year’s Eve 1899 to New Year’s Day 1933. It’s interesting as a history lesson, seeing how Brits deal with the Titanic sinking and World War I, but pretty sentimental and empty otherwise.
3. ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ (1952)
Legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille’s resume included “Cleopatra” and “Samson and Delilah” before winning best picture for “Greatest Show.” But it was more of a career “Atta boy!” than an award for the actual movie, an ostentatious and forgettable three-ring ode to P.T. Barnum’s circus – with Jimmy Stewart and Charlton Heston, no less! – that somehow beat “High Noon.” To borrow from Hugh Jackman: This is the greatest show? Nope.
2. ‘Crash’ (2004)
The cast is amazing (Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton and Terrence Howard, among others), the film not so much. The interweaving of stories set around social and xenophobic tensions in L.A. fumbles a bunch of chances to deal with racism and multiculturalism in a real way. Making matters worse, it stole a best picture win from “Brokeback Mountain,” a film that treated gay romance with heart and care.
1. ‘The Broadway Melody’ (1929)
The second best picture winner was the first sound movie to win Oscar, following the silent film “Wings.” It easily could have won worst picture, too. There’s novelty but not much else with this musical about two vaudevillian sisters who hoof it to Broadway and find showtunes, out-of-nowhere story interludes that don’t fit and a ton of romantic malarkey. “Wings” actually still plays well; this does not, at all. Go watch “Chicago” instead.