Everyone in Hollywood wants to win an Oscar — but even those who do may fail to please the critics. The more positive reviews a movie gets, the better their score on Rotten Tomatoes will be. Unfortunately for the following Oscar winners, the same is true for negative reviews. Join us as we scroll through these films that snagged Oscars, but left the critics less than impressed.
25. Les Misérables (2012) – 69%
Based on the seminal Victor Hugo novel, the musical version of Les Misérables is an absolute classic, with multiple songs that can make you cry. The 2012 Tom Hooper-directed remake was given due props at the 85th Academy Awards, where it won Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Makeup, and Best Sound Mixing. If that’s not enough praise, the film was also nominated for a whopping five other categories.
However, Rotten Tomatoes brought it down from its castle on a cloud, giving it only a 69% score. That’s not terrible, but it’s more than a bit meek compared to the amount of awards it received. David Harris, a film reviewer for Spectrum Culture, called it a “spectacle without the aspects that make it a spectacle.”
24. The Danish Girl – 68%
Some topics aren’t easy to talk about, which is why The Danish Girl was a bold undertaking. A subject matter that is clearly sensitive to many, this biographical drama tells the story of Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne), a Danish painter who was one of the first-ever people to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
Academy Award-winning Redmayne shines as Elbe, showing off his eclectic acting brilliance as he’s done many times before, but it was his co-star, Alicia Vikander, who received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Although Rotten Tomatoes critics applauded the film for its willingness to explore emotional, and certainly timely and relevant themes, their 68% rating told a different story.
23. The Blind Side (2009) – 66%
Based on a true story, this feel-good sports movie warmed the hearts of audiences all around the world — and the reason had nothing to do with sports. It had to do with the emotionally-charged premise, where we see Sandra Bullock’s Leigh Anne Tuohy adopting a young, hulking, and homeless Michael Oher into her home.
She takes him from a bad neighborhood into her cozy upper-class world, and arguably sets him on a path that helps him reach the NFL. But although Bullock’s performance was memorable enough to win her the award for Best Actress, the film was given a great deal of critique by some for not being factually accurate.
22. Vice (2018) – 66%
There’s no secret down here about how Vice managed to win the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. The makeup team did an amazing job on Christian Bale, who is practically unrecognizable as he plays the role of former US Vice President Dick Cheney. A film that covers the hotly-contested 2000 US presidential race, it took us behind the scenes of who was really calling the shots.
It paints Cheney as an unsung boss of sorts, with Oscar-winner Bale delivering gold on all cylinders as per usual and nabbing a Golden Globe for his performance. While 66% isn’t the worst rating ever, we’re a little bit surprised that the film experts weren’t sold by the performances of this all-star cast.
21. Spectre (2016) – 63%
There’s always a kind of double-edged sword when it comes to James Bond films. On the one hand, it’s hard to screw up a franchise so firmly entrenched in our minds as a classic. On the other hand, if you do screw it up, the fans will never let you hear the end of it.
Luckily, Daniel Craig seems to have won over the populace as the official Agent 007 of the century (so far). The film even won an Oscar! But movie reviewers didn’t seem to think that their victory of Best Original Song (“Writing’s On The Wall”) was enough to save the film from what they described as its trite shortcomings.
20. Bohemian Rhapsody (2019) – 60%
Ahh, Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic everyone was waiting for. Centered around the bedazzled rock icon Freddie Mercury, the film tells the behind-the-scenes story of his rise through the music industry. Like a rocket ship on its way to Mars, we watch his personal struggles and triumphs throughout his journey as the frontman of the legendary band Queen, with bandmates Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor.
Say what you want about the film — but when Mercury asks May “What’s the lyric?” during a songwriting session of “We Will Rock You,” how could you not smile? The Academy apparently agreed, awarding the film with a whopping four Oscars (including Best Actor for Rami Malek). But the critics sang a different tune. Many of them seemed to think that the movie didn’t go deep enough into Mercury’s life, with Rhys Tarling from Isolated Nation writing, “Bohemian Rhapsody is an expensive cosplay.”
19. Marie Antoinette (2006) – 56%
It’s rare for a historical drama to feel as vibrant and colorful as Marie Antoinette. It has a rebellious feel to it, which is appropriate considering its subject, Marie herself (played by the quirky Kirsten Dunst), was a bit of a rebel.
Set in the time period right before the French Revolution, director Sofia Coppola’s take on history won her an Oscar in Best Costume Design. However, others took issue with certain plot points. The Rotten Tomatoes Critic Consensus was that there was too much shine, and not enough substance, mainly in regards to historical accuracy, plot, and character development.
18. Top Gun (1986) – 55%
Sometimes we wonder if movie critics take their jobs way too seriously. Movies are meant to be artistic statements, yes, and sometimes they’re meant to talk about important current events. But sometimes they’re just meant to be a fun experience — and Top Gun certainly delivers on all cylinders in that regard.
As a young Tom Cruise soars into the sky in this film, and delivers classic one-liner quips to his peers, his enigmatic energy is pure entertainment. This classic won Best Original Song, but we think it could’ve been a good candidate for Best Picture, and certainly worth a lot higher than a flimsy 55% rating.
17. Pocahontas (1995) – 55%
If you told a child of the ’90s that Pocahontas only received a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, they’d probably think something was wrong with the website. We say that because the ’90s were kind of like the golden decade for Disney cartoon films, a full-on Renaissance that churned out classic after classic like The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin.
Melodious, instantly-memorable songs were generally at the heart of it all, and Pocahontas was no different, winning the Oscar for Best Original Song and Best Scoring of a Musical. However, more than a few critics felt that they distorted some, shall we say, more than slightly dark historical facts, preferring to present them through rose-colored glasses (or mouse ear-shaped glasses if you prefer).
16. Girl, Interrupted (1999) – 54%
As the old cliché says, sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for in life until we find it. Girl, Interrupted, which is based on a true story, covers the journey of Susanna (Winona Ryder) as she’s placed in a mental institution for girls. She initially doesn’t think she belongs there, but it’s heartwarming to see her change her mind as she befriends the kooky girls around her.
One of these characters is Lisa, played by Angelina Jolie, whose performance was so dynamic that she won Best Supporting Actress. However, the Critic Consensus over at Rotten Tomatoes felt that the film suffered from “thin, predictable plotting,” rating it only 54%.
15. What Dreams May Come (1998) – 54%
Some subjects are particularly difficult to cover, and the idea of the afterlife is one of them. Based on a 1978 Richard Matheson novel of the same name, its name lifted from Hamlet’s soliloquy, What Dreams May Come took this daunting challenge upon themselves, doing so in a magical and surprisingly palatable manner.
The aforementioned magic is the reason for their Oscar for Best Visual Effects, with kaleidoscopic colors dripping in and out of scene after scene. But as can be told from its 54% rating, Rotten Tomatoes didn’t think too much of it. In fact, their Critic Consensus wrote that the beautiful scenery was “overshadowed” by the “insubstantial plot.”
14. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – 53%
When we first got to know Captain Jack Sparrow, played by the wonderfully weird Johnny Depp, it was so new and fun that it seemed like Disney had truly struck gold. But let’s just say that there’s only so much Captain Jack that people can handle.
By the time the film’s sequels began coming out, some people had gotten over his gimmick, and it showed on Rotten Tomatoes. They felt that Depp had lost his unpredictability and originality, thus resulting in the 53% rating the movie was gifted with. Despite that, the film was still impressive enough to snag the coveted Oscar for Best Visual Effects.
13. King Kong (1976) – 53%
Hollywood’s special effects teams were taking big risks in the ’70s. When the 1976 remake of King Kong came out, people were still reeling from the impact Steven Spielberg’s Jaws had left on them the previous year. From a visual perspective, King Kong was a massive breakthrough for that time period, and certainly worth a watch if you appreciate movie history.
The film is also well-known for launching Oscar-winner Jessica Lange’s career. But while King Kong won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, it was followed by an even more massive visual breakthrough one year later: Star Wars. Ultimately, the movie was too comical and over-the-top for movie buffs to ignore, and it got overshadowed by bigger classics.
12. The Iron Lady (2011) – 52%
Can you really go wrong with a Meryl Streep-centric film? We’re not sure it’s even possible. She is positively riveting in this historical drama as one of Great Britain’s most famous leaders, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and it’s no surprise that she snagged the award for Best Actress.
But that wasn’t the only award The Iron Lady won, with a Best Makeup victory to boot as well. That being said, there must have been a reason this film only received a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Describing the film as being “mired in bland, self-important storytelling,” critics viewed it as being somewhat pretentious.
11. Death Becomes Her (1992) – 52%
“Pay your surgeon very well to break the spell of aging,” as Anthony Kiedis so eloquently put in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ hit song “Californication.” This very universal concept is what Death Becomes Her is about, with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn leading the way as characters taking a potion that makes them incapable of dying (or even aging at all).
The end result is a film with some impressive visual effects (for the early ’90s, at least), which is the exact category of the Oscars they won. But the subject of death is obviously a very touchy one, and their low Rotten Tomatoes rating reflected on critics’ feelings that their satire went a bit too far.
10. Alice in Wonderland (2010) – 51%
For anyone who was a fan of the original Alice In Wonderland cartoon, this film generated a whole lot of excitement. As it’s already a classic tale that gets trippier every step down the fabled rabbit hole, adding Tim Burton’s iconic but twisted imagery seemed like a match made in heaven. And from a visual point of view, people’s expectations were certainly met.
From the stylings of the caterpillar, to the Red Queen, to Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, Burton’s vision was awarded with Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. But die-hard purists of the cartoon were a bit confused by the multiple storylines that veered from the original (what was the deal with that Jabberwocky anyway?), which resulted in a very unhappy unbirthday for many.
9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) – 50%
When it comes to talking animals, or any kind of fictional creature, there’s a reason that they work better with cartoons. They’re simply easier to digest, aesthetically speaking. Now, that’s not to say that Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas didn’t absolutely hit it out of the park with the makeup work they did on Jim Carrey.
He literally went to inhabit the very essence of the Grinch, and we’ll forever love him for it. However, their Oscar victory of Best Makeup wasn’t enough to score the team behind How The Grinch Stole Christmas a higher Rotten Tomatoes ranking, with critics lambasting the plot for trying to appeal to the emotional sensibilities of adults in a way that just didn’t belong in this children’s film.
8. The Great Gatsby (2013) – 48%
According to critics, it was the lack of depth, not the shiny surface, that is to blame for the low rating afforded to Baz Luhrmann’s flashy installment of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. To explain why they gave it a 48% grade, the Critic Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes stated, “The Great Gatsby emphasizes visual splendor at the expense of its source material’s vibrant heart.”
But that being said, a dazzling presentation can go a long way as well. There’s a good reason this version of The Great Gatsby won both Best Production Design and Best Costume Design, and we think it’s because sometimes people just want to feel like they’re being transported to another time, regardless of the film’s substance.
7. The Golden Compass (2007) – 42%
When a film is one of the most expensive a company has ever produced ($180 million), they had better hope it wins an Oscar. Considering most of that budget was contributed towards the visual effects, it’s no surprise that that was the award they won. You can’t help but smile while watching it, with snowy landscapes and talking polar bears hitting you with a sense of adventure around every turn.
Unfortunately, that exciting adrenaline wasn’t exactly shared by a handful of critics, resulting in a 42% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Many of them felt that it lacked heart in its storytelling, with concepts that were too broad to really wrap one’s teeth around.
6. Harry and the Hendersons (1987) – 42%
Many of the films that received paltry ratings from critics yet still managed to win Oscars were only able to do so thanks to their visual effects or makeup department. Rick Baker, a legendary makeup artist who was also the mastermind behind Jim Carrey’s Grinch, won the Best Makeup Oscar for bringing this mythical Sasquatch to life in Harry and the Hendersons.
Clearly he’s doing something right, and for all intents and purposes this movie does have some cult fandom (John Lithgow is brilliant, as usual). But while the message is heartfelt and relatable, the tone was too comical for the critics to take it seriously.
5. The Women In Red (1984) – 35%
We’ll just throw this out there and say that the filmmakers of The Women In Red were lucky to have collaborated with the likes of Stevie Wonder. Gifting them with his song “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” they were able to snag the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Unfortunately, the quality of the movie itself didn’t live up to its Oscar-worthy song. Although it was directed by (and stars) the late comedic great Gene Wilder, his eccentric brilliance wasn’t enough to save the plot. The premise of a married man pining for another woman felt a bit clichéd according to critics, and not done with much subtlety.
4. The Wolfman (2010) – 35%
Once again, we have an Oscar for Best Makeup that was all thanks to master craftsman Rick Baker. His masterpiece this time was remaking the classic Wolfman, based on the 1941 original horror film. Suffice it to say that he presented a fresh, inspired take on what a werewolf could look like, and Benicio Del Toro was there as his canvas.
While the movie wasn’t super successful at first, with critics like Nikki Baughan from Roll Credits saying that the film had “more bark than bite,” over time The Wolfman managed to grow into a cult classic. It’s only unfortunate we had to wait until the full moon to find out.
3. Flashdance (1983) – 34%
Another movie that was elevated considerably thanks to a couple catchy songs, Flashdance’s best moments happen when Jennifer Beals is on the dance floor (or at least her stunt double). Indeed, Irene Cara’s “What a Feeling” was so memorable during that final dance scene that it won the award for Best Original Song, cementing this film’s place in the record books.
Its Rotten Tomatoes rating of 34% begs to differ, however, with a Critic Consensus that the script was “flat-footed.” The late Roger Ebert himself wrote in an article for the Chicago Sun Times that Beals was a natural talent, but “only needs to find an agent with a natural talent for turning down scripts.”
2. Suicide Squad (2016) – 27%
Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the infamous Harley Quinn pretty much stole the show in this DC Comics bad-guys-turn-good flick, with no small help from its makeup team. But even though all eyes were on her, all of the anti-hero types had exceptional work done on them as well (Joker, Killer Croc, Enchantress).
This is why Suicide Squad won the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and if it wasn’t for the abysmally low Rotten Tomatoes score of 27%, we’d call this a classic. Unfortunately, however, the film was widely panned by critics for having a “muddled plot, thinly written characters, and choppy directing.”
1. Pearl Harbor (2001) – 24%
Drumroll everyone…who’s ready? For the Oscar-winning film with the lowest rating on Rotten Tomatoes, we give you Pearl Harbor. This historical war-drama hit the silver screens in 2001, and it still lives on in infamy. Whenever you make a film about a well-known historical event, you’re playing with fire (no pun intended). The stakes get higher, and it kind of reaches hit or miss territory.
Clearly the critics felt that explosion-loving director Michael Bay missed the point entirely, by taking a highly-sensitive event in American history and focusing mainly on a love triangle between the film’s three main characters (played by Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, and Josh Hartnett). But hey, at least they got the Oscar for Best Sound Editing!