What movie do Americans think should win Best Picture at the 2023 Oscars?

Jamie BallardData Journalist
March 09, 2023, 9:45 PM GMT+0

With the Oscars happening on March 12, YouGov asked Americans for their thoughts on this year’s slate of Best Picture nominees — including which ones they’ve seen, which ones they’d like to see, and which one they think should take home the night’s biggest honor. This poll also found that most Americans don’t want to see any political speeches from Oscar winners, and just one-quarter say there’s a diversity problem when it comes to the nominees.

About one-third (34%) of Americans are very or somewhat interested in the Oscars. Adults under 45 (47%) are more likely than those 45 and older (34%) to take an interest.

This year’s slate of Best Picture nominees includes action-adventure films, sci-fi flicks, and celebrity biopics, among others. Which ones did Americans see? "Top Gun: Maverick" comes in on top, seen by 45% of Americans — followed by "Elvis" at 30%.

The least-viewed films of this year’s Best Picture slate are "The Fabelmans" (12%), "Women Talking" (12%), "Triangle of Sadness" (11%), and "Tár" (10%).

People who are very or somewhat interested in the Oscars are more likely than people who are not very or not at all interested to have seen the nominees. The biggest gaps are in viewership of "Avatar: The Way of Water" (47% of Americans who are interested in the Oscars have seen it, compared with 17% of Americans who are not interested) and "Elvis" (49% vs 20%).

Among the Americans who haven’t seen the nominees, some would like to change that. One-third (32%) of people who haven't seen "Avatar: The Way of Water" want to see it, compared to 29% for "Top Gun: Maverick," 25% for "Elvis," and 22% for "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

Which nominee do people think should take home the Best Picture award? "Top Gun: Maverick" comes in on top at 15%, trailed closely by "Avatar: The Way of Water" at 12%. ("Top Gun" also led the field in the Economist/YouGov Poll fielded a week after this one.) Among people who are interested in the Oscars, roughly equal numbers think the honor should go to "Avatar: The Way of Water" (17%) and "Top Gun: Maverick" (15%). People who are interested in the Oscars are slightly more likely than Americans overall to say "Everything Everywhere All At Once" should win Best Picture, by 13% vs 8%.

The popularity of "Top Gun: Maverick" also is reflected in how many audience members describe themselves as loving it as opposed to merely liking it. The Tom Cruise movie was the film most loved by its audience, with 48% of people who saw it saying that they loved it. Another 43% liked it, while 8% disliked it and 2% hated it. "Avatar: The Way of Water" received similar marks, with 40% of the audience loving it and 47% liking it.

How do these figures compare to people's current opinion of Best Picture winners of the past? Better than most, it seems — perhaps aided by recency bias. The most-loved Best Picture winner of the last 27 years is 2004 winner "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," which 50% of viewers loved. "Gladiator," which won in 2001, was loved by 46%, while 45% loved 2011 winner "The King’s Speech" and the same proportion of viewers loved 1998 winner "Titanic." More than four in 10 viewers of each of the following films say they loved it: "Braveheart" (44%), "Green Book" (42%), "CODA" (42%), and "12 Years a Slave" (41%).

One change from when many of the recent favorites were released: This year, more have seen the Best Picture nominees streaming on televisions than in a movie theater. That is true in every age group, including adults under 30, according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll. Adults under 30 also are more likely to have seen a Best Picture nominee on a television than at a theater. In addition, one in three people in the age group have watched a Best Picture nominee film on a phone or tablet.

The Economist/YouGov Poll also asked about the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. The front-runners among nominees — according to Americans who have an opinion in each category — are Brendan Fraser for Best Actor and Michelle Yeoh for Best Actress.

Even if there are no acts of physical violence at the Oscars this year after Will Smith's slap of Chris Rock last year, there may be politically charged moments. Last year’s ceremony included celebrities recognizing the war in Ukraine with a moment of silence, a joke about Mitch McConnell, and a few comments condemning Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

These aren't particularly popular elements of the awards ceremony: 53% of Americans say it’s not appropriate for Oscar winners to discuss politics in their acceptance speeches. Fewer (29%) say it’s appropriate.

Democrats, Independents, and Republicans feel differently about this. While 47% of Democrats feel it’s appropriate, fewer Independents (26%) and Republicans (19%) agree.

Those who are very or somewhat interested in the Oscars are more likely to say it is appropriate (48%) than not appropriate (39%) for Oscar winners to discuss politics in their speeches.

Ahead of the 2022 Oscars, opinions were similar: 54% of Americans said it was not appropriate for Oscar winners to discuss politics in their acceptance speeches.

In prior years, the Oscars have been criticized for not being sufficiently diverse. One-quarter of Americans (25%) believe that the Oscars have a diversity problem, defined in the question as "meaning the nominees this year are not sufficiently diverse in terms of race, nationality and/or gender." But a higher percentage (37%) say the Oscars do not have a diversity problem; about as many are unsure.

Black Americans (39%) are more likely than Hispanic Americans (27%) or White Americans (21%) to say the Oscars have a diversity problem.


— Carl Bialik, Kathy Frankovic, Linley Sanders, and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: The poll was conducted among 2,000 U.S. adult citizens on two separate surveys conducted from February 27 - March 5, 2023 and February 28 - March 4, 2023, with each survey conducted among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.

Image: Getty (Chung Sung-Jun / Staff)