What is the best recent Oscar winner for Best Picture, according to American movie watchers?

Jamie BallardData Journalist
April 11, 2022, 3:57 PM GMT+0

Though it wasn’t the most-talked-about moment of the Oscars last week (that would be when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock onstage), “CODA” won Best Picture. But YouGov polling suggests that relatively few Americans have seen this movie, and in fact, fewer than half of U.S. adult citizens have seen each of the recent Best Picture winners — with just a handful of exceptions. 

In a poll conducted in the week after the 2022 Oscars, only 9% of Americans said they had seen “CODA,” tying it in last place with 2012’s Best Picture winner, “The Artist.”

But the Best Picture win may have inspired some Americans to see “CODA.” Among those who haven’t seen it, 17% now say they want to see it, up from the 9% of people who hadn’t seen it and expressed an interest in seeing it according to an early March survey. Among people who haven’t seen other nominees, one in five (20%) want to see “West Side Story,” while 18% want to see “King Richard,” and 17% would like to see “Belfast.”

The most-seen Best Picture winner since 1996 is 1998 winner “Titanic,” which 70% of Americans say they’ve seen. It’s trailed by “Braveheart” at 52% and “Gladiator” with 47%. All three won more than two decades ago, providing lots of opportunities for people who missed the films in the theaters to catch them at home.

Fewer than half of Americans have seen each of the other recent Best Picture winners. “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (41%) and “A Beautiful Mind” (36%) are next on the list, followed by “American Beauty” (34%) and “No Country for Old Men” (31%). 

“CODA” and “The Artist” are in last place for the percentage of people who have seen them, at 9% each. A similar percentage have seen “Spotlight” (12%) or last year’s winner, “Nomadland” (12%). 

Americans who watched all or part of the Oscars broadcast this year (and thus, are likely to have some interest in the Oscars overall) are more likely to have seen nearly all of the Best Picture winners — especially this year’s. One-quarter (24%) of Oscars viewers have seen “CODA.” They’re also more likely to have seen “The Artist” (24%), “Spotlight” (28%), and “Nomadland” (30%). 

What Americans think of the Best Picture winners, from 1996 to 2022

Americans tend to have positive opinions of the Best Picture movies they’ve seen, likely a reflection of both the award-winning films’ quality and of the self-selection of their viewers as people likely to like them.

Among Americans who have seen it, 54% say they love “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” while another 37% say they like it. “The King’s Speech” gets similarly high praise, with 49% saying they love it and 42% saying they like it.

This year’s Best Picture winner, “CODA,” gets favorable reviews from most people who have seen it. Two in five (40%) love it and 48% like it. 

The movies that get the least share of viewers who love them are “Nomadland,” “Crash,” and “The English Patient,” at 26% each. But they still are much more likely to get positive reviews rather than negative. 

The movie with the highest percentage of viewers who expressed a negative opinion is “Nomadland,” which 4% say they hate and 20% say they dislike. But a much higher share of viewers say they love (26%) or like (50%) this movie than dislike or hate it. 

Just as there’s no clear set of characteristics that make a picture the Best Picture, there’s no one clear way to determine Americans’ favorite Best Picture winner since 1996. But two films with “king” in the title are clearly near the top. 

“Return of the King” returns as king

No film was loved by its viewers more than “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” It also ranked first by two other measures YouGov tried as a simple way to weight the share of viewers who felt strongly about each movie more heavily than the share who expressed more moderate opinions:

  • Combining the percentage who loved and liked each film, with loves counting for twice as much as likes

  • Combining loves and likes as described above, with loves counting twice as much as likes, then subtracting the dislike percentage and two times the hate percentage 

“The King's Speech” ranked second in both those two combined scores, and both “King” films ranked in the top four in all of those measures as well as the total percentage who loved and liked each one. Other top-rated films on various measures:  “12 Years a Slave,” “Green Book,” and “Spotlight.” As by far the most-watched of these five highly rated Best Pictures, “The Lord of the Rings” may break the tie by being both beloved and widely popular.

“CODA” took home the Best Picture award this year, but there may be some bittersweet comfort to be had for the nominees that didn’t win: Americans tend not to remember which films win Best Picture. 

According to another recent poll, only 16% of Americans can correctly identify “Nomadland” as last year’s Best Picture winner when asked to choose from among the nominees. Seven in 10 (71%) say they are not sure, while the remainder incorrectly believe another nominee won. Among Americans who are very or somewhat interested in the Oscars, a higher percentage (37%) correctly named “Nomadland” as the Best Picture winner, but even among enthusiasts, 41% say they are not sure. 

Related: What Americans think of the Oscars in 2022: Politics, diverse nominees, and COVID-19

See the toplines and crosstabs from this U.S. News poll. 

Methodology: The U.S. News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between March 28 - 31, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. 

Image: Getty