How Academy Award Winning Films From 1927-1950 Are Remembered Today

As the years roll by, and older generations pass on, what they created and loved, disappears too.  Below are the films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture before I was born.  Unless you are a movie buff, or love to watch Turner Classic Movies, it’s not likely you’ve seen many of these films.  Some have become so legendary that even some young people have watched them, but many are being forgotten.

I thought I’d check various kinds of lists and remembrances to see how these old movies are being retained in our public mind. 

First, I’m going to check The National Film Registry to see if they’ve been recognized there.  Of the 23 films below, 14 are on the NFR, and three (Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, The Best Years of Our Lives) were in the first year’s selection.  The NFR began in 1989, so films closest to that date are among the most popular in people’s memories.  The NFR selects up to 25 additional films each year, so given enough time probably all of these films will be added to the registry, but maybe not.  Films selected from 1989-1993 are essentially the Top 100.  1994-1998 brings in roughly films 100-200.

Entertainment Weekly recently published what they remember as the Top 100 films of all time.  Their number one film of all time is Citizen Kane from 1941 which didn’t even win the Academy Award that year – it lost to How Green Was My Valley.  The editors at EW do honor films all the way back to the silent movie era, so it’s a good list to work from when you’re disappointed that you can’t find a movie to watch.  Comparing the EW list and the Academy Awards from 1927-1950 shows the limitation of the Oscars of actually picking the best film of the year.

EW also picked 23 films from this same time period, but the two lists of 23 only have five films that overlap, It Happened One Night, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Best Years of Our Lives and All About Eve.

The American Film Institute (AFI) has their 10th Anniversary edition of 100 Years … 100 Movies.  Strangely, or not so strangely, AFI only picked five of these 23 films too, and the same five as EW.  AFI picked 25 movies from 1927-1950.

Over at American Movie Classics (AMC) they have a public poll with their Top 100 films.  Such a poll reflects the collective memory of people on the street, rather than the film buff editors of the other two lists.  This list can change, so I’m using the results of 1/3/14.  Besides reinforcing the recommendations of the EW and AFI picks, the AMC actually picks two movies that haven’t been picked before, All Quiet on the Western Front and Rebecca.  This leads me to believe that the voters in the AMC poll are quite savvy about old movies.  48 of their 100 movies were from 1927-1950.  AMC viewers love their old movies.

Another site  is Rotten Tomatoes (RT) and their Top 100 Movies of All Time.  RT has a completely different way of remember movies, by counting movie review ratings.  All these films received 100% positive ratings, and were reviewed by 31-162 reviewers.  This list gives Rebecca it’s second listing, and All About Eve it’s fifth.  21 of RT’s 100 films were from 1927-1950. 

So far this consistently shows this time period is remembered, but RT like EW and AFI seem to consistently pick other films.  This shows the Academy isn’t very good at picking the films that will be remembered best.

Looking at IMDB’s Top 100 films from the Top 250 list finalized for 2013, we see another public voting system, with another list where Citizen Kane comes in at #1.  But their #2 is Tokyo Story (1953) a film I don’t even remember ever hearing about.  This is a much more diverse list than the others, and that might be because IMDB is world famous.  Like the other lists it endorsed Gone With the Wind and Casablanca, but IMDB’s fans also agreed with AMC’s fans to pick All Quiet on the Western Front. That’s extra interesting because I just watched a Blu-ray copy the other night that I got from Classic Flicks.  IMDB picked 27 out of 100 films from the 1927-1950 period.  Staying consistent here.  I wish I could do some major data mining to actual measure how soon the general population forgets pop culture artifacts from the past.

There are plenty of sites on the Internet like Life Hack, where they list 30 Best Movies of All Time, and not only do they not pick any of these 23 movies, they don’t even get close to picking any movie from that time period.  Their oldest movie is 1974 – Young Frankenstein

There are zillions of people making movie lists.  But at Lists of Bests, I found Movie Definitive Lists.  I wish I was some kind of master hacker where I could write a program to collect these 4,679 lists, but them into a database and create a single list which lists which movies had been on the most lists.  Well, a project for when I get an infinite amount of free time.  Unfortunately, many of these lists do not pick just 100 movies, and rank them in order, which is what I need to compare consistently with my other lists.

It’s sad to see many of these films aren’t remembered at all, and it’s pretty obvious which ones are widely remembered.  One of my all time favorite movies, Grand Hotel is one of the forgotten films.  The three most remembered Academy Award Best Picture movies from this time period, 1927-1950 are Gone With the Wind, Casablanca and All About Eve. If you read the other lists via the links, you’ll see many movies from this time period remembered better.  For instance, I think fans prefer The Maltese Falcon as their favorite Bogie movie.  And who could forget The Wizard of Oz, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Double Indemnity, The Philadelphia Story, Sullivan’s Travels, Duck Soup, Top Hat, The Adventures of Robin Hood,  Trouble in Paradise, 42nd Street, The Lady Eve, The Grapes of Wrath, Stagecoach, and so many, many other movies that the other lists do remember.

1927/28
1927-Wings
  • NFR-1997
1928/29
1928-broadway_melody
1929/30
1929-allquiet
  • NFR-1990
  • AMC-#58
  • IMDB-#73
1930/31
1930-cimarron_xlg
1931/32
1931-grand_hotel
  • NFR-2007
1932/33
1932-cavalcade
1934
1934-It Happened One Night
  • NFR-1993
  • EW-#48
  • AFI-#46
  • AMC-#54
1935
1935-mutiny_of_the_bounty
1936
1936-great_ziegfeld
1937
1937-the-life-of-emile-zola
  • NFR-2000
1938
1938-you-cant-take-it-with-you
1939
1939-Gone_With_The_Wind
  • NFR-1989
  • EW-#10
  • AFI-#6
  • AMC-#8
  • IMDB-#72
1940
1940-Rebecca
  • AMC-#19
  • RT-#44
1941
1941-how-green-was-my-valley
  • NFR-1990
1942
1942-Mrs-Miniver
  • NFR-2009
1943
1943-Casablanca
  • NFR-1989
  • EW-#3
  • AFI-#3
  • AMC-#8
  • IMDB-#19
1944
1944-going-my-way
  • NFR-2004
1945
1945-lost_weekend
  • NFR-2011
1946
1945-the-best-years-of-our-lives
  • NFR-1989
  • EW-#64
  • AFI-#37
  • AMC-#57
1947
1947-gentlemans-agreement
1948
1948-hamlet
1949
1949-all-the-kings-men
  • NFR-2001
1950
1950-all-about-eve
  • NFR-1990
  • EW-#86
  • AFI-#28
  • AMC-#30
  • RT-#22

JWH – 1/3/14

3 Responses

  1. I find best of lists are very subjective, Most of my personal favourites are westerns, emphasis on personal there. However I think with time people of my generation 20s and younger will start to find these films. Of course some will have dated to the point that they will be lost from popular consciousness forever. Its film fans who will keep these alive and the others that we have not even heard of yet, all the more to explore.

    • Everything is subjective, but I do think some of the lists have come up with methods to be less subjective. Most subjective would be critics like Roger Ebert who just decide on their own which are the best movies. AFI voted among its members. Rotten Tomatoes collects reviews and tallies total reviews. I’m a big believer in the wisdom of crowds. I’d trust the subjective opinions of 10,000 people more than any one person in most cases.

      By the way, my favorite movie genre is westerns too, and they are very underrepresented in this lists. For the period of 1927-1950 I’d at least include The Big Trail, Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine on my list. If you can find a copy of the wide-screen, Blu-ray edition of the 1930 film The Big Trail. It’s a shame that wide-screen didn’t catch on after this film.

      • Totally Agree, the IMDB list is very current, always changing to show the views of the users, a true depiction of films worth. Sadly the older ones do lose out to more current but that’s how it goes I guess.
        I’d place Once a Upon a time in the West in mine, with China Town and Vertigo.
        I have a widescreen DVD version of The Big Trail. Definitely a shame wide-screen didn’t catch on earlier.

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