IMHO: My Top Overrated and Underrated Movies

The idea that a work of art is over- or underrated is a curious one. What does it really mean?  I think we often use the terms as a type of shorthand for, “I don’t agree with most of my friends on this [painting, TV show, movie, book, etc.].”  Sometimes ‘overrated’ means “this is getting more attention than it deserves in the press, or in winning awards” and ‘underrated’ means it’s not getting enough attention.  For me, the problem with all these definitions is that they are so highly subjective – it is easy enough to figure out what your opinion is, or mine, but what exactly are we comparing our opinions to?  What your friends like probably differs from what my friends like, so your overrated book may be my underrated discovery.  While opinions about the value of a work of art are inherently subjective, I have been wondering if there is a way to quantify objectively the work’s position in the Zeitgeist.  Without such an objective standard, our judgments of ‘overrated’ and ‘underrated’ are not only extremely variable but may be based on incorrect assumptions about our audience.  An extreme but perhaps not uncommon example is the person who is told again and again that X is overrated, but who has no idea what X is and has never seen it or heard of it before. Maybe the true goal of the speaker in such a case is not to share her opinion and spark debate on the relative value of an artwork but to demonstrate to listeners that she knows much more than they do and is so much more clued in, to the point that she is already sick and tired of all the praise she is hearing for X, something she realizes is not even on the radar for most of her listeners.

In my search for an objective standard to anchor judgments of overrated and underrated, I decided to look first to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com).  I’ve been a fan of imdb.com since I first discovered it in 1995, when it was already several years old.  Although in recent years, it has come to look like a zillion other entertainment sites, lying underneath all the frills is the core of the website: a gigantic database of movies and the people who make them.  You can find every movie made by a director, every actor in a particular movie, and a wealth of information about every production.  Those who are members of imdb.com are asked to rate each movie they’ve seen on a scale of 1 to 10, and the cumulative scores are published, along with the number of voters.  For example, the number of voters giving ratings to movies I’ve seen ranges from a high of 1,546,508 ratings (for The Shawshank Redemption) to a low of 69 ratings for the 1981 music documentary Dance Craze.  For this post, I decided to go through the movies I’ve seen and compare my rating with the overall imdb.com rating.  I decided that if my rating is more than two points lower than the imdb.com rating, the movie is overrated; if my rating was more than two points higher than imdb‘s, the movie is underrated.  I stayed near the top of the lists: the overrated movies all received a 7.0 or higher average rating from imdb.com (the highest rated movies on imdb received a 9.2); to find underrated movies, I looked at all the movies I rated either a 9 or a 10.   Just to be clear, even though the overrated movies list includes some films I absolutely hated, inclusion on the list does not necessarily mean I didn’t like the movie. It may just mean that the collective imdb consciousness liked the movie a lot more than I did.

While no system is perfect, I think the average ratings given by compiling hundreds, thousands and in some cases over a million votes should give a pretty good idea of where the Zeitgeist is on a particular movie.  It is then a relatively simple process to compare one’s own ratings with the Zeitgeist and see which films are over- and underrated.  Although the entire enterprise is based on the subjective opinions of the imdb.com voters and me, there is now an objective method of determining whether one’s opinion is consistent with or divergent from the average.  Instead of using an unscientific impression of what our friends think about something, or a vague notion of how much praise something is getting in the press, we can (for movies at least) quickly and easily identify whether an item is overrated or underrated.  Here, then, are my lists of overrated and underrated movies, in chronological order.

OVERRATED
(imdb.com = 9.2 – 7.0; Make Lists, Not War = at least 2.1 points lower)

Each Dawn I Die (Keighley, US, 1939)
The Enchanted Cottage (Cromwell, US, 1945)
The Jolson Story (Green, US, 1946)
Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock, US, 1954)
A Journey to the Beginning of Time (Zeman/Ladd, US/Czechoslovakia, 1955)
The Ten Commandments (De Mille, US, 1956)
Operation Petticoat (Edwards, US, 1959)
Village of the Damned (Rilla, UK, 1960)
Pocketful of Miracles (Capra, US, 1961)
Monterey Pop (Pennebaker, US, 1968)
Oliver! (Reed, UK, 1968)
Battle of Britain (Hamilton, UK, 1969)
The Sting (Hill, US, 1973)
Papillion (Schaffner, US, 1973)
The Return of the Pink Panther (Edwards, UK, 1975)
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Edwards, UK, 1976)
The Omen (Donner, US, 1976)
Star Wars (Lucas, US, 1977)
Grease (Kleiser, US, 1978)
Alien (Scott, US, 1979)
Baby Snakes (Zappa, US, 1979)
Dance Craze (Massot, UK, 1981)
The Thing (Carpenter, US, 1982)
First Blood (Kotcheff, US, 1982)
Return of the Jedi (Marquand, US, 1983)
Terms of Endearment (Brooks, US, 1983)
Trading Places (Landis, US, 1983)
The Princess Bride (Reiner, US, 1987)
Die Hard (McTiernan, US, 1988)
Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, Italy, 1988)
Major League (Ward, US, 1989)
Field of Dreams (Robinson, US, 1989)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Chechik, US, 1989)
Total Recall (Verhoeven, US, 1990)
Home Alone (Hughes, US, 1990)
Ghost (Zucker, US, 1990)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, US, 1991)
Cape Fear (Scorcese, US, 1991)
Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale/Wise, US, 1991)
Aladdin (Clements/Musker, US, 1992)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (Henson, US, 1992)
Jurassic Park (Spielberg, US, 1993)
The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont, US, 1994)
Dumb & Dumber (Farrelly, US, 1994)
True Lies (Cameron, US, 1994)
The Lion King (Allers/Minkoff, US, 1994)
Forrest Gump (Zemeckis, US, 1994)
Léon: The Professional (Besson, France, 1994)
The Usual Suspects (Singer, US, 1995)
Primal Fear (Hoblit, US, 1996)
The English Patient (Minghella, US/UK, 1996)
Titanic (Cameron, US, 1997)
Face/Off (Woo, US, 1997)
Starship Troopers (Verhoeven, US, 1997)
Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, US, 1998)
The Matrix (Wachowskis, US, 1999)
Sleepy Hollow (Burton, US, 1999)
The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan, US, 1999)
Meet the Parents (Roach, US, 2000)
Finding Nemo (Stanton/Unkrich, US, 2003)
The Matrix Reloaded (Wachowskis, US, 2003)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Verbinski, US, 2003)
Collateral (Mann, US, 2004)
Spider-Man 2 (Raimi, US, 2004)
Anchorman (McKay, US, 2004)
Wedding Crashers (Dobkin, US, 2005)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Apatow, US, 2005)
King Kong (Jackson, US, 2005)
Notes on a Scandal (Eyre, UK, 2006)
The Mist (Darabont, US, 2007)
Ratatouille (Bird/Pinkava, US, 2007)
Atonement (Wright, UK, 2007)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Burton, US, 2007)
WALL-E (Stanton, US, 2008)
Up (Docter/Peterson, US, 2009)
Avatar (Cameron, US, 2009)
The Hangover (Phillips, US, 2009)
Inception (Nolan, US, 2010)
The Help (Taylor, US, 2011)
Super 8 (Abrams, US, 2011)
Source Code (Jones, US, 2011)

UNDERRATED
(ML,NW = 9.0 – 10.0; imdb.com = at least 2.1 points lower)

The Birth of a Nation (Griffith, US, 1914)
The Floorwalker (Chaplin, US, 1916)
One A.M. (Chaplin, US, 1916)
Greed (von Stroheim, US, 1924)
Napoleon (Gance, France, 1927)
Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel & Dali, France, 1929)
L’Age d’Or (Buñuel, France, 1930)
Zero for Conduct (Vigo, France 1933)
L’Atalante (Vigo, France, 1934)
Swing Time (Stevens, US, 1936)
Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, US, 1935)
Stagecoach (Ford, US, 1939)
The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, US, 1942)
Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, US, 1944)
Ivan the Terrible, Part I (Eisenstein, USSR, 1945)
My Darling Clementine (Ford, US, 1946)
The African Queen (Huston, US, 1951)
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, France 1953)
The Band Wagon (Minnelli, US, 1953)
The Naked Spur (Mann, US, 1953)
A Star is Born (Cukor, US, 1954)
Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, US, 1955)
Ivan the Terrible, Part II (Eisenstein, USSR, 1958)
The Trial (Welles, France, 1962)
Jules and Jim (Truffaut, France, 1962)
The Servant (Losey, UK, 1963)
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, Italy, 1964)
Band of Outsiders (Godard, France, 1964)
Repulsion (Polanski, UK, 1965)
Blow-Up (Antonioni, UK, 1966)
Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, US, 1967)
Belle de Jour (Buñuel, France, 1967)
Faces (Cassavetes, US, 1968)
Kes (Loach, UK, 1969)
Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, US, 1969)
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (de Sica, Italy, 1970)
Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson, US, 1970)
Last Tango in Paris (Bertolucci, France, 1972)
Badlands (Malick, US, 1973)
The Conversation (Coppola, US, 1974)
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Herzog, W. Germany, 1974)
Nashville (Altman, US, 1975)
3 Women (Altman, US, 1977)
The Marriage of Maria Braun (Fassbinder, W. Germany, 1979)
Stardust Memories (Allen, US, 1980)
My Dinner with Andre (Malle, US, 1981)
The King of Comedy (Scorcese, US, 1982)
Local Hero (Forsyth, UK, 1983)
Baby It’s You (Sayles, US, 1983)
Blue Velvet (Lynch, US, 1986)
Raising Arizona (Coen, US, 1987)
Say Anything… (Crowe, US, 1989)
Short Cuts (Altman, US, 1993)
Party Girl (von Scherler Mayer, US, 1995)
I Shot Andy Warhol (Harron, US, 1996)
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (Morris, US, 1997)
Happiness (Solondz, US, 1998)
Being John Malkovich (Jones, US, 1999)
All About My Mother (Almodóvar, Spain, 1999)
Waking Life (Linklater, US, 2001)
Fat Girl (Breillat, France, 2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson, US, 2001)
Tarnation (Caouette, US, 2003)
Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, US, 2003)
The Holy Girl (Martel, Argentina, 2004)
Fahrenheit 9/11 (Moore, US, 2004)
Born Into Brothels (Briski/Kauffmann, US, 2004)
Grizzly Man (Herzog, US, 2005)
Once (Carney, Ireland, 2006)
Juno (Reitman, US, 2007)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
Food, Inc. (Kenner, US, 2008)
The White Ribbon (Haneke, Austria, 2009)
Take This Waltz (Polley, Canada, 2011)
The Tree of Life (Malick, US, 2011)
Museum Hours (Cohen, Austria, 2012)
Under the Skin (Glazer, UK, 2013)
Inherent Vice (Anderson, US, 2014)
Mr. Turner (Leigh, UK, 2014)
Goodbye to Language (Godard, France, 2014)

If you’re interested in other movie lists, check out these:

Best Films of All Time – The Critics’ Picks (Updated)
Best Films of All Time – Chronological

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