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The Most Overrated Films in History, So Far

Updated on June 20, 2015

This is a list of overrated films. Being on the list doesn’t mean the film is bad, though some are. It means that the film garnered undeserved awards like Oscars or has been critically praised by everyone and their dog for sentimental and emotional reasons and not for quality filmmaking. Mediocre films that get heaped praise on them by critics and the public are also on the list. There are worse films, but few are more overrated.

11. It’s a Wonderful Life
What is so great about this film is that it teaches us that honest people in a dishonest system will win out. Times are tough in the film’s fictional Bedford Falls, but if you have an honest protagonist, George Bailey to help you out, everything will be okay. Forget union organizing, protesting, the real life work of collective action. All you need is a good guy to beat the banks. As long as the hero doesn’t kill himself first. Oh, the drama!

Why it’s overrated
'It's a Wonderful Life' used to be played dozens of times each year during Christmas until NBC/Universal retained the broadcast rights in the 1990s. Now they play it on their stations once a year on Christmas Eve like a religious mass. Still, people praise this over sentimental film about life in a troubled town.

The American Film Institute (AFI) ranked ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ the 4th most inspirational film of all time. It certainly does inspire me to change the channel when it comes on television. They also ranked it the twentieth greatest film of all time. Moreover, it’s #3 on their list of fantasy films. As Andrew Gilchrist writes, “It’s a picket fence of a film, nauseatingly wholesome as it trundles through 1940s America like a station wagon on its way back from the mall, a celebration of everything that later directors – from Todd Haynes with Far from Heaven to David Lynch with Blue Velvet – would come to mock.” It’s simplistic world view deserves to be mocked.

10. Chicago
‘Chicago’ is not ranked higher as an overrated film because some critics saw through pedestrian plot and bad acting. A bit of the dancing had appeal, but we could see much between the frantic edits.

Singing about revenge killings by imprisoned, abused women is fun, and the theme is worthy for film. If the lyrics had more quality humor in them instead of taking it all so seriously, I would not have thought it so trite.

Why it’s overrated:
All we have to do is look at the films that ‘Chicago’ beat for best picture to know it’s overrated. They include ‘Gangs of New York’, ‘The Hours’, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’, and ‘The Pianist.’ Sure, these films are all flawed, but they are also all more worthy of awards than ‘Chicago’.

For a film about revenge killings with song and dance, ‘Chicago’ is tedious. As Cinephile reports, “What a tiring, troublesome, awkward mess! And what an overrated piece of work for so many people in the awards field to be fixated on! At a time when brilliant products like "Adaptation" and "The Pianist" are barely reeling in audiences across the nation, it's such an incredible shame that so much attention is being paid to such a mediocre product.”

The music is unoriginal, a cliche' mix of what we think Chicago jazz from the 20s sounded like, not what it did sound like. The dialogue is hackneyed, written as how it should sound, not how it would sound.

9. Gone with the Wind
Sure, it’s epic. And it’s long, trite and inconsequential as a work of art. Perhaps the academy liked the stairways in the plantation home, Tara. Perhaps it was the costumes they loved. If only they gave out awards for stairs and costumes, ‘Gone with the Wind’ would have actually earned its best picture Oscar. But script, acting, camera work and plot also matter when watching a film.

Why it’s overrated:
It won best picture in 1939; other nominated for best picture that year were: “"Dark Victory", "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", "Love Affair", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "Ninotchka", "Of Mice and Men", "Stagecoach", "The Wizard of Oz", "Wuthering Heights". There were many good films nominated, many more worthy than ‘Gone with the Wind.’

All the characters in ‘Wind’ are stereotypes. That includes Rhett Butler, just less so. Even when the women disagree, it is a stereotype of the uppity woman, just White this time. As for the rest of the women, they do what they are told. The Northern Army is portrayed as monstrous. How dare they interfere with the South’s slave holding and slave whipping way of life.

I don’t expect the 1939 film-writers to be enlightened when writing lines for Mammy, but that was a disgrace. Here’s Mammy, the bossy Black servant, as if she would really talk back.

‘Gone with the Wind’ is one of the highest grossing films of all time. People saw it multiple times. Films were inexpensive in 1939, it was the Great Depression, and there wasn’t a lot of competition for your entertainment dollars. People are thus nostalgic about the film. However, nothing is innovative about this film, unless you like fabulous staircases.

'Wind' is a film about a stuck up, spoiled Southern Belle that takes 4 hours to unfurl. As “Jonathan” writes, “I must say that if Vivien Leigh intended to portray Scarlett as a vapid, gold-digging, conceited ice queen, then she succeeded, but making a 4 hour epic around this sort of completely unlikable character is a failure of the utmost're supposed to sympathize with her, but instead she's the person you hate the most...In fact, when Clark Gable famously “doesn't give a damn” and walks out on Scarlett that is literally the only time the movie connects with it's audience, too bad it took 3 hours and 45 to get there.”

It wasn’t all bad, nor was it very good. Certainly, it didn’t earn all the praise heaped on it over the years.

8. Dances with Wolves
White man saves the day! Great. Kevin Costner is mediocre in this; he doesn’t have the charisma to carry the film. Certainly, the story of Native Americans and a dying culture is important, but Costner ruins it. It doesn’t help that this theme has been done better by better actors like Hoffman, ‘Little Big Man’ and Lewis, ‘Last of the Mohicans.’

Why it’s overrated
‘Dances with Whites’, er ‘with Wolves’ won the best picture award over ‘Goodfellas.’ Any of you think Wolves was better now? Wolves is 180 minutes of tedious action that fails to convey any emotion about life in the West, the lost Native cultures or wolves. Again, a White man saves the day! It has lots of action, but so does a NASCAR race. And few of us really care about NASCAR until there is an accident.

White man saving the day with his technology

7. Boogie Nights
This is a sexist, mindless film about porn disguised as high-art and social commentary.

Why it’s overrated
People loved this film. They loved Marky Mark Wahlberg, and they thought Bert Reynolds was great. Okay, Reynolds did have that fabulous porn, molester mustache, so I give him that. But did he really deserve a Golden Globe for that film? There was no there there, containing “…a sickeningly moralistic message that really does great harm to the whole thing…”

The film was tiresome, the dialogue was unbelievable, the plot…well, nonsensical. This film is not that praise-worthy. In fact, it's pathological.

6. Boyhood
To quote my own review, “ ‘Boyhood’ Hits all the Marks and Still Misses”: “ ‘Boyhood’ is a critical darling, and that’s putting it mildly…it has no focus. The technique, filming the movie over 12 years with the same actors, is an interesting experiment in film. However, its technique gets in the way of quality story telling and substance. Trying something innovative does not mean the film should get a pass and automatically get raves…The dialogue was contrived. It’s as if every line from teenage Mason was taken from a Smith’s song. As I was watching, I couldn’t help thinking, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now…””

Why it’s overrated
There was an understandable racial criticism when actor Chiwetel Ejiofor didn’t win the Oscar for portraying Martin Luther King, Jr. in ‘Selma’, though I saw it as a very hard category to win that year. There was plenty of criticism for ‘Crash’ when it won the Oscar for best picture while not portraying race relations as well as Angela Davis can. However, the whiter than white ‘Boyhood’ got little criticism. The only minority in the film was nobly and patronizingly (matronizingly?) helped by the mother from the White family. What a good White woman to save the day like Costner did for the Natives. Patricia Arquette’s acting was stressed and pedestrian; she won the Oscar by default in a weak field.

They really wanted you to feel so bad for this middle class woman who suffers sooo much. Apparently, the Academy did feel sorry for her character and gave Arquette praise for her middle-class suffering.

Remember, half of that melodramatic performance is the cliche writing that infuses the script. As Bob Cesca tells us, “It's just 12 years of an ordinary kid's life, concluding with a twist on the "seize the day" cliche.”

Let's not confuse technique with quality, “A straight, white boy grows up in a middle-class family to become an arts student. Groundbreaking, no?”

The dialogue was made for lifetime television. All the praise for ‘Boyhood’ is a testament to how poor U.S. cinema has become since its golden age in the 70s.

5. Brokeback Mountain
I wasn’t going to put ‘Brokeback Mountain’ this high, and perhaps not on the list at all, but after reading over and over how this film ‘deserved to win’ the Oscar, I have to chime in. People write about ‘Brokeback Mountain’ as if the Oscar slight shows how homophobic or out of touch the Oscar voters are. Well, that’s true, but many openly gay critics have also called the film underwhelming.

Why it’s overrated
I loved ‘Jeffrey’, ‘Priscilla: Queen of the Desert’, ‘Lianna’ and other films with good relationship stories. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ did not have a credible relationship story. Sure, the guys in the film are sexy, and I totally see them having a sexual encounter. However, outside of hot sex, the film gives us no reason to believe they would fall in love anymore than we can believe James Bond falling in love in Casino Royale or any other films we see 007 bedding another hottie.

The audience is supposed to buy into this tale just because they are gay cowboys. Who cares? “…in many ways it's a formulaic "chick flick" in which the white-bread male lead has been replaced by two white-bread male leads.” For a story of an unlikely couple falling in love, I recommend ‘Harold and Maude’.

4. Jules et Jim
We have a pre-WWI love triangle, of sorts, in France with some stuck-up, self absorbed intellectuals. And we are supposed to care. “Msr, ooo la la, they are French, and cute, you MUST love them!” ZZzzzz. And this film is considered one of the best ever? I think not.

As Tim Lott of The Guardian puts it, “High concept? It's a nouvelle vague buddy movie, set in France before the first world war…self-obsessed young men…meet Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), a "free spirit". They spend the film competing for her affection. They have philosophical discussions about art and literature. Then…war breaks out and J&J are called up. Afterwards…have some more philosophical discussions about love and poetry…Then Catherine dies in a car crash with Jules, or possibly Jim. Who cares? Fin.”

Who cares is right. Being good looking does not excuse cloying pathos and myopic, pretentious intellectualism.

"Pas mal!"? No, atroce!

3. The English Patient
I’m with the Seinfeld character Elaine Bettis on this one.

Why it’s overrated
First, it won the Oscar in 1997 over better films such ‘Fargo’ and ‘Secrets and Lies’. But those films aren’t grand or overwrought enough to win a statue. They are small and intimate films. Moreover, they feature disturbing plot elements. ‘The English Patient’ upsets us in simplistic, uncomplicated ways.

It rambles on endlessly. And like Jason Voorhees from the ‘Friday the 13th’ films, the ‘Patient’ just won’t die. Moreover, it’s another film featuring European imperialism. The reason there were English patients all over North Africa was because of the British colonial system that dominated the world for centuries. But of course, the film barely addresses this.

2. Rocky
An underdog wins, and suckers in the Academy give it a best picture Oscar.

Why it’s overrated
Rocky is not the worst film ever made. And sure, it inspires many. But it did not deserve to win best Oscar in 1977 over the other nominees ‘Taxi Driver’ , ‘All the President’s Men’ or ‘Network’.

It deserved to win only if you don’t appreciate originality, challenging story lines, great acting and good dialogue. And while best picture Oscars are not all about acting, take a look at the list of actors in the films nominated that year: Dustin Hoffman in ‘All the President’s Man’, Robert De Niro in ‘Taxi Driver’, and Faye Dunaway in ‘Network.’ But Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky’ won best picture in a knock out. Props to Stallone for having a great career, but Oscar worthy ‘Rocky’ is not. The film in no way holds up to the test of time like those others. ‘Rocky’ won for sentimentality and not quality.

As Luke Miller writes, “…this sappy, dull, and unrelentingly uninteresting boxer movie will punch the hell out of your intelligence and pummel you with sap.”

1. Citizen Kane
First, let me set everyone straight; I enjoyed Citizen Kane. However, it felt infuriatingly long for a two hour film. Moreover, I didn’t care for, nor hate, nor feel anything for the protagonist, Charles Foster Kane. The dialogue was uninteresting and did nothing to add to the drama. That said, the film did feature ground breaking camera work and editing that changed the way films were made. But as I have mentioned earlier, technique alone does not make a film great.

Why it is #1 most overrated:
‘Citizen Kane’ is at the top of more greatest film lists than any film ever made, more than the Beatles are considered the best band of all time. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. The point is, ‘Citizen Kane’, while innovative, is not a great film. Its plot is weak, and that damns the film.

AFI, among others, ranked ‘Citizen Kane’ as #1 on the best list of American Films. Not bad for a long, boring film with terrible dialogue and a unsympathetic, uninteresting main character.

More than ninety minutes into the film comes this Kane tantrum, and we just don’t care anymore.

Citizen Kane is only two hours long, but it feels like an eternity. When we hear those final words once more at the end, we are free from the prison of this film. Perhaps that was Welles' goal, to make us feel imprisoned while watching his film like his character Kane was imprisoned in it. In that way, the film does succeed. It also makes it the number one most overrated film of all time.

Overrated Films: Honorable Mention

Chef: An arrogant chef loses his job and decides to take a food truck serving sandwiches across the count. Maravillosa it is not.

Birdman: I did enjoy this movie. But the ending is ridiculous. We are supposed to accept the ‘fantasy’ ending because it’s “magical realism.” The film couldn’t decide what to be and in the end the actors in the movie only enhance our dislike of them through dialogue and selfish acts of malice.

Titanic: It earned a lot of money. It had a big boat. It had a rousing, cloying hit song. Clearly, winning an Oscar is as much about earnings as quality.

Out of Africa: Just get me out. White people in Africa, again. Who cares? And Redford was terrible. Thankfully, he has limited his acting since then.

Blow Up: Blowing up photographs as a plot element might work for 70s television but not for an artistic film. ‘Blow Up’ hit the zeitgeist square on the head in 1966 and became a trendy favorite for the artsy crowd. It’s unique, and dull, and strained.

The Artist: Again, technique triumphs over plot and character. It wasn’t bad, it was kind of cute, but it was not Oscar quality.

Bicycle Thieves: Cute kid gets his bike stolen. Questo è orribile! That's all that happens. We are expected to feel the pathos while nothing happens but characters running around in search of the bike for the balance of the film. The shame of all the praise for this film is that there are so many more socially relevant Italian films that are more deserving of attention.

2001: A Space Odyssey: Unlike many people, I enjoy this film. I don’t mind sitting back and taking the ride. It was also the first modern space adventure. But the greatest anything? Nope. It’s too long and meandering, with terrible acting, to be anything more than an innovative step on the way to more space films.

How Green Was My Valley: A middling western of average quality that won Oscars for one reason: John Ford and his body of work.

Forrest Gump: “My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."” and other lines like this make Oscar bait Gump perhaps the worst film to “earn” that that award.

Tex Shelters


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