2021 Oscar Movies: Initial Analysis and Ranking

An analysis of audience, critic, and Academy ratings and an initial ranking of all 41 of this year’s movies. (Before seeing any of them!)

There are 41 movies in this year’s crop of Oscar nominees, three more than last year.  And the first thing I do with the field, before watching any of them, is look at the current measures of ‘quality’ and try to rank the movies.  I use three basic measures: the IMDB average audience reaction, the Critics Metascore, and an ‘Oscar Quality’ index I use to assess how the Academy rates the movies.  The Audience reaction is based on submissions by viewers to the IMDB website for each movie and can sometimes number hundreds of thousands of responses, on a scale of 1 – 10 stars.  The Critic Metascore is a content analysis of critical reviews which attempts to convert critical reviews to a numeric average score between 0 and 100.  My ‘Oscar Quality’ score is nothing more than an index based on scoring one point for each ‘minor’ nomination (in the technical categories), two points for each ‘major’ nomination (directing, writing, and acting categories) and 3 points for each super category (Best Picture, Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and International/Foreign Feature).  (After the Oscars winners are announced, the points are doubled for each winning category.)

One of the most interesting comparisons to assess is when these different groups of people evaluate a movie similarly or differently.

For example, based on all three measures, there are only four movies that fall at the top of all three rankings.  The Collective is what I call a ‘specialized’ movie because it received nominations in both the Documentary and Foreign/International categories.  (This happened last year with the movie Honeyland).  Collective received the highest ratings from both audiences and the critics, so we can expect this to be a good movie.  The Animated Feature Wolfwalkers and the documentary Crip Camp also received high ratings from both groups but only received single nominations.  But the biggest surprise at the top of all rankings is The Father.  Based on all three scales, this may be the best general movie of the year.  

In the next tier are six movies that, while maybe not at the top of all three lists, rise very near the top on at least one of the scales.  The Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Nomadland, Minari, and Judas and the Black Messiah were all rated highly by both audiences or critics AND were nominated for Best Picture.  Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom did NOT get a Best Picture nod, but did receive two acting  and three technical nominations pushing it up into this set.  Soul (an Animated Feature) and Another Round (An International Feature from Denmark) also received relatively high marks on all three scales.  Qu Vadis, Aida (from Italy) and Time (a Documentary) were highly rated by Critics and nearly as high by audiences, but were only rewarded with one nomination from the academy.

In the next tier are several films with interesting sets of rankings.  One Night in Miami might be a surprising find, rating well by both audiences and critics and receiving two major and one minor Oscar nominations.  On the other hand White Tiger had similar public ratings, but received only one writing nomination from the academy.  Promising Young Woman and Mank received conflicting ratings but were well rewarded by the academy.  Promising Young Woman was well received by audiences, but not so much by critics, while Mank had the reverse pattern.  Da 5 Bloods was, like Mank, not liked by the viewing public as much as the critics liked it, but the Academy pretty much ignored the movie (Spike Lee is getting used to that!).  Tenet, a sci-fi movie, received only two minor nominations (Visual Effects and Production Design), but was liked better by the viewing public than the critics did.

Also in this tier are four specialized movies.  Better Days (from Hong Kong) and The Man Who Sold His Skin (from Tunisia) were well received by both critics and audiences, but only received International Feature nominations, while A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (an Animated feature nominee) was liked better by the critics than by the viewing public.  Finally, the documentary The Mole Agent is this year’s outlier, receiving an extremely high rating from the viewing public while critics found it very underwhelming.

Then we get into the maybe not so good movies.  News of the World (with Tom Hanks) and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm fell in the bottom half of rankings from both the public and critics, but still managed to squeak out Oscar recognition.  Pieces of a Woman, Emma, Mulan, and Greyhound all fell near the bottom on at least two of the three scales.  The Life Ahead was only nominated for a song and is likely not real good while Love and Monsters received a single nomination for Visual Effects so might be a diverting thrill.  The Animated feature Onward  is another anomaly in that audiences rated it in the top half, while critics put it near the bottom.  (This sometimes happens with ‘family’ oriented animated movies, but still, it did receive Oscar recognition.)

Finally, there are the seven movies rated near the bottom by both public scales, and their meager Oscar recognition.  Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga only received a nomination for a song, and Midnight Sky and One and Only Ivan received only Visual Effects nominations.  Over the Moon is a poorly rated Animated flick.  The three regular features near the bottom – and not likely to yield much in the way of surprise – are Pinocchio, the U.S. vs Billie Holiday, and Hillbilly Elegy.  

(Note: The Octopus Teacher documentary received extremely high marks from the audience, but, as of this writing, does not have a Metascore from critics, so it isn’t clear where it will end up on the rating scales.)

So if you put all that together then, here is my Initial Ranking of All 41 movies.  At the end of the Oscar year, we will compare my evaluations with this ranking to see if objective information ends up mapping well to subjective feelings.


The Father

Collective  (Documentary and International)

WolfWalkers (Animated)

Crip Camp (Documentary)




Sound of Metal

Trial of the Chicago 7

Judas the Black Messiah

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom



Another Round (International)

Qu Vadis, Aida (International)

Time (Documentary)

Octopus Teacher (Documentary)


One Night in Miami

Promising Young Woman


Better Days  (International)

Man Who Sold His Skin (International)



Da 5 Bloods

White Tiger

The Mole Agent (Documentary)

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Animated)


News of the World

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm


Pieces of a Woman

The Life Ahead (Original Song)

Onward (Animated)




Love and Monsters (Visual Effects)



Hillbilly Elegy

Over the Moon (Animated)



The United States vs Billie Holiday

One and Only Ivan (Visual Effects)

Midnight Sky (Visual Effects)

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (Original Song)

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