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My Student Tomato-Meter

In the past three years that I’ve been teaching film history and aesthetics classes at the college level, I have typically given my students a survey on the last day of class asking them to rate each of the films they’ve seen on a scale of 1 to 10. I’ve done this out of curiosity more than anything; it can be maddeningly hard to predict how first and second year college students, most of whom haven’t seen movies made before they were born or outside of the United States, will respond to watching classic and important contemporary films. I tell them that signing the survey is optional and that giving a movie a low rating doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t show it in future classes.

Here are the aggregated results of all the surveys I’ve given to all of my students. The fact that only one movie has been “certified rotten” (i.e., scored below a 5.0) is, I think, pretty astonishing and speaks to how open-minded and attentive young people can be when properly introduced to the history of cinema. (Having said all that, the fact that The Searchers only has a rating of 6.8 is like a knife in my heart – some of these kids have no taste!)

The results are presented in chronological order:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, Germany, 1920) – 5.9
Nosferatu (Murnau, Germany, 1922) – 6.4
Our Hospitality (Keaton, USA, 1923) – 8.2
Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, USA, 1924) – 7.9
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, Soviet Union, 1925) – 5.4
Metropolis (Lang, Germany, 1927) – 7.8
Sunrise (Murnau, USA, 1927) – 7.2
Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, Soviet Union, 1929) – 5.5
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, France, 1929) – 7.4
L’age d’Or (Bunuel, France, 1930) – 6.2
Earth (Dovzhenko, Soviet Union, 1930) – 3.2
M (Lang, Germany, 1931) – 8.2
L’atalante (Vigo, France, 1934) – 6.2
The Awful Truth (McCarey, USA, 1937) – 8.4
Grand Illusion (Renoir, France, 1937) – 7.3
Bringing Up Baby (Hawks, USA, 1938) – 8.4
The Rules of the Game (Renoir, France, 1939) – 7.0
Citizen Kane (Welles, USA, 1941) – 8.2
How Green Was My Valley (Ford, USA, 1941) – 6.8
The Lady Eve (Sturges, USA, 1941) – 8.1
Casablanca (Curtiz, USA, 1942) – 7.6
Cat People (Tourneur, USA, 1942) – 5.5
Double Indemnity (Wilder, USA, 1944) – 8.0
To Have and Have Not (Hawks, USA, 1944) – 7.5
Brief Encounter (Lean, England, 1945) – 8.6
Detour (Ulmer, USA, 1945) – 7.2
Rome, Open City (Rossellini, Italy, 1945) – 6.8
The Big Sleep (Hawks, USA, 1946) – 7.0
My Darling Clementine (Ford, USA, 1946) – 7.3
The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, USA, 1947) – 8.0
Out of the Past (Tourneur, USA, 1947) – 7.4
Bicycle Thieves (de Sica, Italy 1948) – 7.8
Pursued (Walsh, USA, 1948) – 7.0
White Heat (Walsh, USA, 1949) – 8.3
Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, USA, 1953) – 7.8
Tokyo Story (Ozu, Japan, 1953) – 6.7
Ugetsu (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1953) – 6.8
Rear Window (Hitchcock, USA, 1954) – 8.8
Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1954) – 6.0
Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, Japan, 1954) – 8.8
Pather Panchali (Ray, India, 1955) – 6.4
Aparajito (Ray, India, 1956) – 6.6
A Man Escaped (Bresson, France, 1956) – 8.0
The Searchers (Ford, USA, 1956) – 6.8
Touch of Evil (Welles, USA, 1958) – 8.0
Vertigo (Hitchcock, USA, 1958) – 9.2
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, France/Japan, 1959) – 6.8
North By Northwest (Hitchcock, USA, 1959) – 8.7
Pickpocket (Bresson, France, 1959) – 7.3
Rio Bravo (Hawks, USA, 1959) – 8.0
Some Like It Hot (Wilder, USA, 1959) – 9.2
Breathless (Godard, France, 1960) – 7.6
Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960) – 8.8
Le Doulos (Melville, France, 1962) – 7.4
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, USA, 1962) – 8.5
8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963) – 6.5
Le Samourai (Melville, France, 1967) – 8.4
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, USA, 1971) – 7.0
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, Germany, 1973) – 8.1
The Long Goodbye (Altman, USA, 1973) – 7.6
Chinatown (Polanski, USA, 1974) – 8.0
Annie Hall (Allen, USA, 1977) – 5.6
Days of Heaven (Malick, USA, 1978) – 7.1
Raging Bull (Scorsese, USA, 1980) – 8.8
The Thin Blue Line (Morris, USA, 1988) – 7.7
The Player (Altman, USA, 1992) – 7.5
Chungking Express (Wong, Hong Kong, 1994) – 7.8
The Bird People in China (Miike, Japan/China, 1998) – 6.6
Audition (Miike, Japan, 1999) – 7.9
Beau Travail (Denis, France/Djibouti, 1999) – 5.4
Ravenous (Bird, UK/USA, 1999) – 8.4
The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro, Spain/Mexico, 2001) – 8.7
The Tracker (de Heer, Australia, 2002) – 7.7
Save the Green Planet (Jang, S. Korea, 2003) – 7.5
Grizzly Man (Herzog, USA, 2004) – 8.1
Moolade (Sembene, Senegal/Burkina Faso, 2004) – 7.8
Offside (Panahi, Iran, 2006) – 7.4
Zodiac (Fincher, USA, 2007) – 9.0

And, in case you were wondering, here are the top ten highest rated films:

10. Brief Encounter (Lean, 1945) – 8.6
7. North By Northwest (Hitchcock, 1959) – 8.7
7. The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro, 2002) – 8.7
4. Raging Bull (Scorsese, 1980) 8.8
4. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954) – 8.8
4. Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954) – 8.8
4. Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) – 8.8
3. Zodiac (Fincher, 2007) – 9.0
1. Some Like It Hot (Wilder, 1959) – 9.2
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1959) – 9.2

So, what, if anything, can be gleaned from these results? For one thing, I think the films with the highest ratings tend to be the ones that are most similar to the kinds of films with which the students are already familiar. For instance, plot-driven genre films (especially suspense/thrillers and comedies) tend to do particularly well. The Seven Samurai? Great action movie. Brief Encounter? Dude, it’s like The Notebook of the 1940s.

I hasten to add however that this doesn’t necessarily mean the highest rated movies were the individual favorites of most of the voters. All it really means is that the films rated 8.0 and above tend to be the ones that no one didn’t like. Conversely, a lot of films that have scored in the 5.5 to 6.9 range (L’age d’Or, Man with the Movie Camera, Tokyo Story, 8 1/2, Hiroshima Mon Amour, etc.) are movies that I have been specifically told were among the greatest movies ever seen by individual students. It’s just that their enthusiastic votes of 10 were frequently counterbalanced by an equal number of low votes. In the end, I’ve found that the films that produce these “mixed responses” tend to also be the ones that provoke the best class discussion.

As for Earth? I’m sorry, Mr. Dovzhenko, but I will try again someday . . .

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

7 responses to “My Student Tomato-Meter

  • Corrine

    Interesting article & results, Michael! I’m sorry, but I don’t understand Annie Hall’s low rating–am I showing my age?

    • michaelgloversmith

      I don’t quite understand the low rating of Annie Hall either. I think it’s a combination of people being turned off by Allen’s New York/intellectual/neurotic/nebbish persona and not getting the references. I’m going to try again with another Allen film; I gave students extra credit for seeing Midnight in Paris over the summer and that one seemed to go over a lot better.

  • Dan

    Michael your results are very interesting! Are all of these rankings from one course? I teach film also and have done similar surveys. Interestingly, I’ve taught a course on Woody Allen several times and Annie Hall always comes out at number one! It would be interesting to see how another Allen film would rank. Try Manhattan, Crimes & Misdemeanors, Match Point, or Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Contrary to previous generations, young people today don’t like the “early funny ones.”

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for stopping by, Dan. The results are the average rankings given by about 20 different classes, most of which are intro to film history classes but some of which are more critical theory-oriented. However, I’ve only showed Annie Hall once – so while Citizen Kane, Breathless and Rear Window have been rated by hundreds of my students at four different schools, Annie Hall’s 5.5 rating is the average of only about 20 student votes at one school.

      Your suggestions are good though. The Allens you named are probably my favorites (along with Husbands and Wives and now Midnight in Paris). Incidentally, my wife, Jillian took your Woody Allen class at College of DuPage some time ago and credits you with helping to foster her love of Woody.

  • Dan

    Wow! What a small world! Tell her hello!

    I also really liked Midnight in Paris and Husbands & Wives. I’d also throw in Bullets Over Broadway, Love & Death, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and, what may be my second favorite after Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters.

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