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 (Photo: Reuters.)
(Photo: Reuters.)

What are India’s greatest and worst movies?

  • Cinematic quality is tricky to measure but if user ratings on IMDb are considered, then recent releases, Aamir Khan and Rajkumar Hirani top the charts
  • India’s greatest film is Anand. The 1971 film scored 8.7 from 22,168 votes and is followed by the 2013 Malayalam-hit Drishyam (8.6)

NEW DELHI : Everyday, in villages and cities across the country, on phones and in multiplexes, millions indulge in India’s biggest pastime: watching movies. India’s thousands of releases, across languages, make it a global leader in terms of quantity—but what of quality?

Cinematic quality is tricky to measure but one commonly used indicator is ratings from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), an online portal dedicated to all things films. On IMDb, users rate movies (on a scale of 1 to 10) and to date have generated ratings for nearly 200,000 movies.

These user ratings, though, can be susceptible to abuse. For instance, fervent fans may vote more favourably for their hero’s films.

Perhaps to address this, IMDb itself has curated a list of India’s top 250 movies based on a weighted average of user ratings. All the films on this list have had at least 5,000 users casting votes, with more weight given to regular user votes.

By this method, India’s greatest film is Anand. The 1971 film scored 8.7 from 22,168 votes and is followed by the 2013 Malayalam-hit Drishyam (8.6) and last year’s Uri: The Surgical strike (8.6).


Uri’s presence in India’s top three shows the recency bias in IMDb’s top 250 list. The oldest film in the top 250 is from 1955—the Satyajit Ray-classic Pather Panchali—but remains an exception. More than half of the films in the shortlist were released in the last decade. In contrast, in the IMDb global top 250, a collation of the best films across languages, there are 158 films from the 20th century.

The Indian list is also skewed towards Bollywood: 181 of the 250 are Hindi films. Bollywood though falls short on overall quality. The average rating for a Hindi movie in the top 250 is lower than Tamil and Telugu. If one goes beyond the top 250 list, and includes all films with more than 100 ratings, the average Hindi movie rating falls below 6, less than the average Tamil (6.5), Telugu (6.6) and Malayalam (6.3) film.

Bollywood’s average rating is dragged down by the sheer number of duds it produces. Of the 250 worst Indian films, with ratings from 100 users, 154 were produced in Bollywood. And at the bottom of this list is last year’s Namaste England. The Arjun Kapoor flop has the ignominy of being the lowest rated Indian film on IMDb, scoring a paltry 1.5 from more than 1,800 users.

The IMDb top 250 list also features the biggest names in Indian cinema. And among these, Aamir Khan’s is the most prominent—16 of his movies feature in the top 250. Among female stars, Rani Mukerji and Vidya Balan feature the most in this list, with six films each featuring in the top 250.

However, there can be significant disparity between a star’s best work and their overall body of work. For instance, Tamil actor Madhavan’s average over his eight films in the top 250 is 8.0, but when considering all his films (with ratings from at least 100 users) this average falls sharply (6.6). Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan’s average movie ratings suffer similarly when their entire filmography is considered.

Aamir Khan is an exception to this trend: there is relatively less discrepancy between his peak and average ratings.

The highest-rated director in Indian cinema is Rajkumar Hirani: all five of his films, including last year’s Sanju, have made it to the top 250. The most-featured on the top 250 list is Mani Ratnam, with eight films making the shortlist.

But here, too, there are significant disparities between a director’s overall ratings and the ratings for those films which feature in the top 250 list. For instance, Ram Gopal Varma’s peak is fairly high with four films in the top 250 but his overall average rating across 58 films is mediocre at 5.9.

These ratings can be a source of pride for directors and actors but ultimately they all care more about something more tangible: box office collections.

And there seems to be little correlation between IMDb ratings and box office performance. Of the top 100 grossing films in India, according to movie site BoxofficeIndia.com, 36 score less than 6 on IMDb. The reason for this could be self-explanatory: if quality is not a strong predictor of box office success, then there is little incentive for high-quality films to be produced.

Sriharsha Devulapalli contributed to this story.

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