Box Office: $24.8 Million
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Redford), Best Supporting Actor (Paul Scofield), Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar Wins: None
Available To Stream: Amazon Prime ($4), Vudu ($4)
Would you do it? That's the key question behind Quiz Show which is a very good movie that takes the complex and mature route of showing good people who make mistakes as opposed to simple heroes and villains. The movie even seems to understand that it's easy to take the high road when you are sitting on your couch watching other people make bad decisions. When the walls close in on those people who make those poor decisions, Quiz Show is not judgmental but understanding.
If you have never seen Quiz Show, check it out. I know it is one of the lesser-seen movies on this list but it's based on a fascinating true story that was a huge deal in the 1950's. Charles Van Doren was a very popular contestant on the quiz show Twenty-One but it came out that he was being fed the answers by the show itself. And he wasn't the first contestant that this had happened too. The whole show was rigged. Here's a scene where Herb Stempel (John Tuturro), the contestant before Van Doren gets told by a show producer that his time is up on the show. It really highlights the Oscar nominated script by Paul Attanasio:
Robert Redford does a masterful job directing this film. His range as a director exceeds his range as an actor. Compare the gorgeous look of Quiz Show with the quaint natural landscape of A River Runs Through It with the depression and grief-stricken home in Ordinary People. Redford does such a good job evoking mood in his settings and camerawork. I love this script so don't misunderstand me but this movie looks so great, you can leave it on mute and just have it in the background and enjoy it.
Quiz Show had the misfortune of coming out in a stacked movie year. 1994 was also the year of Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. It had no shot at Best Picture or Best Director against that kind of competition. Even for Supporting Actor, Paul Scofield lost to a great Martin Landau performance in Ed Wood. It didn't get an Art Direction nomination because it was going up against movies like Legends Of The Fall which what it lacks in storytelling, more than makes up for in beautiful shots.
It didn't have any better luck in the box office either. It opened in September and in fourth place behind movies like Timecop (with Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Terminal Velocity which was a terrible skydiving action movie with Charlie Sheen. Timecop is goofy fun but it has no business beating a movie like Quiz Show. Especially considering it was Timecop's second week in release. Quiz Show would be out of the top 10 in a month.
It boasts a strong cast with Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow, John Turturro and Paul Scofield. Morrow, who was very good in Northern Exposure never had the career I thought he would after that show and this movie. He's worked steadily and was on the CBS show "Numb3rs" which ran for a few years but I thought he'd be a bigger star. His accent work is not great here but I liked the inner conflict of a guy who is upholding the law but thinks highly of the person he's chasing.
I enjoy stories like this that showcase something that was a very big deal at the time but is virtually forgotten in the present. Before this movie came out, not many people who weren't alive in the 1950's knew about the Twenty-One scandal. Match a great story with a strong cast and director and you get a very good movie like this one.
84. Quiz Show