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The Best Of The ‘Best Of’ Lists

Afraid you missed out on one of the best movies, TV shows, books or albums of the year? Don’t worry, the critics at [insert any given publication here] probably have your back. In an age when websites need clicks and yearly roundups are a low-cost way to drive traffic, these lists seem more ubiquitous than ever.

Last year, I noticed that these lists had a lot of overlap, and I was curious about whether they were as uniform as they seemed — if they all tell us to watch the same movies and TV shows, do we really need so many of them? So I analyzed the differences (or, more often, the similarities) of the lists at 30 national publications. In 2014, I discovered that people really loved “Boyhood,” “Transparent” and “Lila” by Marilynne Robinson. (Speaking of which, I still need to get around to watching “Boyhood” at some point.)

More Culture

I did the same aggregation this year, surveying 30 top national and Web publications for their critics’ picks. 2015’s most-listed movie: “Carol,” which topped the best movies lists with mentions on 18 of 22 (82 percent) lists.

The best of the ‘Best Movies of 2015’
MOVIE LISTS MADE PERCENT OF LISTS
Carol 18 82%
Spotlight 17 77
Inside Out 16 73
Mad Max: Fury Road 16 73
Creed 12 55
Tangerine 12 55
The Martian 12 55
Brooklyn 11 50
45 Years 10 45
The Look of Silence 9 41
Son of Saul 9 41
Sicario 9 41
Chi-Raq 9 41
Ex Machina 9 41
Anomalisa 8 36
The Assassin 8 36
Room 7 32
The Big Short 7 32
Steve Jobs 7 32
The Diary of a Teenage Girl 7 32
Timbuktu 7 32
Clouds of Sils Maria 7 32
Phoenix 7 32

In the TV world, “Master of None” and “Fargo” tied for most mentions — both were on 20 of 24 (83 percent) lists for best TV shows.

The best of the ‘Best Television Shows of 2015’
TV SHOW LISTS MADE PERCENT OF LISTS
Master of None 20 83%
Fargo 20 83
Mr. Robot 18 75
Mad Men 18 75
The Americans 15 63
The Leftovers 15 63
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 14 58
Transparent 13 54
Better Call Saul 12 50
Empire 12 50
The Jinx 12 50
Jessica Jones 11 46
BoJack Horseman 10 42
Silicon Valley 10 42
Veep 10 42
You’re the Worst 10 42
Game of Thrones 10 42
Hannibal 9 38
Rectify 9 38
Unreal 9 38
Jane the Virgin 8 33
Broad City 8 33
Catastrophe 8 33
Show Me a Hero 8 33

For books, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” won by a mile, with mentions on 16 of 20 (80 percent) lists.

The best of the ‘Best Books of 2015’
BOOK LISTS MADE PERCENT OF LISTS
Between the World and Me 16 80%
A Little Life 12 60
The Story of the Lost Child 12 60
Fates and Furies 8 40
The Sellout 6 30
The Visiting Privilege 6 30
H is for Hawk 6 30
Purity 6 30
A Manual for Cleaning Women 5 25
The Girl on the Train 5 25
The Wright Brothers 5 25
The Argonauts 5 25
Welcome to Braggsville 5 25
The First Bad Man 5 25
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl 4 20
The Buried Giant 4 20
The Tsar of Love and Techno 4 20
Outline 4 20
A God in Ruins 4 20
Negroland 4 20
The Meursault Investigation 4 20
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life 4 20
City on Fire 4 20
Killing and Dying 4 20
Step Aside, Pops 4 20
Seveneves 4 20

The only unanimous critical pick came from the “best albums of 2015” lists, where Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” was mentioned on each of the 19 lists.

The best of the ‘Best Albums of 2015’
ALBUM LISTS MADE PERCENT OF LISTS
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly 19 100%
Vince Staples, Summertime ’06 12 63
Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion 12 63
Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit 11 58
Joanna Newsom, Divers 11 58
Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear 10 53
Miguel, Wildheart 10 53
Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love 10 53
Björk, Vulnicura 10 53
Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell 10 53
Grimes, Art Angels 9 47
Jamie xx, In Colour 9 47
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color 9 47
Drake, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late 8 42
Kamasi Washington, The Epic 8 42
Tame Impala, Currents 8 42
Future, DS2 7 37
Adele, 25 7 37
Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material 6 32
The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness 6 32
Ashley Monroe, The Blade 5 26
Earl Sweatshirt, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album By Earl Sweatshirt 5 26
Jazmine Sullivan, Reality Show 5 26
Rae Sremmurd, SremmLife 5 26
Shamir, Ratchet 5 26
Ty Dolla $ign, Free TC 5 26
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Surf 5 26
Torres, Sprinter 5 26
Janet Jackson, Unbreakable 5 26
Florence + the Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful 5 26
Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free 5 26
Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) 5 26

This data set also tells us something about the publications themselves. Which had the most original lists? (Bloomberg and The New Yorker, among others.) Which list stuck to the items that more or less everyone can agree on? (TV Guide, get a bit braver!)

munguia-bestofbestof2015-1 (1)

Of the publications that had lists in at least three of the four categories1, The Daily Beast had the most similarities to everyone else — 74 percent of items mentioned on its lists were also mentioned at least four times elsewhere; The Guardian U.S. was the least like other publications, with 35 percent of its listed items on at least four other lists.

Overall, about 55 percent of the shows, movies, albums and books were on at least five lists, meaning there isn’t as much overlap as it may seem. You can basically flip a coin to determine whether any given item on any of these “best of 2015” lists is one that critics agree on, or if it just suits that particular critic’s taste.

Footnotes

  1. 18 of the 30 did. ^

Hayley Munguia is FiveThirtyEight’s social media editor and a data reporter.

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