Jennifer Armstrong
May 12, 2009 AT 07:40 PM EDT

Ranked lists of pop cultural phenomena are an exercise fraught with peril — nobody knows that better than we here at EW do, as it is half of our job. But Rotten Tomatoes boldly, bravely compiled the “50 Best Reviewed Movies of All Time” anyway. And, well, come to think of it, it’s not all that brave, since they can’t really take the blame for the way things turned out — it’s simply a mathematical averaging of the critical responses to the ranked films. Maybe that’s exactly why it’s so oddly fascinating — you can’t really argue with it as much as you can conscientiously object.

For starters: No Casablanca? (That might fall under the caveat that also prevented Jaws from making the cut — no film with fewer than 20 reviews qualified.)  Risky Business better than All the Presidents’ Men? (Maybe an apples and oranges situation, but still.) A Hard Day’s Night (pictured) better than The Wizard of Oz? Better, in fact, than any other movie ever? (Spoiler Alert!: Yes, the Beatles’ rock-and-roll romp is No. 1.)

The latter two bring up the inherent problem in such a ranking: Critics usually grade on a curve. And they should — you simply can’t judge, say, Hannah Montana The Movie the same way you’d judge The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Thus, reviews might be kinda positive for Hannah — as in: hey, this wasn’t nearly as painful as we’d expected! — while critics could spend time picking apart the nuances of pacing, writing, and acting in Button if it didn’t live up to inflated expectations. And voila! Suddenly A Hard Day’s Night far outranks the beloved Citizen Kane. Though that last one gave me a little jolt of pleasure — I’ve never totally gotten what all the fuss is about over Kane, though maybe that’s because I knew the whole sled thing before I saw it. Maybe critics did, too?

What do you think, PopWatchers? Which rankings surprise you? What movies have critics wildly misjudged — or overpraised — over the years? Is A Hard Day’s Night really the greatest movie ever?

addCredit(“The Everett Collection”)

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