erik lundegaard

And the Nominees Are ... : The Box Office

The expansion of the best picture nominations from five to 10 in 2009 was all about box office. (See this chart.) Academy tastes and popular tastes no longer meshed, or studios stopped distributing quality films, or quality films no longer attempted popular appeal, or quality films only appealed to oldsters who waited for the DVD to become available on Netflix. It can get pretty tricky, in a chicken-and-egg kind of way, when you attempt to break down why the system broke down.

But it did. While the nominees for best picture historically included a top-5 film, and often the No. 1 movie of the year (see: 1967 to 1977), by the mid-2000s the nominees couldn't even crack the top 10. Between 2004 and 2008, the highest-grossing best picture nominee in terms of box office ranked as follows: 22nd, 22nd, 15th, 15th and 16th.

So in 2009 the Academy decided to double the best-picture nominees to get popular films such as “The Dark Knight” involved. How has this worked?

Well, its first year, the whole thing was probably unncessary, since “Avatar,” the highest-grossing movie of the year, the decade, and all-time in terms of both dometic and international box office, would've been nom'ed anyway. But “Avatar” did get nom'ed. As did “Up,” the No. 5 film, and “The Blind Side,” at No. 8. Three films in the top 10! That hadn't happened since 1997.

In 2010, the No. 1 movie, “Toy Story 3,” was again nominated best picture. As was No. 6, “Inception,” and No. 13, “True Grit.” Still working.

This year? A different story.

The No. 1 box-office hit? The last “Harry Potter,” which wasn't among the nominees. The remainder of the top 5 is strewn with the latest iterations, or regurgitations, of pop-cultural junk food: “Transformers,” “Twilight,” “Hangover” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Pixar couldn't even help since their 2011 offering, “Cars 2,” while a box-office hit at No. 8, was never a critical hit and never an Academy consideration.

This is where this year's nominees—nine with the new rules—wound up in terms of domestic box office:

BO Rank Movie Distributor Dometic BO Widest Dist.
13 The Help BV $169,598,523 3,014
43 Moneyball Sony $75,524,658 3,018
47 War Horse BV $72,285,180 2,856
57 Midnight in Paris SPC $56,446,217 1,038
58 Hugo Par. $55,887,402 2,608
67 The Descendants FoxS $51,259,658 878
128 The Tree of Life FoxS $13,303,319 237
131 The Artist Wein. $12,119,718 662
136 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close WB $10,737,239 2,630

I spend a lot of time looking at box office but even I was shocked by the numbers. Less “The Help” being the highest-ranking best-picture nominee at No. 13 than the rest of it. “Moneyball” is really the second-highest-grossing film among the nominees? “The Artist” is really only at $12 mil?

“Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” grossed more than all but two of these films?

In other words, a few years after irrevocably altering historic Academy parameters for the sake of popularity and TV ratings, we're right back where we started from: no No. 1s, no top 10s. It's like a reverse of Al Pacino's famous line in “Godfather III”: Just when the Academy thinks it's brought us together, we're pulled apart.

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Posted at 08:51 AM on Tue. Jan 24, 2012 in category Movies - The Oscars  

COMMENTS

Extra-strength UncleVinny wrote:

I'm floored to see that Tree of Life was only playing at 237 at its high-water mark. Barf.

Comment posted on Tue. Jan 24, 2012 at 09:24 AM

Robb Mitchell wrote:

If popularity mattered, one would have expected to see Bridesmaids in the Best Picture list.

Comment posted on Tue. Jan 24, 2012 at 11:09 AM
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