erik lundegaard

The Bad Box Office of the Best Picture Nominees

There are a lot of stories making the rounds about this year's Oscar nominations. Both “American Sniper” and “Mr. Turner” did surprisingly well while “Selma” was all but denied. As was “The LEGO Movie.” As was “Life Itself,” the documentary about the life and death of film critic Roger Ebert. But then its director Steve James also directed the hugely acclaimed “Hoop Dreams,” which went unnominated in the documentary category in 1994. So ... fool me twice, I guess. 

But for me, the big story is still the box office. Its lack. 

Here are your eight best picture candidates, their domestic box office totals, and their widest distributions:

Movie Box Office Theaters
The Grand Budapest Hotel $59.1 1,467
The Imitation Game $42.0 1,566
Birdman $26.5 862
The Theory of Everything $26.0 1,220
Boyhood $24.3 775
Selma $15.5 2,179
Whiplash $6.1 419
American Sniper $3.3 4

Reminder: in 2009 the Academy broke a 60-plus-year tradition and expanded its best picture candidates from five to 10 mostly because popular movies weren't getting nominated and people were turning away from the Oscar broadcast. The Academy didn't want to become marginalized. Thus: 10 nominees. Then five to 10. 

And it seemed to work. 

In 2009, the Academy nominated five pictures that grossed more than $100 million domestic, including Nos. 1, 5 and 8 on the year (“Avatar,” “Up” and “The Blind Side”). In 2010, five more with more than $100 mil, including Nos. 1 and 6 on the year (“Toy Story 3” and “Inception”). 2011 was a step back: just one with > $100 mil domestic, “The Help,” which was the 13th most popular movie of the year. In 2012, six movies breached $100 million, but none higher than 13th: Spielberg's “Lincoln.” Last year? Four, including the sixth-highest-grossing film, “Gravity.” 

And this year? The highest-grossing film topped out at $59 million and 53rd place for the year.  

It's actually worse in the acting categories. The highest-grossing film in Best Actor is “Imitation Game” at $42 million; in Best Supporting Actor, it's “The Judge” at $47. Rosamund Pike's “Gone Girl” ($167) and Meryl Streep's “In the Woods” ($106 and climbing) at least get us over the $100 million mark, but they're the only two among the 20 acting candidates. Everythign else is below $50 million.

This will change, obviously, but by how much? “Into the Woods” will do better but not because of Oscar. I could see “Imitation Game” gaining some moviegoers. Will they expand “Birdman”? Will they re-release “Whiplash”? Are people psyched to see “American Sniper” now? Will its distributor let folks outside NYC and LA see it?

It's a bit worrisome. In 2009, when the Academy expanded its best picture category, I created the following to chart to indicate why it had done so:

 The Annual Box Office Rankings for Best Picture Nominees, 1991-2008*

Year
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
2008  16 20 82 89 120
 2007  15 36 50 55 66
 2006  15  51 57 92 138
 2005  22  49 62 88 95
 2004  22  24 37 40 61
 2003  1  17 31 33 67
 2002  2  10 35 56 80
 2001  2 11 43 59 68
 2000  4 12 13 15 32
 1999  2  12 13 41 69
 1998  1  18  35 59 65
 1997  1   6 7 24 44
 1996  4  19 41 67 108
 1995  3  18  28 39 77
 1994  1  10 21 51 56
 1993  3  9 38 61 66
 1992  5 11 19 20 48
 1991  3  4 16 17 25

* Best picture winner represented in red.

Then for comparison's sake, I added this one. 

Year
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
BPN BO rank
1970 1 2 3 4 11

 Here's this year's nominees:

Year
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
BO rank
2014 53 76 94 96 100 115 138 158

Yes, I'm concerned that the stories we share these days tend to be cartoonish; that there are fewer and fewer serious stories that we all know and care about. I think this is helping an increasingly fragmented and polarized society become more so.

But mostly I'm worried about what the Academy might do to rectify the situation. Particularly if the ratings tank on Feb. 22. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Among the nominees, Wes Anderson was most popular at the box office. It's a position he's never been in before.

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Posted at 11:20 AM on Thu. Jan 15, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars  

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