erik lundegaard

The Oscars and Box Office: This Again

Last week, when my friend Mike asked me about the box office of the 2017 best picture nominees, my first thought was, “Actually some of them did OK. Right? 'Dunkirk' and 'Get Out.' So it won't be like in the bad old days when, you know, no best picture nominee was among the top 15 movies of the year.”

No, but close.

MOVIE BO (in millions) 2017 RANK
Dunkirk $188 14
Get Out** $179 15
The Post* $58 46
Darkest Hour* $45 56
Lady Bird* $41 63
The Shape of Water* $37 69
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri* $37 70
Call Me By Your Name* $11 123
Phantom Thread* $10 125

* Currently in release
** Currently in re-release

Indeed, this is comparable to the last three years before the big switch, 2006-08, when the biggest box office hit among the best picture nominees ranked 15th or 16th for its respective year.

The Academy's decision to expand to 10 nominees in 2009 was initially a boon for best picture/box office hits: three of the nominees that year were top 10 hits: “Avatar” (1), “Up” (5) and “The Blind Side” (8). The next year, two were top 10 hits: “Toy Story 3” (1) and “Inception” (6).

It's been iffier since. 

ANNUAL BOX OFFICE RANKS OF BEST PICTURE NOMINEES

Year  First Second Third Fourth Fifth Sixth Seventh Eighth Ninth Tenth
2009 1 5 8 25 27 38 65 116 132 145
2010 1 6 13 18 25 32 35 114 119 143
2011 13 39 41 47 49 59 71 97 132  
2012 13 15 18 22 23 27 32 130 145  
2013 6 17 28 32 62 80 95 100 117  
2014 1 36 54 61 78 85 100 125    
2015 8 13 21 42 44 62 70 111    
2016 14 19 29 46 57 66 69 92 95  
2017 14 15 46 56 63 69 70 123 125  

Then I noticed something interesting.

These are the annual box office rankings of the best picture nominees from the last 19 years before the switch, with the eventual winner highlighted in yellow:

Year  First Second Third Fourth Fifth Best Picture
1990 2 3 17 23 26 Dances with Wolves
 1991  3  4 16 17 25 Silence of the Lambs
 1992  5 11 19 20 48 Unforgiven
 1993  3  9 38 61 66 Schindler's List
 1994  1  10 21 51 56 Forrest Gump
 1995  3  18  28 39 77 Braveheart
 1996  4  19 41 67 108 The English Patient
 1997  1   6 7 24 44 Titanic
 1998  1  18  35 59 65 Shakespeare in Love
 1999  2  12 13 41 69 American Beauty
 2000  4 12 13 15 32 Gladiator
 2001  2 11 43 59 68 A Beautiful Mind
 2002  2  10 35 56 80 Chicago
 2003  1  17 31 33 67 The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
 2004  22  24 37 40 61 Million Dollar Baby
 2005  22  49 62 88 95 Crash
 2006  15  51 57 92 138 The Departed
 2007  15 36 50 55 66 No Country for Old Men
2008  16 20 82 89 120 Slumdog Millionaire

The winner was almost always the first or second high-grossing movie among the nominees. And since the switch? Which, by the way, included a switch to instant-runoff voting, requiring a majority rather than a plurality? 

Year  First Second Third Fourth Fifth Sixth Seventh Eighth Ninth Tenth Best Picture
2009 1 5 8 25 27 38 65 116 132 145 The Hurt Locker
2010 1 6 13 18 25 32 35 114 119 143 The King's Speech
2011 13 39 41 47 49 59 71 97 132   The Artist
2012 13 15 18 22 23 27 32 130 145   Argo
2013 6 17 28 32 62 80 95 100 117   12 Years a Slave
2014 1 36 54 61 78 85 100 125     Birdman
2015 8 13 21 42 44 62 70 111     Spotlight
2016 14 19 29 46 57 66 69 92 95   Moonlight

The winner is never among the top 3. It's as if the top 3 are for show. Or for TV ratings. It's as if merely nominating the likes of “Avatar” and “Inception” and “The Martian” releases members of the Academy from having to vote for them. 

Those TV ratings, by the way, haven't exactly gone through the roof since the Academy mucked with the system to curry its favor. In the eight years before the switch, the average rating (in millions) was 38.45. Since? 38.41. Last year's “La La Land” vs. “Moonlight” showdown garnered a 32.9 rating—similar to the 32.0 rating from 2007 when “No Country for Old Men” battled “There Will Be Blood.” 

It's the same old divide that didn't used to be such a divide. The Academy used to nominate box-office smashes that weren't exactly “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” (ex: “Love Story” and “Star Wars”), while moviegoers would turn critical darlings, such as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,” into box-office smashes (it was the No. 2 grosser of 1975, making the equivalent of $493 million). 

I don't see any of that in the near future. The opposite.

Tags: ,
Posted at 07:45 AM on Wed. Jan 31, 2018 in category Movies - The Oscars  

COMMENTS

« ‘And the Public was Glad to Go Along’   |   Home   |   GOP: 'A Threat to National Security' »
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES
LINKS