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|
|The Shape of Water*||$37||69|
|Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri*||$37||70|
|Call Me By Your Name*||$11||123|
* 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
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:
|1990||2||3||17||23||26||Dances with Wolves|
|1991||3||4||16||17||25||Silence of the Lambs|
|1996||4||19||41||67||108||The English Patient|
|1998||1||18||35||59||65||Shakespeare in Love|
|2001||2||11||43||59||68||A Beautiful Mind|
|2003||1||17||31||33||67||The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King|
|2004||22||24||37||40||61||Million Dollar Baby|
|2007||15||36||50||55||66||No Country for Old Men|
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?
|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|
|2013||6||17||28||32||62||80||95||100||117||12 Years a Slave|
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.