erik lundegaard

The Oscars and Box Office: This Again, Again

If you‘re a best picture nominee that did well at the box office, you used to have a good shot at winning. No longer.

I’ve been busy since the Oscars—mostly being sick with the neverending crud—but I did want to post on this phenomenon since it's still holding true. 

For the 20 years before 2009, when the Academy widened its best picture nominees from five to 10, the eventual Oscar winner was almost always the first- or second-biggest box-office draw among the nominees:

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

Since the Academy expanded to 10 nominees in 2009 (and then up to 10 starting in 2011), and implemented the preferential ballot in 2009, the winner is never from the top three box-office draws among the nominees. At best, it's fourth; it could be as low as eighth:

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
2017 14 15 39 46 51 52 56 105 112   The Shape of Water
2018 1 10 11 37 59 60 81 n/a     Green Book

What to make of this? Some guesses:

  • Under the old rules, the top three nominees in terms of box office would never have been nominated in the first place: Movies like “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Get Out,” “The Martian,” “Toy Story 3,” “Inception,” etc. So they‘re certainly not going to win. You can dismiss those three columns entirely. It’s all a show.
    • Follow up: Mostly true. But I think movies like “Avatar” (top draw in 2009) and “Gravity” (tops in 2013) would‘ve gotten nominated under the old rules; certainly “Lincoln” (top draw in 2012). All of those movies were also presumed to be best picture winners. They were frontrunners. Then poof. 
  • Merely nominating the boffo box office pictures frees Academy members to choose the picture they actually like rather than the one that’s popular. It's like [wiping hands], “Well, we‘ve done our duty.” 
  • In the past, once a movie won best picture, moviegoers flocked to it to see what the hubub was about; now they don’t. Now, at best, they wait for it to be available for home viewing.
  • It's a fluke.

Other thoughts?

Not sure how the preferential ballot factors into all of this. It supposedly pushes concensus choices to the top, like “Green Book,” but this has been one of our artier decades in terms of best picture winners. 

Speaking of: “Green Book” has been doing OK business since the Oscars but it still won't gross more than $100 million. This will be the sixth year in a row without a $100-million best picture winner. This used to be a regular thing (every bp winner between 1997 and 2004 grossed north of $100 mil) and now it's a nowhere thing. The 1980s had five best pictures that grossed more than $100 million—and that's unadjusted. This decade, with one year to go, has two: “The King's Speech” and “Argo.” 

A quick tabulation of $100-million best picture winners, via Box Office Mojo:

  • 1980s: 5
  • 1990s: 7
  • 2000s: 7
  • 2010s: 2

Again: that's unadjusted.

I don't see how this trend will change, either. The Academy wants to be a distinguished body, honoring prestigious work, but they‘re living in a country that’s more and more infantilized—often, ironically, by the work of its own industry. 

Tags: , ,
Posted at 09:16 AM on Sat. Mar 23, 2019 in category Movies - The Oscars  
« Stinkin' Paws   |   Home   |   Jordan Peele's ‘Us’ Scares Up $70 Mil at Box Office »
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES
LINKS