What do box office receipts tell us?
Here are this year's nominees ranked by their domestic box office totals (to date). If you have been living in a cave, it might interest you to know that Avatar is not just the highest-grossing film of the past year, but also of all time. (Of course, you probably have more important things to think about, what with that cave and all.)
|Nominees Ranked by Gross||Domestic Gross||Year Rank||Nominees Ranked by Gross||Domestic Gross||Year Rank|
|1||Avatar||$598.5||1||6||Up in the Air||$73.5||43|
|3||The Blind Side||$238.0||8||8||The Hurt Locker||$12.7||130|
|4||Inglourious Basterds||$120.5||25||9||A Serious Man||$9.2||142|
|5||District 9||$115.6||27||10||An Education||$8.8||144|
|Year||Winner||Metascore||Dom. Gross||Year Rank||Nominee Rank||PRE-NOMINATION Rank|
|2008||No Country for Old Men||91||$74.3||36||2nd||2nd|
|2005||Million Dollar Baby||86||$100.5||24||2nd||5th *|
|2004||The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King||94||$377.0||1||1st||1st|
|2002||A Beautiful Mind||72||$170.7||11||2nd||2nd|
Aha! Now we're onto something. Although the Academy hasn't nominated too many box office blockbusters over the past decade, it seems to favor the nominees that sell more tickets when compared to each other. You'll have to go back to 2000 to find a best picture winner that wasn't among the top two nominees in terms of box office grosses. Clearly, that must mean that either Avatar or Up will win best picture this year, right?
Possibly, with the major caveat that, now that the field has expanded to 10 films, anything could happen. There is a logical reason to think there might be a connection between box office performance and best picture winners. Bigger box office grosses mean that more people have seen those films, resulting in (presumably) more buzz about those films -- at least among moviegoers who aren't film critics. It also makes it more likely that Academy Members themselves have seen those films prior to the announcement of nominations. And strong box office performance also serves as reinforcement for votes; an otherwise undecided Academy member might be more likely to pick a higher-grossing film simply because it is the safe pick, since that film already has the stamp of approval of the moviegoing public.
Of course, the Academy doesn't always pick the very highest-grossing movie. Some recent instances where voters have passed over the best performing of the five nominees include:
- 2008, when Juno 81 -- the lone contender to gross over $100 million, though it wasn't in the year's top 10 -- was passed over for a film (No Country for Old Men 91) that grossed approximately half as much;
- 2006, when the Oscar went to Crash 69 -- easily the worst-performing of all best picture winners over the past decade -- over the somewhat higher-grossing Brokeback Mountain 87, which was not a box office hit itself. Crash, however, was ranked 1st at the time of the nominations; and
- 2005, when winner Million Dollar Baby 86 grossed only slightly less than The Aviator 77. Neither film reached the top 20 that year.
There are, in addition, two nominated mega-hits not to take home best picture honors over the past decade, but they were related: LOTR: The Two Towers 88 (the #2 grossing film in 2002, which lost out to Chicago 82), and LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring 92 (the #2 grossing film in 2001, which lost out to A Beautiful Mind 72). Of course, giving either of those first two Lord of the Rings films the Oscar would have been problematic for the Academy, since it would have set up a situation where virtually the same film could have won in consecutive years. The last time a nominated, non-LOTR box-office blockbuster was passed over for the Oscar was in 2000, when The Sixth Sense 64 lost to American Beauty 86.
How about further back in time? During the 1990s, several nominated films that finished among their year's top five films in domestic grosses lost the Oscar to lesser-performing titles. However, throughout that decade, the winning film was again either first or second in grosses among the five best picture nominees. Again, that's a good sign for fans of Avatar and Up, this year's two highest-grossing nominees.
Not yet convinced about Avatar? Let's check one additional indicator: awards handed out by other organizations. ...