Oscar winners slipping at the box office?

Time for some Academy Awards statistics geekiness!

Someone observed a while ago that this just might be the first year in which a Best Documentary Feature nominee has out-grossed all five Best Picture nominees, and as of last Thursday, this was still true — though it looks like Brokeback Mountain ($76.4 million as of Thursday) could pass March of the Penguins ($77.4 million) before the awards are handed out Sunday night.

For those who like to ponder such things, BoxOfficeMojo.com has a helpful list of the grosses for all the Best Picture nominees going back to 1978; and what’s interesting is that, depending on how things go from here, it looks like this might be the first year since 1996 that the Best Picture winner does not gross at least $100 million; and if that is the case, then this would be the first year since 1985 that none of the Best Picture nominees has gotten around to grossing at least $100 million. (However, three of the 1985 nominees were among the top ten for that year, whereas none of the 2005 nominees is even in the top 25 yet.)

This is also the second year in a row that all five nominees had grossed less than $100 million before the nominations were announced; in 2004, Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator both inched past the century mark eventually, but not until after the awards were handed out. Prior to that, the last time this happened was in 1989, when Driving Miss Daisy crossed the century mark after winning Best Picture. However, note here that both Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator barely made it into the year’s top 25, whereas Driving Miss Daisy was easily in the year’s top ten.

Some people have pointed to these stats as evidence that the Oscars are out of touch with “the average moviegoer” (or, more provincially, “the average American”). But, y’know, whatever. The awards are supposedly going to the best films, not the most popular films, so we should expect and even want the awards to reflect something other than box-office success.

But, as you can see, the Oscars and the box office frequently do align. What follows is a list of the Best Picture winners for the past few decades, with their rank among the year’s top earners, and their final domestic gross. (In some cases, they earned most of this money before they were nominated; in others, they earned most of it afterwards; but either way, the figure indicates the degree to which the public was willing to go out and see the movie.)

2005 — 49 — $53.4 million — Crash
2004 — 24 — $100.5 million — Million Dollar Baby
2003 — 1 — $377.0 million — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2002 — 10 — $170.7 million — Chicago
2001 — 11 — $170.7 million — A Beautiful Mind
2000 — 4 — $187.7 million — Gladiator
1999 — 13 — $130.1 million — American Beauty
1998 — 18 — $100.3 million — Shakespeare in Love
1997 — 1 — $600.8 million — Titanic
1996 — 19 — $78.7 million — The English Patient
1995 — 18 — $75.6 million — Braveheart
1994 — 1 — $329.7 million — Forrest Gump
1993 — 9 — $96.1 million — Schindler’s List
1992 — 11 — $101.2 million — Unforgiven
1991 — 4 — $130.7 million — Silence of the Lambs
1990 — 3 — $184.2 million — Dances with Wolves
1989 — 8 — $106.6 million — Driving Miss Daisy
1988 — 1 — $172.8 million — Rain Man
1987 — 25 — $44.0 million — The Last Emperor
1986 — 3 — $138.5 million — Platoon
1985 — 5 — $87.1 million — Out of Africa
1984 — 12 — $52.0 million — Amadeus
1983 — 2 — $108.4 million — Terms of Endearment
1982 — 12 — $52.8 million — Gandhi
1981 — 7 — $59.0 million — Chariots of Fire
1980 — 11 — $54.8 million — Ordinary People
1979 — xx — $106.3 million — Kramer Vs. Kramer
1978 — xx — $49.0 million — The Deer Hunter
1977 — xx — $38.3 million — Annie Hall
1976 — xx — $117.2 million — Rocky
1975 — xx — $109.0 million — One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1974 — xx — $47.5 million — The Godfather Part II
1973 — xx — $156.0 million — The Sting
1972 — xx — $133.7 million — The Godfather
1971 — xx — $51.7 million — The French Connection
1970 — xx — $61.7 million — Patton

MAR 5 UPDATE: Updated to include the winner for 2005.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08741378159534413277 Magnus

    But Pete, what is your reaction to Crash winning best picture. You didn’t like the film as i recall.


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