Green Book’s Best Picture win has proved controversial among such filmmakers as Spike Lee, but the movie does share one key similarity with other recent winners: Comparatively few people saw it.As Hollywood cranks out ever-larger blockbusters setting records at the box office, the Academy Awards are increasingly being handed out to smaller, niche films.The following chart, which ranks best picture winners by their inflation-adjusted box office take, points to a clear pattern: There is an ever-widening rift between the movies making money and the movies collecting awards.Green Book made only $70 million at the domestic box office and $144 million worldwide. This is a respectable total, but it puts the movie in 39th place for 2018 domestic box office totals. The year’s number one grossing film, both domestically and worldwide, was Black Panther. Although nominated, it was denied a Best Picture win. Of seven Academy Award nominations, in fact, it won only three in the relatively obscure categories of Original Score, Costume Design and Production Design.Two other big earners, A Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody, were similarly denied the prize.This is all a marked change from most of Oscars history, when Best Picture winners and nominees were usually the same movies that the most people had paid to see.
Black Panther sold $1.3 billion worth of tickets, so presumably someone liked it.
Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios-Disney via AP
When The Sting won Best Picture in 1973, it was easily the year’s most profitable film, and remains history’s 20th highest-grossing movie. Gone With the Wind, the 1939 Best Picture winner, still holds the title as the highest grossing film ever made when adjusted for inflation, although this is due in part to more than a dozen re-releases.Even as late as 1997, Titanic was sweeping the Academy Awards with 11 wins while also basking in the glow of being the first movie in history to earn more than a billion dollars.It’s a mere 20 years later and Best Picture winners are routinely collecting less than $100 million apiece and selling fewer tickets than dozens of other competitors.An Academy insider might say that high-earning movies are simply too awful and formulaic nowadays to dignify with awards. The top 10 most-watched movies for 2018 were exclusively sequels, reboots and comic book movies. Eight of them were action and adventure films, and two were animation.The Academy’s bias against action is nothing new, as is its bias against comedy and animation. Jaws was famously snubbed in 1975, as was Star Wars two years later in 1977. Walt Disney built an empire on feature length animated films and it wasn’t until 1991 that Beauty and the Beast would get a best picture nomination.
Sure, it changed filmmaking forever, but was it really the ‘best’?
The difference now is the Academy’s willingness to delve into ever-more obscure movies to avoid handing out awards to popular films.In 1980, Ordinary People took home Best Picture in a somewhat lacklustre year whose top films included the now-forgotten Private Benjamin, and Smokey and the Bandit II (and The Empire Strikes Back, but still). Nevertheless, Ordinary People was still that year’s 11th highest grossing film.Green Book, by contrast, was tens of millions of dollars behind contenders such as Ocean’s 8 and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.And even it was a relatively high-earning movie when ranked against most of the other Best Picture nominees.The Dick Cheney biopic Vice was only the 60th highest earning movie for 2018. BlacKkKlansman was 59th. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween took in about as much money as either film.The Favourite was 85th, with domestic earnings of only $32 million, just behind The Spy Who Dumped Me.Maybe the movies do suck these days, but Hollywood has never before shown itself as willing to ignore the films people actually see.For consistency, the chart above only includes ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada. With the explosive growth of the foreign market in recent decades, modern films have an unfair advantage against the likes of the French Connection, whose worldwide sales were handicapped by distribution bans in the likes of China as well as a much smaller global ticket-buying middle class.• Twitter: TristinHopper | Email: email@example.com