Something is up with the Academy Awards. For most of this decade they have been giving short-shrift to popular (i.e. big box office grossing) films.
It didn’t use to be that way. Allow me to demonstrate.
This year’s list of Best Picture nominees marks the fifth year in a row where a Top 10 box office grossing film did not make the cut for the Academy’s top honor. That is an unprecedented streak dating back to at leat 1980 and probably further.
This year, the most popular best picture nominee at the Box Office so far is Benjamin Button which has just cracked the $100 million mark and ranks No. 22 for the year.
In 2007, the biggest box office draw was Juno at No. 15. In 2006, the top grossing nominee was The Departed, also at No. 15. In 2005, Brokeback Mountain had the highest box office gross at No. 22. And in 2004, The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby were No. 22 and No. 24, respectively.
The last time the general public and the Academy agreed on a film was 2003 when Lord of the Rings: Return of the King took the Best Picture Oscar and was the No. 1 draw at the box office. The next most popular best picture nominee that year was Seabiscuit at No. 17.
In 2002, LOTR: The Two Towers was No. 2 at the box office and Chicago was No. 10. In 2001, LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring was No. 2 and A Beautiful Mind was No. 11.
So, not counting the LOTR trilogy, there has only been one best picture nominee in the last eight years to crack the Top 10 at the Box Office.
But so what? It’s not like they used to always nominate Top 10 films for the Oscar, did they? Ummm. Well, yes, they did.
In 2000, Gladiator was No. 4 at the box office, while Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was No. 12 and Erin Brockovich was No. 13.
In 1999, The Sixth Sense was No. 2, while The Green Mile was No. 12 and American Beauty was No. 13.
In 1998, Saving Private Ryan was No. 1 at the box office. Shakespeare in Love was No. 18.
In 1997, Titanic was No. 1; As Good As It Gets was No. 6 and Goodwill Hunting was No. 7.
In 1996, Jerry Maguire was No. 4.
In 1995, Apollo 13 was No. 3 and Braveheart was No. 18.
In 1994, Forrest Gump was No. 1 and Pulp Fiction was No. 10.
In 1993, The Fugitive was No. 3 and Schindler’s List was No. 9.
In 1992, A Few Good Men was No. 5 and Unforgiven was No. 11.
In 1991, Beauty and the Beast was No. 3 and Silence of the Lambs was No. 4.
In 1990, Ghost was No. 2 and Dances With Wolves was No. 3.
Need I go on? OK, I think I will...
In 1989, Driving Miss Daisy was No. 8 and Dead Poet’s Society was No. 10.
In 1988, Rain Man was No. 1 and Working Girl was No. 11.
In 1987, Fatal Attraction was No. 2 and Moonstruck was No. 5.
In 1986, Platoon was No. 3.
In 1985, The Color Purple was No. 4 and Witness was No. 8.
In 1984, Amadeus was No. 12. You have to go all the way back to 1984 to find the last time a Top 10 Box Office draw was not nominated for Best Picture.
In 1983, Terms of Endearment was No. 2 and The Big Chill was No. 13.
In 1982, E.T. was No. 1, Tootsie was No. 2, The Verdict was No. 11 and Gandhi was No. 12.
In 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark was No. 1, On Golden Pond was No. 2, Chariots of Fire was No. 7 and Reds was No. 13.
In 1980, Coal Miner’s Daughter was No. 7 and Ordinary People was No. 11.
OK, I’ll stop there.
So what the heck is going on? How come the Academy and the general public have grown so far apart in their tastes? More independent cinema? Too many movies to choose from? It is fine if they want to promote indy films, but can’t they reserve at least ONE slot every year for a movie that the general public likes? Is that really asking too much?