What are the differences between an Oscar-winning film and a box office hit? You would think that there wouldn’t be many, however, the academy has proven that they will not be swayed by public opinion. In the past 30 years, only four films were named best picture while topping box office charts.
The expectation that the academy’s highest honour will go to titles more focused on technique than the story is a fairly recent one. Between 1957 and 2004, almost 75% of best picture Oscars went to films that grossed over $200 million in the United States (adjusted for inflation).
Could it be in fact, that it is public opinion that has changed? Perhaps we don’t value film the way we used to or care enough about much other than being entertained. But isn’t the whole purpose of films to entertain?
Like most industries, the first primary purpose of films was to make a profit. The film industry quickly snowballed into one of our biggest creative trades. Films are now made to convey and evoke emotion, raise awareness, to educate and, of course, to entertain. The majority of the reasons behind the makings of films are the same reasons why we watch them and, on the most part, if those reasons are clear and well projected the film is more enjoyable.
In 2016, David Kosse, then film director of film4 and now president of STXInternational, told The Guardian that without Oscars, “it would be much more difficult for films that aren’t genre-based and aren’t based on pre-existing properties, or which don’t feature big stars, to find an audience. The Oscars, and award season in general, draws attention to films that might not have been able to afford to buy that attention.”
In 2009 ‘The Hurt Locker’ won best picture at the Oscars, while making only $17 million at the box office. And again in 2015, ‘Spotlight’ won best picture at the Oscars, making only $45 million. Compared to the biggest box office hit of 2015, ‘Jurassic World’, which brought in a staggering $1.6 billion you can see that these films were not box office ‘hits’ and yet they are the films that have won Oscars.
Is the Academy’s tendency to give the best picture awards to smaller, less well-known films, making them lose touch with their audience? The 2017 Oscar ceremony was down 4% in viewership and was the third-least-watched of the 21st century. While the films that are winning Oscars aren’t necessarily undeserving of them, they are not the films that the public want to see win. It is a vicious circle as the Academy does not want to award Oscars to films purely because they are popular. But this could potentially mean that viewers will continue to lose interest and the award could lose its value.
After this year’s nominations were released, it’s obvious that the Academy have tried to boost ratings by nominating films that the majority of the public have actually seen. The likes of Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, A Star is Born and Black Panther (the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture) being nominated, shows that the Academy is desperately grappling to stay relevant and important in today’s much evolved film industry.
There is the possibility that the Academy could revive the award and find a way to make it work for the industry and public alike. A revamp of the process could make or break the Oscars as there is criticism from all sides, meaning that it would take a lot of time and preparation to attain the perfect solution. Time that they possibly don’t have, as this year’s Oscar ceremony will be held on the 24th of February. Or perhaps there is simply no place for the iconic award in today’s world.