Benjamin Button $111 millionThe $100 million mark is a pretty common yardstick in Hollywood for movie success. I bet that the Best Picture nomination will boost interest in a movie but it's hard for me to see any of the bottom three movies crossing the century mark. There are at least two reasons for this, the movies were released only in arthouse theaters without a lot of coverage. Also, they won't interest any but a small segment of the population.
Slumdog $56 million
Milk $21 million
Frost/Nixon $12 million
The Reader $9.6 million
This hasn't always been the case with Best Picture films. Only one nominated film this decade has had the top annual box office (Return of the King). The 90's had three (Forrest Gump, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan) and so did the 80's (Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Rain Man). Numbers going back to 1980 can be found here.
What's happened? I've got a few ideas:
- More and more of the 'Oscar bait' movies are being wedged into the very last part of the year. None of this year's was out in wide release before Thanksgiving. This compresses the entire genre into a few weeks. It's tough for people to get out there and actually see many of these. For comparison, a movie that is definitely Best Picture quality, Wall-E, was released in the summer and it made $223 million. The downside is that the voters forgot about all of it's praise before they issued ballots.
- There are more and more niche films. The '94 Oscar debate was widespread because lots of people saw Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. (Shawshank Redemption gained speed on VHS because it has horrible marketing.) If Milk narrowly beats Frost/Nixon only a couple percent of the country will have any kind of informed opinion. If it doesn't interest many people, they'll look to different critics.
- Message movies! If your movie is trying to make some narrow political point, you are almost certainly going to turn off anyone that doesn't already agree with it. This goes back to my theory that we get better movies when the president is a Democrat. Soon we'll be back to uplift and more traditional moral themes.
- The Oscar voters are off. We know that the ratings for the award show keep declining. The last big one was when Titanic was up. People become invested in films and care about the sucess of the ones they love. If the Oscar become an arthouse only award, you'll see the numbers continue to decline. This will be noticed and I'm guessing that opinions will shift.