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Oscars: Popularity doesn’t mean awards success like it used to – can Barbie or Oppenheimer buck the trend? | Ents & Arts News

Oscars: Popularity doesn’t mean awards success like it used to – can Barbie or Oppenheimer buck the trend? | Ents & Arts News

In recent years superhero, fantasy and animation have dominated the movie box office, making billions of pounds for franchises like Marvel and Star Wars. But their runaway success hasn’t been matched with top awards at the Oscars.

But Barbie and Oppenheimer could, at this year’s awards, break that trend.

Going back to the 1980s and 1990s, the trend had been that box office hits were often rewarded with Academy Award nods, as shown by our analysis of historic box office data and the Academy Awards Database.

Read more: Oppenheimer leads Oscar nominations – with big nods for Barbie too

But since the turn of the century – apart from The Lord Of The Rings’s enormous success in 2004 – the films that made the most money have had very little success in gaining nominations.

Looking at the top 10 highest grossing films for each year since 1977, a very small proportion these days go on to be nominated for best picture, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress and best director.

In 1982, over a quarter (28%) of the top 10 films from the previous five years were nominated for these top awards.

In 2009, this fell to a low of just 2% on average.

Jordon Farley, film critic and news editor at Total Film said: “It’s very clear that there is a direct connection between films that aren’t winning awards like best picture and best director and best actor, and the films that are topping the box office, whether that be domestically in America or worldwide, it’s very rare that those films are actually either nominated or in serious contention.”

But with Oppenheimer receiving five top nominations among its 13 in total, this trend may be set to be altered.

Farley said: “Oppenheimer is sort of the almost like the best of both worlds nominee because there was such a huge commercial success, really unlikely commercial success, and it is also just a towering piece of work, sort of undeniable how critically accomplished that film is.

“You don’t have to think too much about that one. Like it’s almost a no brainer to get that one as best picture because it satisfies everyone.”

Some of Oppenheimer’s success can be attributed to the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon – where film fans were encouraged to watch the two films one after the other.

Barbie also became a big box office hit and received three top award nominations in its own right.

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Barbie v the patriarchy

What about best picture winners?

With big box office films receiving nominations this year, what chance do they have at actually winning the biggest prize of all – best picture?

You have to go back 20 years, to The Lord Of The Rings’s success in 2004, to find the most recent film to win best picture and be among the top 10 highest grossing films that year.

The fantasy film made around $1.91bn worldwide, adjusted to 2023 prices, and came home with 11 awards in total including best director.

Gladiator (2001) is the only other film since 2000 to win best picture and be among the 10 highest earners.

But from 1977 to 2000 it happened 15 times in 23 years, with big box office successes Titanic, Schindler’s List, Silence Of The Lambs and Rain Man all winning the big prize.

More recently, less well-known films have been winning the award, like Nomadland, Parasite and CODA.

Parasite gained a second wave of support after its win and the 2019 South Korean black comedy made a lifetime gross of around $313m, once adjusted for inflation.

While CODA only made around $2m at the box office, it’s important to note the film was acquired by Apple and released on its streaming platform, Apple TV+, at the same time it was released in the cinema.

It was also released in 2021, when cinemas in many countries had limited openings due to COVID.

Mr Farley said: “I think there’s certain acknowledgement or respect for films that do something different, films that do something original, which is perhaps why there’s a little bit more snobbery towards superhero films and science-fiction films and things like that, particularly when they’re based on existing material, there’s a certain sense that they’re doing something that’s been done before.

“I think there’s a real sense when a [smaller] film comes along, that people really want to elevate it and celebrate it and really kind of give those films a little bit of an edge as well that the bigger films don’t really need.

“Everyone has seen those films anyway. Avengers: End Game wouldn’t have benefited from getting the best picture, but a film like Moonlight or Spotlight are given a real boost by Academy Award wins or even just Academy Award nominations.”

What are the top 500 films of all time and how much recognition have they got?

While many of the top 10 box office films miss out on big wins and nominations, what happens when we expand this to the top 500 films of all time?

When films are ordered by their actual lifetime US domestic gross, only 78 out of the top 500 films have been nominated for top awards. That’s 15.6%.

Only 67 of these films have been nominated for best picture.

The true measure of a film’s all-time success is best measured when you adjust box office receipts to account for the number of tickets sold – and that gives a very different picture of the most popular films of all time, with many older classics represented.

If you order by the most tickets sold of all time in the US market, only 121 out of the 500 most popular films have been nominated for the top awards at the Oscars, and only 93 of these films were nominated for best picture.

Search for your favourite film in our table below:

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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