Unexpectedly Intriguing!
March 2, 2006

Next Sunday, Hollywood will hold the world hostage, again, as it broadcasts the Academy Awards for motion pictures first screened in 2005, live. After compelling the viewing audience to watch several hours of lame acceptance speeches, jokes, dance numbers, musical performances and close-ups of celebrities who apparently had nothing better to do on a Sunday evening than participate in what might be fairly, if not accurately, described as torture, an envelope will be opened that will reveal what film the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have, in their infinite collective wisdom, determined to be the best, yes the very best, motion picture of 2005. 2005 being perhaps the single most significant and auspicious year for achievements in motion pictures since the Academy Awards themselves were first launched in 1929.

Or not. As you might have already guessed, we here at Political Calculations(TM) are singularly unimpressed with what we’ve come to expect from experience to be a night of celebration of what we might call utterly pretentious crap. We are, of course, referring to the ceremony itself and not necessarily the motion pictures. What we can’t help but notice however, is that the Best Picture winners tend to make buckets of money, which is, after all, why motion pictures get made in the first place.

How much money you ask? The answer to that question lies in the dynamic table we present below – drawing the raw numbers for the U.S. domestic box office for each best picture winner for the last 30 years from Box Office Mojo. We’ve also gone a step further – adjusting the basic figures for inflation to be in 2005 U.S. dollars. Finally, we compare the best-picture winner to the top money-making motion picture of its year by finding what percentage of the top grossing movie’s business the Oscar winner took in (a score of 100% indicates that the Oscar winner was the top money-making movie of that year!)

You may sort the data below by clicking the column headings – either from low to high or from high to low (by clicking the column heading a second time.) Go ahead, you know you want to!

30 Years of Box Office Totals for Best Picture Winners
Year Title U.S. Box Office Totals (Not Adjusted for Inflation) U.S. Box Office Totals (Adjusted for Inflation) Percentage of Year's Top Box Office Draw
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 108,981,275 396,295,545 41.9
1976 Rocky 117,235,147 402,869,921 100.0
1977 Annie Hall 038,251,425 123,391,694 8.3
1978 Deer Hunter, The 048,979,328 146,644,695 26.0
1979 Kramer Vs. Kramer 106,260,000 285,645,161 100.0
1980 Ordinary People 054,766,923 123,907,066 18.9
1981 Chariots of Fire 058,972,904 126,823,449 24.3
1982 Gandhi 052,767,889 106,817,589 12.1
1983 Terms Of Endearment 108,423,489 212,595,076 42.9
1984 Amadeus 051,564,280 096,925,338 21.6
1985 Out Of Africa 087,071,205 158,023,966 41.3
1986 Platoon 138,530,565 246,935,053 78.4
1987 Last Emperor, The 043,984,230 075,574,278 26.2
1988 Rain Man 172,825,435 285,190,487 100.0
1989 Driving Miss Daisy 106,593,296 167,863,458 42.4
1990 Dances With Wolves 184,925,486 276,420,756 64.7
1991 Silence Of The Lambs, The 130,742,922 187,579,515 63.8
1992 Unforgiven 101,157,447 140,887,809 46.5
1993 Schindler's List 096,065,768 129,818,605 26.9
1994 Forrest Gump 329,694,499 440,179,571 100.0
1995 Braveheart 075,609,945 096,935,827 29.4
1996 English Patient, The 078,676,425 097,978,113 25.7
1997 Titanic 600,788,188 730,885,873 100.0
1998 Shakespeare In Love 100,317,794 120,141,071 46.3
1999 American Beauty 130,096,601 152,516,531 30.2
2000 Gladiator 187,705,427 212,817,944 72.2
2001 Beautiful Mind, A 170,742,341 188,249,549 53.8
2002 Chicago 170,687,518 185,328,467 42.3
2003 Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The 377,027,325 400,241,322 100.0
2004 Million Dollar Baby 100,492,203 103,921,616 22.8

Well, that was an experience, wasn’t it? In only six of the last thirty years did the biggest money-making (and therefore, most popular) movie of its year go on to be the Best Picture winner. Plus, who would have guessed that in terms of today’s dollars, 1977’s Annie Hall would rank as a major blockbuster? We're still trying to wrap our brains around that one!

More to the point, what the inflation adjusted figures in the table above do for us is to give us a way to compare the popularity of the best picture winners with each other, as measured by equivalent dollars earned. By converting each winner's box office earnings to current U.S. dollars, we can get a sense of the relative size of its audience, which should be directly in proportion to its earnings.

What does all this mean for the nominees for 2005’s Best Picture award? To answer that question, let's first look at their box office totals as of March 1, 2006, ranked from highest to lowest (all figures may be considered to be equivalent to 2005 U.S. dollars):

  • Brokeback Mountain: $75,838,000
  • Crash: $53,404,817 - BEST PICTURE WINNER
  • Munich: $46,178,425
  • Good Night, and Good Luck: $30,455,120
  • Capote: $23,441,493

By and large, what these figures tell us is that at this point, whatever 2005 nominee goes on to win the award for Best Picture will rank among the least popular of all Best Picture winning movies over the past 30 years. Only Brokeback Mountain, with its exceptionally well-executed marketing plan, breaks over the very low hurdle set by 1987’s The Last Emperor, which was noted in that year as having been seen in theaters by remarkably few people.

To be fair, the jury this year is still out for Capote, which is only now coming into wide release. What will be interesting to see is whether Academy voters will give the Oscar to the nominee that has already made the most money (Brokeback Mountain) or will give it to the movie that has the most to gain in box office revenue from winning at this point (Capote). That assumes that Hollywood doesn't have some other agenda they're pursuing this year with its most recognized awards.

No matter how it plays out, isn’t that more entertaining than watching the Oscars?

Correction: Changed "Monday" to "Sunday" in the first paragraph. Twice. Still not going to watch it.

Update (5 March 2006) - post Oscars: Thanks to Captain Ed's liveblogging, I didn't have to watch the annual train wreck that is the Academy Awards! Updated post to reflect Crash's Best Picture win. Hopefully, Capote will be able to pump up its totals based upon Philip Seymour Hoffman's win for Best Actor. Still, for Hollywood, an out-of-touch year with the consumer all-round.

And speaking of Oscar's Best Picture box office - Box Office Mojo has updated their Best Picture winning box office list to incorporate Crash's data. Sure, it's nice - but they don't adjust for inflation (although they do show how many Oscar nominations and wins going back to 1978!)

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