By David Poland email@example.com
20 Weeks To Oscar: Cash & Carrying Gold
Let’s start with a chart…
That’s what the Best Picture race looks like at the box office today.
And here is a key stat about winning Best Picture: Since the expansion to 5+ Best Picture nominees, no film that has won Best Picture has been better than #3 on the list of domestic box office grossers amongst the nominees. Another chart…
La La Land was the #2 domestic grosser when nominated and is currently the #2 domestic grosser post-nominations. Internationally, it will the #1 in this group, and pulling further away, now and in future.
So… a La La Land win would break new ground, in terms of relative box office, for the expanded Oscar Best Picture era.
And for those of you who are praying for Moonlight to win, it, too, would break new ground, not only in the expanded era, but before as well. Going back 40 years, no film with the lowest domestic gross amongst the nominees has won Best Picture. The lowest-grossing film to win Best Picture in the same 40 years span was The Hurt Locker, with $14.7m before the win, which still had two nominees behind it on the gross list. Second lowest was Birdman, which was still Top 5 in its group with $37.8 million before the win. Moonlight is currently at $19.8 million. So it’s more than The Hurt Locker, but about half of Birdman at this point in the season and last amongst BP nominees, which has no chance of changing without a win.
La La is not in the middle of the pack. If you were looking for that, Manchester by the Sea would be your stalking horse.
Starting in 2005/06, with Crash, we have seen 7 Best Picture winners (of 12) that have grossed under $75m domestic even after winning. and 5 of the 7 winners since the BP expansion have grossed under $75m domestic all in. This is a major change in how The Academy sees the status of its winner. They may not be color blind, but they are much more money blind.
Argo is the only $100m domestic grosser to win in the expanded BP era.
Still… whatever film you are rooting for, La La Land fits the more classic Oscar mold, in terms of money. Thanks to the great success of Hidden Figures, La La Land is not the #1 domestic nominee. The Departed was the last film that was #1 grosser when it won… Slumdog Millionaire became the #1 in its group of nominees after it won, banking a record $43m domestic after winning (though $30m+ grosses after winning were not always so rare).
I have been throwing out this stat for years, but in the 30 years of Oscar before the expansion of BP nominees, only three times was the winner not one of the two highest grossers. Two of those times, it was the #3. The other example, it was #4. But 27 of 30 times, it was one of the Top 2. That is modern Academy thinking. That has changed.
But if La La Land wins, which I still expect it to, it will be a expanded-BP/post-modern Academy anomaly. And that is, after all, the natural fate for statistics meant to measure the vagaries of the heart.