Look, I loved The Artist. I also really liked The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire. And maybe we really do need 20 years to reflect on it, but it feels like Best Picture winners of late (including Crash) really are more about politics that lasting impression. I don’t feel like any of those movies will be classics, so to speak. It’s been that way for much of the last decade: Since 2000, the only genuinely “great” films to win Best Picture — in my estimation — were No Country for Old Men, The Departed, and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (even though I didn’t like the latter). I did love The Hurt Locker and thought it was a far superior movie to Avatar, but I won’t argue with anyone who says that Avatar is the film people will remember, that will be the classic. No one is going to re-release The Hurt Locker in 3D Smell-O-Vision in 2030. Maybe 20 years ago, people felt the same about the winners those years, but I doubt it. I don’t think it took 20 years for people to recognize the true value of Silence of the Lambs or Schindler’s List or Unforgiven or even Rain Man. Those felt instantly classic, memorable, important. The Oscars don’t seem to care about important that much anymore, either in terms of subject material or influence.
At any rate, when people think of Oscar winners, they often think of pretentious, critical favorites that don’t often do well with general audiences. But that’s not entirely true: While most are not blockbusters by Michael Bay standards, Best Picture winners typically do fairly well at the box office. I don’t know what the average is, but if you take a look at the Best Picture Winners over the last 30 years, they’d probably average at least $150 million at the box office, and at least $200 million adjusted for inflation.
That’s not true, however, of two of the last three years, which have seen the two lowest grossing films ever win Best Picture (adjusted for inflation). What does this suggest? Beats me, but it’s worth noting. Here’s the bottom ten (adjusted for inflation).
10. The Last Emperor ($89 million)
9. It Happened One Night ($86 million)
8. No Country for Old Men ($85 million)
7. Marty ($70 million)
6. Crash ($67 million)
5. An American in Paris ($65 million)
4. Hamlet (1948) ($61 million)
3. All the King’s Men (1949) ($60 million)
2. The Artist ($32 million so far)
1. The Hurt Locker($17 million)