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Oscar Flashback: The 100m $ Baby and The Dismal Tide

 

“You gotta trust me on this one thing.  You need a lot of drinks.”
“To break the ice?”
“To kill the bug that’s crawled up your ass.”  — Terms of Endearment, one of the best Best Pictures.

The day after Christmas we look at the box office to try to figure out how the weekend that has been traditionally reserved for Oscar movies has fared so far.  The first thing someone tweets to me is that The Dragon Tattoo finished fourth with $20 million – was that going to impact its Oscar chances? Is that disappointing?  The answer for Sony is probably yes.  The answer for me is when I look at the top of the box office now it’s more of an insult to win it than it is anything else. Why, because audiences have stopped wanting to see films that were good.  Whatever it is they’ve been conditioned to want, whatever the dream machine is wafting out into the air ducts to get the people to spend money on entertainment — it is no indicator of quality. Not anymore.

Yes, if a film has a high budget and it can’t make back that money that almost always impacts its Oscar chances. But when the top three films of the weekend are sequels – passable (not terrible) sequels (passable now can be defined as actually good) I wouldn’t be caught dead dropping a cold twenty on, how can that possibly mean a movie that comes in fourth behind those three is a bad thing?

The question of the day for me, though: has it always been that way? When did the top of the box office stop showcasing good to great films? Why have things changed so dramatically? Is it the rise of the fanboy culture? Is it the economy? Is it the comfort of watching great HBO on our flat screens without having to spend money on pure crap? Is it all of those things?  When I can’t answer a question I dig back into our past.  And that is what I’ve done here.  I decided to look back at the past thirty years and the top twenty films of those years.

Two major shifts have happened in that time. The first is that the internet was invented.  Once people (like me) started recording the Oscar race event by event more critics and guild awards propped up and a whole awards watching industry was born.  Right around that time the AMPAS elected to change the date from March to February and shifted everything back.  This to curtail some of the campaigning that was going on. But what that did, though, was put the Oscar race into a much tighter, more insulated world. It didn’t really matter what the public though because the films were being sold to the critics and the guilds before they ever even got to the public (with a few exceptions, as always).  Because the voting happens in such a tight timeline everyone mostly votes AT the same time, which leads to a mostly predictable race.  So anyone who pretends to be good at predicting the Oscars is just usually someone who keeps their emotions out of it; any idiot can figure out how the race will go now because the race is mostly a well oiled machine.  Very few films break up the pattern.  Therefore, the public is mostly ignored.  The critics (used to) rule the day.

We are at a crossroads right now, however.  The industry all but shunned the critics last year and in response to that, this year, the critics are not lighting the way for Oscar to let the right one in. On the contrary, they are flipping Oscar the bird by mostly choosing films Oscar wouldn’t be caught dead voting for.  This has made for a very interesting situation.

But let’s go back….back through time to see what conclusions can be drawn, shall we?

2011

1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 WB $381,011,219
2 Transformers: Dark of the Moon P/DW $352,390,543
3 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Sum. $270,900,000
4 The Hangover Part II WB $254,464,305
5 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides BV $241,071,802
6 Fast Five Uni. $209,837,675
7 Cars 2 BV $191,452,396
8 Thor Par. $181,030,624
9 Rise of the Planet of the Apes Fox $176,711,822 3
10 Captain America: The First Avenger Par. $176,654,505
11 The Help BV $169,390,778
12 Bridesmaids Uni. $169,106,725
13 Kung Fu Panda 2 P/DW $165,249,063
14 X-Men: First Class Fox $146,408,305
15 Puss in Boots P/DW $143,691,000
16 Rio Fox $143,619,809
17 The Smurfs Sony $142,614,158
18 Super 8 Par. $127,004,179
19 Rango Par. $123,257,581
20 Horrible Bosses WB (NL) $117,538,559

Moneyball at $74 million, Hugo at $43 million, The Descendants at $33 mil, Dragon Tattoo so far at $27 million (less than expected but still respectable), War Horse so far at $15 million (stronger than expected), Midnight in Paris $56 million, Tree of Life $13 million.

Of these, it’s a miracle that The Help and Bridesmaids did as well as they did.  Bridesmaids is actually a film with real substance, even if it’s cloaked in a shimmer of “Hangover for women.”  And The Help seemed to appeal across the board, made its money on word of mouth mostly.  The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just a great movie. No one expected it to do what it did. Had they known what they had with this film they could have doubled their take with good early word of mouth, but it was one of those films that was held back too long and had to then compensate once it hit theaters.  Super 8 is another success of the year and one of the few films adults and children responded to.  It isn’t dumbed down for the lowest common demo in the least bit.  Rango is another winner on the list.  The animated films — some sequels, some not, are easily enough explained as families will spend a lot to keep their kids entertained and unless it’s getting terrible reviews, they’ll turn out for it.  Fast Five was considered a pretty good flick for a sequel and then of course, there’s Harry Potter, the year’s highest grosser – mass entertainment with taste and imagination.

2010
1 Toy Story 3 BV $415,004,880
2 Alice in Wonderland (2010) BV $334,191,110
3 Iron Man 2 Par. $312,433,331
4 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Sum. $300,531,751
5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 WB $295,983,305
6 Inception WB $292,576,195
7 Despicable Me Uni. $251,513,985
8 Shrek Forever After P/DW $238,736,787
9 How to Train Your Dragon P/DW $217,581,231
10 Tangled BV $200,821,936
11 The Karate Kid Sony $176,591,618
12 Tron Legacy BV $172,062,763
13 True Grit Par. $171,050,328
14 Clash of the Titans (2010) WB $163,214,888
15 Grown Ups Sony $162,001,186
16 Little Fockers Uni. $148,438,600
17 Megamind P/DW $148,415,853
18 The King’s Speech Wein. $135,453,143
19 The Last Airbender Par. $131,772,187
20 Shutter Island Par. $128,012,934

Rounding out the Best Picture ten were Black Swan at $106 million, The Social Network at $96 million, The Fighter at 93 million, The Kids Are All Right at $20 million, 127 Hours at $18 million, Winter’s Bone at $6 million.

You’ve got to hand it to True Grit, the King’s Speech and Shutter Island for landing in the top twenty of the year and being the only films that weren’t aimed squarely at the target demo. That is fairly astonishing, actually. I don’t think any of them, by the way, got there because of Oscar buzz – The King’s Speech maybe, a little. But I think most of these would have succeeded without. The King’s Speech is really not so different from The Help in terms of its emotional tug and universal story. So, to my mind, 2010 is a cut above 2011. Let’s keep going.

2009
1 Avatar Fox $749,766,139
2 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen P/DW $402,111,870
3 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince WB $301,959,197
4 The Twilight Saga: New Moon Sum. $296,623,634
5 Up BV $293,004,164 3,886 $68,108,790
6 The Hangover WB $277,322,503
7 Star Trek Par. $257,730,019
8 The Blind Side WB $255,959,475
9 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Fox $219,614,612
10 Sherlock Holmes WB $209,028,679
11 Monsters Vs. Aliens P/DW $198,351,526
12 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Fox $196,573,705
13 X-Men Origins: Wolverine Fox $179,883,157
14 Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Fox $177,243,721
15 2012 Sony $166,112,167
16 The Proposal BV $163,958,031
17 Fast and Furious Uni. $155,064,265
18 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Par. $150,201,498
19 Paul Blart: Mall Cop Sony $146,336,178
20 Taken Fox $145,000,989

Inglourious Basterds $120 million, District 9 $115 million, Up in the Air $83 million, Precious $47 million, An Education $12 million, The Hurt Locker $17 million, A Serious Man $9 million round out Best Picture.

Again, you have to admire The Blind Side in this case. It’s one of the few, truly, that got there on word of mouth, crossover appeal, universal storytelling. But oh god look at the rest of it. It isn’t that these movies are bad particularly. Most animated films now are actually pretty good – but what has happened to the movies. Meanwhile, it looks like for three years running there is room at the box office for a sentimental weepy/adult drama. The Help –> The King’s Speech –>The Blind Side.

2008
1 The Dark Knight WB $533,345,358
2 Iron Man Par. $318,412,101
3 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Par. $317,101,119
4 Hancock Sony $227,946,274
5 WALL-E BV $223,808,164
6 Kung Fu Panda P/DW $215,434,591
7 Twilight Sum. $192,769,854
8 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa P/DW $180,010,950
9 Quantum of Solace Sony $168,368,427
10 Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! Fox $154,529,439
11 Sex and the City WB (NL) $152,647,258
12 Gran Torino WB $148,095,302
13 Mamma Mia! Uni. $144,130,063
14 Marley and Me Fox $143,153,751
15 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian BV $141,621,490
16 Slumdog Millionaire FoxS $141,319,928
17 The Incredible Hulk Uni. $134,806,913
18 Wanted Uni. $134,508,551
19 Get Smart WB $130,319,208
20 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Par. $127,509,326

Rounding out Best Picture, The Reader at $34 million, Milk at $31 million Frost/Nixon at $18 million.

This year looks a wee bit better. Our Blind Side slot has Slumdog Millionaire. Mamma Mia, Gran Torino, Sex and the City, Marley and Me and Benjamin Button are films that aren’t necessarily movies for 13 year old boys – they extend across all lines. And in fact, this was a particularly good year for blockbusters, with films like The Dark Knight, Wall-E, and Narnia.

2007
1 Spider-Man 3 Sony $336,530,303
2 Shrek the Third P/DW $322,719,944
3 Transformers P/DW $319,246,193
4 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End BV $309,420,425
5 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix WB $292,004,738
6 I Am Legend WB $256,393,010 3,648 $77,211,321
7 The Bourne Ultimatum Uni. $227,471,070
8 National Treasure: Book of Secrets BV $219,964,115
9 Alvin and the Chipmunks Fox $217,326,974
10 300 WB $210,614,939
11 Ratatouille BV $206,445,654
12 The Simpsons Movie Fox $183,135,014
13 Wild Hogs BV $168,273,550
14 Knocked Up Uni. $148,768,917
15 Juno FoxS $143,495,265
16 Rush Hour 3 NL $140,125,968
17 Live Free or Die Hard Fox $134,529,403
18 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Fox $131,921,738
19 American Gangster Uni. $130,164,645
20 Enchanted BV $127,807,262
21 Bee Movie P/DW $126,631,277
22 Superbad Sony $121,463,226

Rounding out Best Picture No Country for Old Men $74 million, Atonement $50 million, Michael Clayton $49 million and There Will Be Blood for $40 mil.

Juno takes the Blind Side slot, and women prove that they’re occasionally a terrible demographic with Knocked Up topping the box office. American Gangster, Ratatouille and Harry Potter stand out. But this was not a great year.

2006
1 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest BV $423,315,812
2 Night at the Museum Fox $250,863,268
3 Cars BV $244,082,982
4 X-Men: The Last Stand Fox $234,362,462
5 The Da Vinci Code Sony $217,536,138
6 Superman Returns WB $200,081,192
7 Happy Feet WB $198,000,317
8 Ice Age: The Meltdown Fox $195,330,621
9 Casino Royale Sony $167,445,960
10 The Pursuit of Happyness Sony $163,566,459
11 Over the Hedge P/DW $155,019,340
12 Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby Sony $148,213,377
13 Click SonR $137,355,633
14 Mission: Impossible III Par. $134,029,801
15 The Departed WB $132,384,315
16 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Fox $128,505,958
17 The Devil Wears Prada Fox $124,740,460
18 The Break-Up Uni. $118,703,275
19 Dreamgirls P/DW $103,365,956
20 Scary Movie 4 W/Dim. $90,710,620

Rounding out Best Picture Little Miss Sunshine at $59 million, The Queen at $56 million, Babel for $34 mil, and Letters from Iwo Jima at $13 million.

The Departed, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire are, so far, the only Best Picture winners that are in the top twenty box office the year they won. They’re our $100 million babies. The Devil Wears Prada, Dreamgirls and The Break-Up (terrible girl demographic), The Pursuit of Happyness taking the Blind Side slot (though no Best Picture nomination to be had).

2005
1 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Fox $380,270,577
2 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe BV $291,710,957
3 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire WB $290,013,036
4 War of the Worlds Par. $234,280,354
5 King Kong Uni. $218,080,025
6 Wedding Crashers NL $209,255,921
7 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory WB $206,459,076
8 Batman Begins WB $205,343,774
9 Madagascar DW $193,595,521
10 Mr. & Mrs. Smith Fox $186,336,279
11 Hitch Sony $179,495,555
12 The Longest Yard Par. $158,119,460
13 Fantastic Four Fox $154,696,080
14 Chicken Little BV $135,386,665
15 Robots Fox $128,200,012
16 Walk the Line Fox $119,519,402
17 The Pacifier BV $113,086,868
18 Fun with Dick and Jane Sony $110,332,737
19 The 40-Year-Old Virgin Uni. $109,449,237
20 Flightplan BV $89,707,299

Crash wins best Picture with $54 million, other nominees include Brokeback Mountain at $83 million (just missing the top twenty), Munich at $47 million, Good Night and Good Luck at $31 million.  This represents a year when no Oscar nominated films ended the year in the top twenty.

King Kong, despite it all, is one of the better films to come out in the super hero/fanboy genre, I must say. Wedding Crashers ties in the Knocked Up crowd with the Hangover Crowd. Walk the Line stands out as one that did well regardless, though again, no Best Picture nomination. And I suppose props should be given to Flightplan for being a thriller and starring Jodie Foster. The Longest Yard also seems to stand out.

2004
1 Shrek 2 DW $441,226,247
2 Spider-Man 2 Sony $373,585,825
3 The Passion of the Christ NM $370,274,604
4 Meet the Fockers Uni. $279,261,160
5 The Incredibles BV $261,441,092
6 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban WB $249,541,069
7 The Day After Tomorrow Fox $186,740,799
8 The Bourne Supremacy Uni. $176,241,941
9 National Treasure BV $173,008,894
10 The Polar Express WB $162,775,358
11 Shark Tale DW $160,861,908
12 I, Robot Fox $144,801,023
13 Troy WB $133,378,256
14 Ocean’s Twelve WB $125,544,280
15 50 First Dates Sony $120,908,074
16 Van Helsing Uni. $120,177,084
17 Fahrenheit 9/11 Lions $119,194,771
18 Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Par. $118,634,549
19 DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story Fox $114,326,736
20 The Village BV $114,197,520

Winning Best Picture, just missing the top twenty, Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator at$100 million, Finding Neverland at $51 million, Ray at $75 million, Sideways at $71 million.  Though the top twenty featured no Oscar contenders for Best Picture, those that were nominated were good money makers.

The believers came out in force for the Jesus movie, and National Treasure maybe took the Blind Side slot. There is the girl demo with 50 First Dates, except that when you add in Adam Sandler, well, it becomes and Adam Sandler movie. What a stunning sight to see Fahrenheit 9/11 there.

2003
1 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King NL $377,027,325
2 Finding Nemo BV $339,714,978
3 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl BV $305,413,918
4 The Matrix Reloaded WB $281,576,461
5 Bruce Almighty Uni. $242,829,261
6 X2: X-Men United Fox $214,949,694
7 Elf NL $173,398,518
8 Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines WB $150,371,112
9 The Matrix Revolutions WB $139,313,948
10 Cheaper by the Dozen Fox $138,614,544
11 Bad Boys II Sony $138,608,444
12 Anger Management SonR $135,645,823
13 Bringing Down the House BV $132,716,677
14 Hulk Uni. $132,177,234
15 2 Fast 2 Furious Uni. $127,154,901
16 Something’s Gotta Give Sony $124,728,738
17 Seabiscuit Uni. $120,277,854
18 S.W.A.T. Sony $116,934,650
19 Spy Kids 3D: Game Over Dim. $111,761,982
20 The Last Samurai WB $111,127,263

Rounding out Best Picture Master and Commander at $93 million, Mystic River at $90 million, Lost in Translation at $44 million.

2002
1 Spider-Man Sony $403,706,375
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers NL $339,789,881
3 Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones Fox $302,191,252
4 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets WB $261,988,482
5 My Big Fat Greek Wedding IFC $241,438,208
6 Signs BV $227,966,634
7 Austin Powers in Goldmember NL $213,307,889
8 Men in Black II Sony $190,418,803
9 Ice Age Fox $176,387,405
10 Chicago ra. $170,687,518
11 Catch Me If You Can DW $164,615,351 3
12 Die Another Day MGM $160,942,139
13 Scooby-Doo WB $153,294,164
14 Lilo & Stitch BV $145,794,338
15 XXX SonR $142,109,382
16 The Santa Clause 2 BV $139,236,327
17 Minority Report Fox $132,072,926
18 The Ring DW $129,128,133
19 Sweet Home Alabama BV $127,223,418
20 Mr. Deeds Sony $126,293,452

21 The Bourne Identity Uni. $121,661,683
22 The Sum of All Fears Par. $118,907,036
23 8 mile Uni. $116,750,901
24 Road to Perdition DW $104,454,762

Rounding out Best Picture was Gangs of New York at $77 million, The Hours at $41 million, and The Pianist at $32 million.

The big box office story was My Big Fat Greek Wedding which defied the odds to make a shitload of dough, Chicago, a musical, brought out the adults to the tune of $170 million. Catch Me if You Can was another winner. Road to Perdition, despite the money it made on reviews, failed to earn a Best Picture nomination.

2001
1 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone WB $317,575,550
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring NL $313,364,114
3 Shrek DW $267,665,011
4 Monsters, Inc. BV $255,873,250
5 Rush Hour 2 NL $226,164,286
6 The Mummy Returns Uni. $202,019,785
7 Pearl Harbor BV $198,542,554
8 Ocean’s Eleven WB $183,417,150
9 Jurassic Park III Uni. $181,171,875
10 Planet of the Apes (2001) Fox $180,011,740
11 A Beautiful Mind Uni. $170,742,341
12 Hannibal MGM $165,092,268
13 American Pie 2 Uni. $145,103,595
14 The Fast and the Furious Uni. $144,533,925
15 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Par. $131,168,070
16 Dr. Dolittle 2 Fox $112,952,899
17 Spy Kids Mira. $112,719,001
18 Black Hawk Down SonR $108,638,745
19 The Princess Diaries BV $108,248,956
20 Vanilla Sky Par. $100,618,344

Rounding out Best Picture Moulin Rouge at $57 million, Gosford Park at $41 million, and In the Bedroom at $35 million.

A Beautiful Mind and Fellowship of the Ring were both Best Picture nominees. Michael Bay couldn’t get arrested at the Oscars for his terrible Pearl Harbor but audiences sure ate it up. Black Hawk Down should have received a Best Picture nomination and would have under the system they have in place this year. And Vanilla Sky was another adult-ish movie to get into the top 20.

2000
1 How the Grinch Stole Christmas Uni. $260,044,825
2 Cast Away Fox $233,632,142
3 Mission: Impossible II Par. $215,409,889
4 Gladiator DW $187,705,427
5 What Women Want Par. $182,811,707
6 The Perfect Storm WB $182,618,434
7 Meet the Parents Uni. $166,244,045
8 X-Men Fox $157,299,717
9 Scary Movie Mira. $157,019,771
10 What Lies Beneath DW $155,464,351
11 Dinosaur BV $137,748,063
12 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon SPC $128,078,872
13 Erin Brockovich Uni. $125,595,205
14 Charlie’s Angels Sony $125,305,545
15 Traffic USA $124,115,725
16 The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps Uni. $123,309,890
17 Big Momma’s House Fox $117,559,438
18 Remember the Titans BV $115,654,751
19 The Patriot Sony $113,330,342
20 Chicken Run DW $106,834,564
21 Miss Congeniality WB $106,807,667
22 Gone in 60 Seconds BV $101,648,571

Four out of the five Best Picture nominees were in the top twenty that year, and that was my first year covering the Oscar race. That is pretty shocking to me. The fifth was Chocolat and it made $71 mil, which about the highest box office take we have now for a potential Best Picture winner, unless you count The Help. And it isn’t even the total number so much as it is that the movies in the top twenty were rewarded for being good movies. Great reviews, good word of mouth=box office. Oh how times have changed, both in terms of the awards race (I blame it on the date change) and the box office (a combination of factors has contributed to the dismal tide). But let’s keep going — was 2000 just an anomaly?

1999
1 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Fox $431,088,301
2 The Sixth Sense BV $293,506,292
3 Toy Story 2 BV $245,852,179
4 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me NL $206,040,086
5 The Matrix WB $171,479,930
6 Tarzan BV $171,091,819
7 Big Daddy Sony $163,479,795
8 The Mummy Uni. $155,385,488
9 Runaway Bride Par. $152,257,509
10 The Blair Witch Project Art. $140,539,099
11 Stuart Little Sony $140,035,367
12 The Green Mile WB $136,801,374
13 American Beauty DW $130,096,601
14 The World Is Not Enough MGM $126,943,684
15 Double Jeopardy Par. $116,741,558
16 Notting Hill Uni. $116,089,678
17 Wild Wild West WB $113,804,681
18 Analyze This WB $106,885,658
19 The General’s Daughter Par. $102,705,852
20 American Pie Uni. $102,561,004

Rounding out Best Picture, The Cider House Rules at $57 million, and The Insider at $29 million.

Notting Hill might have gotten a Best Pic nod if there were ten nominees. The Blair Witch Project was the big box office story that year and I remember The Green Mile and The Sixth Sense getting Best Pic nods, even though no one really saw them coming. The other great movies that year that didn’t make it into the top twenty but did better then they would do now – The Talented Mr. Ripley ($80 mil!), Eyes Wide Shut $55 mil, The Hurricane – seen as a disappointment for making only $50 mil would be thought a huge success today.

1998
1 Saving Private Ryan DW $216,540,909
2 Armageddon BV $201,578,182
3 There’s Something About Mary Fox $176,484,651
4 A Bug’s Life BV $162,798,565
5 The Waterboy BV $161,491,646
6 Doctor Dolittle Fox $144,156,605
7 Rush Hour NL $141,186,864
8 Deep Impact Par. $140,464,664
9 Godzilla Sony $136,314,294
10 Patch Adams Uni. $135,026,902
11 Lethal Weapon 4 WB $130,444,603
12 The Truman Show Par. $125,618,201
13 Mulan BV $120,620,254
14 You’ve Got Mail WB $115,821,495
15 Enemy of the State BV $111,549,836
16 The Prince of Egypt DW $101,413,188
17 The Rugrats Movie Par. $100,494,675
18 Shakespeare in Love Mira. $100,317,794
19 The Mask of Zorro Sony $94,095,523
20 Stepmom Sony $91,137,662

Life is Beautiful at $57 million, The Thin Red Line at $36 million, Elizabeth at $30 rounded out the Best Picture nominees. Two of the three films were driven by female performances. What strikes me most about this year, though, is that Saving Private Ryan was the year’s most profitable film. I remember realizing that Shakespeare in Love was going to win just a few weeks before the big show. You could feel it in the air. Of course, back then the Oscars were held in March and there was more time for contemplation than there is now. Movies came out, were reviewed, made money then marched towards Oscar. Now, they get to Oscar before they hit the public most of the time. That is so strange, isn’t it?

1997
1 Titanic Par. $600,788,188
2 Men in Black Sony $250,690,539
3 The Lost World: Jurassic Park Uni. $229,086,679
4 Liar Liar Uni. $181,410,615
5 Air Force One Sony $172,956,409
6 As Good as It Gets Sony $148,478,011
7 Good Will Hunting Mira. $138,433,435
8 Star Wars (Special Edition) Fox $138,257,865
9 My Best Friend’s Wedding Sony $127,120,029
10 Tomorrow Never Dies MGM $125,304,276
11 Face/Off Par. $112,276,146
12 Batman and Robin WB $107,325,195
13 George of the Jungle BV $105,263,257
14 Scream 2 Dim. $101,363,301
15 Con Air BV $101,117,573
16 Contact WB $100,920,329
17 Hercules BV $99,112,101
18 Flubber BV $92,977,226
19 Conspiracy Theory WB $75,982,834
20 I Know What You Did Last Summer Sony $72,586,134

LA Confidential, $64 million, and The Full Monty at $45 million rounded out Best Picture.  Titanic takes box office record and wins a pile of Oscars.  But you see a few sequels.  Not a lot of them.  Adult entertainment and Oscar movies still drive the box office — how utterly shocking that is. Do we really think Good Will Hunting would make $138 million today? Not a chance.  Those customers are now watching Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and Homeland on HBO.

1996

1 Independence Day Fox $306,169,268
2 Twister WB $241,721,524
3 Mission: Impossible Par. $180,981,856
4 Jerry Maguire Sony $153,952,592
5 Ransom BV $136,492,681
6 101 Dalmatians (1996) BV $136,189,294
7 The Rock BV $134,069,511
8 The Nutty Professor (1996) Uni. $128,814,019
9 The Birdcage MGM $124,060,553
10 A Time to Kill WB $108,766,007
11 The First Wives Club Par. $105,489,203
12 Phenomenon BV $104,636,382
13 Scream Dim. $103,046,663
14 Eraser WB $101,295,562
15 The Hunchback of Notre Dame BV $100,138,851
16 Michael NL $95,318,203
17 Star Trek: First Contact Par. $92,027,888
18 Space Jam WB $90,418,342
19 The English Patient Mira. $78,676,425
20 Broken Arrow (1996) Fox $70,770,147

Shine at $35 mil, Fargo at $24 mil, and Secrets and Lies (?) rounded out Best Picture – this was considered a “bad year” for box office and Oscar movies – they called it the Year of the Independent film. Little did they know this was about to foreshadow how the Oscar race would be headed heading into the new millennium.   Signs and wonders.

1995

1 Toy Story BV $191,796,233
2 Batman Forever WB $184,031,112
3 Apollo 13 Uni. $172,071,312  
4 Pocahontas BV $141,579,773
5 Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls WB $108,385,533
6 GoldenEye MGM $106,429,941
7 Jumanji Sony $100,475,249
8 Casper Uni. $100,328,194
9 Seven NL $100,125,643
10 Die Hard: With A Vengeance Fox $100,012,499
11 Crimson Tide BV $91,387,195
12 Waterworld Uni. $88,246,220
13 Dangerous Minds BV $84,919,401
14 Mr. Holland’s Opus BV $82,569,971
15 While You Were Sleeping BV $81,057,016
16 Congo Par. $81,022,101 2,676 $24,642,539
17 Father of the Bride Part II BV $76,594,107
18 Braveheart Par. $75,609,945  
19 Get Shorty MGM $72,101,622
20 Grumpier Old Men WB $71,518,503

Babe at $63 million, Sense and Sensibility at $43 million, Il Postino at $21 million rounded out Best Picture. There were actually some much better movies out that year that have been much more highly regarded than any of these movies — except Babe and Sense and Sensibility; Il Postino and Apollo 13 don’t make it much into the conversation and Braveheart occasionally does because it was such an odd winner that year.  By all rights it was supposed to go to either Sense and Sensibility (should have won) or Apollo 13.  The best movies ignored by Oscar: Heat, The Usual Suspects, The Bridges of Madison County, Casino, The American President, Leaving Las Vegas, Dolores Claiborne, To Die For, Muriel’s Wedding, Nixon.  I mean, wow.

1994

1 Forrest Gump Par. $329,694,499  
2 The Lion King BV $312,855,561
3 True Lies Fox $146,282,411
4 The Santa Clause BV $144,833,357
5 The Flintstones Uni. $130,531,208
6 Dumb and Dumber NL $127,175,374
7 Clear and Present Danger Par. $122,187,717
8 Speed Fox $121,248,145
9 The Mask NL $119,938,730
10 Pulp Fiction Mira. $107,928,762  
11 Interview with the Vampire WB $105,264,608
12 Maverick WB $101,631,272
13 The Client WB $92,115,211
14 Disclosure WB $83,015,089
15 Star Trek: Generations Par. $75,671,125
16 Ace Ventura: Pet Detective WB $72,217,396
17 Stargate MGM $71,567,262
18 Legends of the Fall Sony $66,638,883
19 Wolf Col. $65,002,597
20 The Specialist WB $57,362,582

Four Weddings and a Funeral $52 mil, The Shawshank Redemption $28 mil, Quiz Show $24 mil rounded out Best Picture.  Worth noting: Forrest Gump third film in twenty years to take top of the box office and the Best Picture Oscar.  Again, please note the lack of sequels — the lack of comic book movies and the lack of animated films. I’m not saying things were better then – but adults did go to the movies. They did drive the box office and the Oscar race was determined by that. I don’t know now what the future of the Oscars is going to be if films are moving morphing into what they’ve become today. But I’ll draw up my final conclusions when we finish with the 1990s.

1993

1 Jurassic Park Uni. $357,067,947
2 Mrs. Doubtfire Fox $219,195,243
3 The Fugitive WB $183,875,760  
4 The Firm Par. $158,348,367
5 Sleepless in Seattle TriS $126,680,884
6 Indecent Proposal Par. $106,614,059
7 In the Line of Fire Col. $102,314,823
8 The Pelican Brief WB $100,768,056
9 Schindler’s List Uni. $96,065,768
10 Cliffhanger TriS $84,049,211
11 Free Willy WB $77,698,625
12 Philadelphia TriS $77,446,440
13 Groundhog Day Col. $70,906,973
14 Grumpy Old Men WB $70,172,621
15 Cool Runnings BV $68,856,263
16 Dave WB $63,270,710
17 Rising Sun Fox $63,179,523
18 Demolition Man WB $58,055,768
19 Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit BV $57,319,029
20 Tombstone BV $56,505,065

The Piano at $40 million, In the Name of the Father $25 million, The Remains of the Day at $23 million.  But it’s important to remember how box office was different then.  A $23 million take was good when you’re talking about the bottom of the top twenty at $56 million. It’s unheard of now for the bottom of the top twenty to be less than $100 million.  And sure, adjust for inflation but I think you’ll find the results mostly the same.

1992

1 Aladdin BV $217,350,219
2 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York Fox $173,585,516
3 Batman Returns WB $162,831,698
4 Lethal Weapon 3 WB $144,731,527
5 A Few Good Men Col. $141,340,178  
6 Sister Act BV $139,605,150 2
7 The Bodyguard WB $121,945,720
8 Wayne’s World Par. $121,697,323
9 Basic Instinct TriS $117,727,224
10 A League of Their Own Sony $107,533,928
11 Unforgiven WB $101,157,447  
12 The Hand That Rocks the Cradle BV $88,036,683
13 Under Siege WB $83,563,139
14 Patriot Games Par. $83,351,587
15 Bram Stoker’s Dracula Col. $82,522,790
16 White Men Can’t Jump Fox $76,253,806
17 The Last of the Mohicans Fox $75,505,856
18 Boomerang Par. $70,052,444
19 Scent of a Woman Uni. $63,095,253  
20 The Crying Game Mira. $62,548,947

The only film nominated for Best Picture not in the top 20 — Howards End at $25 million.

1991

1 Terminator 2: Judgment Day TriS $204,843,345
2 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves WB $165,493,908
3 Beauty and the Beast BV $145,863,363
4 The Silence of the Lambs Orion $130,742,922  
5 City Slickers Col. $124,033,791
6 Hook TriS $119,654,823
7 The Addams Family Par. $113,502,426
8 Sleeping with the Enemy Fox $101,599,005
9 Father of the Bride BV $89,325,780
10 The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear Par. $86,930,411
11 Fried Green Tomatoes Uni. $82,418,501
12 Cape Fear Uni. $79,091,969
13 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II NL $78,656,813
14 Backdraft Uni. $77,868,585
15 Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Par. $74,888,996
16 The Prince of Tides Col. $74,787,599
17 JFK WB $70,405,498
18 Hot Shots! Fox $69,467,617
19 What About Bob? BV $63,707,829
20 101 Dalmatians (Re-issue) (1991) BV $60,830,285

The Prince of Tides at $74 mil, Bugsy at $49 million rounded out Best Picture.  T2 is one of the first sequels to take the top of the box office.  Beauty and the Beast begins what will be a heavy influence of animated films on both the box office and the Oscar race.

1990

1 Home Alone Fox $285,761,243
2 Ghost Par. $217,631,306  
3 Dances with Wolves Orion $184,208,848
4 Pretty Woman BV $178,406,268
5 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NL $135,265,915
6 The Hunt for Red October Par. $122,012,643
7 Total Recall Sony $119,394,840
8 Die Hard 2: Die Harder Fox $117,540,947
9 Dick Tracy BV $103,738,726
10 Kindergarten Cop Uni. $91,457,688
11 Back to the Future Part III Uni. $87,727,583
12 Presumed Innocent WB $86,303,188
13 Days of Thunder Par. $82,670,733
14 Another 48 HRS. Par. $80,818,974
15 Three Men and a Little Lady BV $71,609,321
16 Bird on a Wire Uni. $70,978,012 2,008
17 The Godfather Part III Par. $66,666,062  
18 Flatliners Col. $61,489,265
19 Misery Col. $61,276,872
20 Edward Scissorhands Fox $56,362,352

Awakenings at $52 million and Goodfellas at $46 million round out Best Picture.  This year and the following year would feature films directed by women that earned both Best Picture nominations and high box office for that year. In both cases, with Awakenings and The Prince of Tides they were about more than “should I fuck this guy or that guy?”  My, have times changed.

1989

1 Batman WB $251,188,924
2 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Par. $197,171,806
3 Lethal Weapon 2 WB $147,253,986
4 Look Who’s Talking TriS $140,088,813
5 Honey, I Shrunk the Kids BV $130,724,172
6 Back to the Future Part II Uni. $118,450,002
7 Ghostbusters II Col. $112,494,738
8 Driving Miss Daisy WB $106,593,296  
9 Parenthood Uni. $100,047,830
10 Dead Poets Society BV $95,860,116  
11 When Harry Met Sally… Col. $92,823,546
12 The War of the Roses Fox $86,888,546
13 The Little Mermaid BV $84,355,863
14 Steel Magnolias TriS $83,759,091
15 Christmas Vacation WB $71,319,526
16 Turner & Hooch BV $71,079,915
17 Born on the Fourth of July Uni. $70,001,698  
18 Uncle Buck Uni. $66,758,538
19 Field of Dreams Uni. $64,431,625  
20 Tango & Cash WB $63,408,614

My Left Foot was the only BP nominee not in the top twenty, $14 million.

1988

1 Rain Man MGM $172,825,435  
2 Who Framed Roger Rabbit BV $156,452,370
3 Coming to America Par. $128,152,301
4 Big Fox $114,968,774
5 Twins Uni. $111,938,388
6 Crocodile Dundee II Par. $109,306,210
7 Die Hard Fox $83,008,852
8 The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! Par. $78,756,177
9 Cocktail BV $78,222,753
10 Beetlejuice WB $73,707,461
11 Working Girl Fox $63,779,477  
12 A Fish Called Wanda MGM $62,493,712
13 Scrooged Par. $60,328,558
14 Willow MGM $57,269,863
15 Beaches BV $57,041,866
16 Rambo III TriS $53,715,611
17 Oliver & Company BV $53,279,055
18 Bull Durham Orion $50,888,729
19 A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master NL $49,369,899
20 The Land Before Time Uni. $48,092,846

Mississippi Burning at $34 million, Dangerous Liaisons at $34 million, Accidental Tourist at $32 million round out Best Picture.   Again, like the year following, note the number of films with strong female leads that also drove the box office. Rain Man, 4th film to earn top of the box office and Best Picture of the Year.

1987

1 Three Men and a Baby BV $167,780,960
2 Fatal Attraction Par. $156,645,693
3 Beverly Hills Cop II Par. $153,665,036
4 Good Morning, Vietnam BV $123,922,370
5 Moonstruck MGM $80,640,528 1,178  
6 The Untouchables Par. $76,270,454
7 The Secret of My Success Uni. $66,995,879
8 Stakeout BV $65,673,233
9 Lethal Weapon WB $65,207,127
10 The Witches of Eastwick WB $63,766,510
11 Dirty Dancing Vest $63,446,382
12 Predator Fox $59,735,548
13 Throw Momma From the Train Orion $57,915,972
14 Dragnet Uni. $57,387,516
15 La Bamba Col. $54,215,416
16 Robocop Orion $53,424,681
17 Outrageous Fortune BV $52,864,741
18 Broadcast News Fox $51,249,404  
19 The Living Daylights UA $51,185,897
20 Eddie Murphy Raw Par. $50,504,655

The Last Emperor (won Best Picture) at $43 million, and Hope and Glory at $10 mil.  Talk about a great year for box office, Oscar and women.  Sequels? We don’t need no stinking sequels.  Studios took chances, films weren’t focus grouped to death, the online chatter didn’t revolve necessarily around what 13 year old boys will buy tickets to.

1986

1 Top Gun Par. $176,786,701
2 Crocodile Dundee Par. $174,803,506
3 Platoon Orion $138,530,565
4 The Karate Kid Part II Col. $115,103,979
5 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Par. $109,713,132
6 Back to School Orion $91,258,000
7 Aliens Fox $85,160,248
8 The Golden Child Par. $79,817,937
9 Ruthless People BV $71,624,879
10 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Par. $70,136,369
11 Down and Out in Beverly Hills BV $62,134,225
12 The Color of Money BV $52,293,982
13 Stand by Me Col. $52,287,414
14 Legal Eagles Uni. $49,851,591
15 Cobra WB $49,042,224 2
16 An American Tail Uni. $47,483,002
17 Police Academy 3: Back in Training WB $43,579,163
18 Heartbreak Ridge WB $42,724,017
19 Peggy Sue Got Married TriS $41,382,841
20 Poltergeist II: The Other Side MGM $40,996,665

Hannah and Her Sisters at $35, Children of a Lesser God $31 million, A Room with a View $20 million, The Mission $17 million rounded out Best Picture. Just one film made the top twenty and it also won Best Picture.

1985

1 Back to the Future Uni. $210,609,762
2 Rambo: First Blood Part II TriS $150,415,432
3 Rocky IV UA $127,873,716 2,254
4 The Color Purple WB $94,175,854
5 Out of Africa Uni. $87,071,205  
6 Cocoon Fox $76,113,124
7 The Jewel of the Nile Fox $75,973,200
8 Witness Par. $68,706,993
9 The Goonies WB $61,389,680
10 Spies Like Us WB $60,088,980
11 Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment WB $55,600,000
12 Fletch Uni. $50,612,888
13 A View to a Kill MGM $50,327,960
14 European Vacation WB $49,364,621
15 Mask Uni. $48,230,162
16 The Breakfast Club Uni. $45,875,171
17 White Nights Col. $42,160,849
18 Pale Rider WB $41,410,568
19 Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure WB $40,940,662

Sequels take this box office year, unfortunately.  But we’re still looking pretty good with three Best Picture nominees in the top twenty.  The other two were Prizzi’s Honor at $26 mil and Kiss of the Spider Woman at $17 million.

1984

1 Beverly Hills Cop Par. $234,760,478
2 Ghostbusters Col. $229,242,989
3 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Par. $179,870,271
4 Gremlins WB $148,168,459
5 The Karate Kid Col. $90,815,558
6 Police Academy WB $81,198,894
7 Footloose Par. $80,035,402
8 Romancing the Stone Fox $76,572,238
9 Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Par. $76,471,046
10 Splash BV $69,821,334
11 Purple Rain WB $68,392,977
12 Amadeus Orion $51,564,280  
13 Tightrope WB $48,143,579
14 The Natural TriS $47,951,979
15 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan WB $45,858,563
16 Revenge of the Nerds Fox $40,874,452
17 2010 MGM $40,400,657
18 Breakin’ Can. $38,682,707
19 Bachelor Party Fox $38,435,947
20 Red Dawn (1984) MGM $38,376,497

Places in the Heart and The Killing Fields at $34 mil, A Passage to India at $27 mil, and A Soldier’s Story at $21 mil.

1983

1 Return of the Jedi Fox $252,583,617
2 Terms of Endearment Par. $108,423,489  
3 Flashdance Par. $92,921,203
4 Trading Places Par. $90,404,800
5 WarGames MGM $79,567,667
6 Octopussy MGM $67,893,619
7 Sudden Impact WB $67,642,693
8 Staying Alive Par. $64,892,670
9 Mr. Mom Fox $64,783,827
10 Risky Business WB $63,541,777
11 National Lampoon’s Vacation WB $61,399,552
12 Superman III WB $59,950,623
13 The Big Chill Col. $56,342,711
14 Never Say Never Again WB $55,432,841
15 Jaws 3-D Uni. $45,517,055
16 Scarface (1983) Uni. $44,668,798
17 Blue Thunder Col. $42,313,354
18 Yentl MGM $40,218,899
19 Silkwood Fox $35,615,609
20 Psycho II Uni. $34,725,000

Right Stuff $21 mil, Tender Mercies, $8 mil, The Dresser at $5 mil.  What’s weird is that Silkwood is much better than any of these three and yet failed to get a nomination.  Other great films that should have been nominated include Scarface, Fanny and Alexander, Local Hero, The Outsiders, the Dead Zone, Educating Rita, Zelig, The Year of Living Dangerously.

1982

1 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. $359,197,037  
2 Tootsie Col. $177,200,000
3 An Officer and a Gentleman Par. $129,795,554
4 Rocky III UA $124,146,897
5 Porky’s Fox $105,492,483
6 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Par. $78,912,963
7 48 HRS. Par. $78,868,508
8 Poltergeist MGM $76,606,280
9 The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Uni. $69,701,637
10 Annie Col. $57,059,003
11 The Verdict Fox $53,977,250  
12 Gandhi Col. $52,767,889  
13 First Blood Orion $47,212,904
14 The Toy Col. $47,118,057
15 Firefox WB $46,708,276
16 The Dark Crystal Uni. $40,577,001
17 Conan the Barbarian Uni. $39,565,475
18 The Sword and the Sorcerer Gr1 $39,103,425
19 Best Friends WB $36,821,203
20 Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip Col. $36,299,720

Missing at $14 mil was the only nominee not in the top 20.

1981

1 Raiders of the Lost Ark Par. $209,562,121  
2 On Golden Pond Uni. $119,285,432
3 Superman II WB $108,185,706 1,878
4 Arthur WB $95,461,682
5 Stripes Col. $85,297,000
6 The Cannonball Run Fox $72,179,579
7 Chariots of Fire Col. $58,972,904  
8 For Your Eyes Only MGM $54,812,802
9 The Four Seasons Uni. $50,427,646
10 Time Bandits Emb $42,365,581
11 Clash of the Titans (1981) MGM $41,092,328
12 Absence of Malice Col. $40,716,963
13 Reds Par. $40,382,659  
14 The Fox and the Hound BV $39,900,000
15 Tarzan, the Ape Man MGM $36,565,280
16 Taps Fox $35,856,053 792 $93,005
17 Sharky’s Machine WB $35,610,100
18 Excalibur WB $34,967,437
19 History of the World, Part I Fox $31,672,907
20 Bustin’ Loose Uni. $31,261,269

Atlantic City is the only Best Picture nominee not in the top twenty.

1980

1 The Empire Strikes Back Fox $209,398,025
2 9 to 5 Fox $103,290,500
3 Stir Crazy Col. $101,300,000
4 Airplane! Par. $83,453,539
5 Any Which Way You Can WB $70,687,344
6 Private Benjamin WB $69,847,348
7 Coal Miner’s Daughter Uni. $67,182,787  
8 Smokey and the Bandit II Uni. $66,132,626
9 The Blue Lagoon Col. $58,853,106
10 The Blues Brothers Uni. $57,229,890
11 Ordinary People Par. $54,766,923  
12 Popeye Par. $49,823,037
13 Urban Cowboy Par. $46,918,287
14 The Shining WB $44,017,374
15 Seems Like Old Times Col. $43,995,918
16 Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie Uni. $41,675,194
17 Caddyshack WB $39,846,344 N/A $3,142,689
18 Friday the 13th (1980) Par. $39,754,601
19 Brubaker Fox $37,121,708 N/A $2,748,079
20 Little Darlings Par. $34,326,249

Raging Bull at $27 million, The Elephant Man at 26 million, Tess $20 million rounded out Best Picture.

In conclusion — several factors seem to be at play to bring us all the way up to 2011.

The first thing to notice is how audiences and ticket buyers have shifted over the past thirty years.  Where adults drove the box office mostly through the 80s and 90s (and prior), things have dramatically shifted.  Not only are the films that usually hit the top twenty not Best Picture contenders but last year’s Best Picture winner and very likely this year’s are not even really homegrown productions.  The Artist was made here but it was made by a French production company and French filmmakers. The King’s Speech is 100% UK British Council.

Therefore, one might be able to start seeing a trend.  In Europe they aren’t as married to the notion that a movie has to make $100 million to get made at all.  They seem to be more interested in telling good stories than in making money.  Although the American film industry has always been interested in making money, they didn’t used to do it at the high cost of sacrificing story.

The year I graduated high school was 1983 and since Terms of Endearment won Best Picture I didn’t know I would grow older to see a movie industry that couldn’t profit from mainstream Hollywood films about women unless those women were tangled up in a badly written fantasy involving a wedding a guy.  But back in the 1980s and through much of the 1990s, stories about women in the Oscar race were commonplace.

The dominance of sequels this year is worse than it ever has been – proving that Americans have either been born to only want what’s familiar to them or they’ve been conditioned to feel that way because of our “branding” culture. This is something you don’t see as much (yet) in other countries but here it’s how children are raised.  Our mini malls across America all look the same.  The independent sandwich and coffee shops have been replaced by Subways and Starbucks.  Our choices are limited so drastically that we fear losing something significant if we take a chance on something new. That dynamic is what drives our box office: give the people what they want and what they want is what they know.

This isn’t the best way to start the New Year, I realize.   I also once again must pay respect to the Academy – because after looking back at how things have changed in the past 30 years The King’s Speech is not looking so bad at all as a Best Picture winner.  Moreover, last year’s slate of Best Pictures has to be among the best list of nominees the Academy has had, I’m gonna say, in 30 years.  Things WERE moving in a direction that, I think, satisfied both the excellence in the Age of the Fanboy and Sequel, as well as challenging, riveting adult entertainment.  I worry what might happen now they’ve taken away the one advantage they had to right the wrongs of their past.  There were so many films that ought to have been named Best Picture but because of whatever Oscar game got played they ended up with a bland set of five.  Would that those years had honored ten.  Then we might see some kind of true evolution that would feed the box office and maintain the high standard of art American film, and global film, seeks to attain.