As a box office prediction game, we think box office figures are pretty good at indicating how good a film is, or at least its popularity… same difference, right? Being smack bang in the middle of Awards Season, we’d like to prod the bear a little and bring up the age-old question – why are Oscar winners very rarely blockbusters? What exactly is the relationship between quality and popularity? Or more specifically, the relationship between the box office and the Oscars?

 

Marvel and DC movies (consistently the biggest blockbusters), for example, rarely find themselves up for an Oscar. Oscar winners, on the other hand, often reap the rewards of their win in the box office…

 

Lady Bird, for example, saw a 42% rise in revenue the week following the Oscar nominations announcement last year, taking more in its thirteenth week than in its first and second combined. It still only made $78.6m overall – a fraction of some of the big names released last year. The Shape of Water fared slightly better, making just shy of $200m worldwide, but significantly, revenue rose by 104% the week after nominations were announced – making its 9th week its best. The influence of Oscar nominations on box office performance, for both movies, is undeniable – not least because I’m not sure a fishy romance would have caught on otherwise. Critical acclaim equates to a box office boost (florals in spring, I know) but, and here’s the catch, does not necessarily make a box office success.

 

The Shape of Water was actually the 46th highest grossing movie domestically in 2017, Lady Bird was 56th but I can guarantee they’ll be at the tip of your tongue when you do that Buzzfeed quiz on the year’s top movies. Why is it that those at the top of that list (Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2017) are so often not on that all-important Academy Award list? Do we, the masses, just have dreadful taste? Flocking to see and throwing our money at heavily marketed but poor quality movies, thus perpetuating a cycle of crap. Or is it that the Academy Awards simply don’t recognise what the masses want?

 

This year, of course, is slightly different – Black Panther has apparently had its cake and eaten it. One of the biggest and most hyped up movies of the year has somehow remained niche enough to be one of this year’s favourites – nominated for one more Oscar than Lady Bird incidentally. The focus is primarily on the soundtrack (fair, it had a cracking score) but it’s still found itself in the Best Picture category. Just as a refresher, Black Panther made $1.344bn… that’s over seventeen times what Lady Bird made.

 

Does this mean that box office hits are raising their game or are the Oscars opening their minds to the possibility that popularity might not necessarily equate to movie sacrilege? Do we even want them to? Perhaps the Oscars (and Awards Season more generally) should continue to champion all the weird and wonderful movies that would otherwise get overlooked. After all, box office blockbusters are in the limelight all year round…