Maybe This Is The Year Popular Movies Win Oscars Again

Won’t the Academy think of the people who only see one or two movies a year?

How should we judge movies? Certainly one could argue that this is absolutely a subjective assessment, one that any agreement is probably as much a matter of coincidence as it is of analysis.

In a given year someone sees a few movies—and this could be a number less than you think, because according to recent figures from Statista, when asked about their frequency of going to a theater to see a movie, the Americans surveyed returned these results:

  • 8% Often
  • 33% Sometimes
  • 41% Rarely
  • 18% Never

and I’d argue that many of those answering “Rarely” were really trying to make themselves look better than they would if they told the truth and said “Never.”

The 41 percenters are a big concern for the studios.

Let’s face it: If you are in the film industry—and that’s “industry” in no different sense than applied to construction equipment, aircraft, automotive, etc.—the bottom line is what matters most. It’s hugely expensive to make a movie, and the investors want an ROI.

You could make a case for the  the wisdom of crowds, that the top-grossing films for any given year are the best films in that year because if they weren’t good, that large number of people wouldn’t go see them.

That argument falls apart when you think of the number of McDonald’s hamburgers sold.

So how do we assess “good” (to say nothing of “great,” “classic” or other superlatives used to advertising) when it comes to movies? Perhaps the annual awards distributed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for “Excellence in the American and International film industry,” otherwise known as the Oscars, provide a better metric. Members of the academy are in the industry, so because they are intimately associated with the undertaking, they are the ones who have the most acute assessment of what is best in the various categories. This isn’t just that guy at Starbucks who imagines he’s a cineaste.

That said, it is interesting to see if there is any correlation between box office and gold statuettes.

The Academy held the last Oscar presentation ceremony in March 2022 for movies released in 2021.

According to Box Office Mojo, the top five film grosses in 2021 (domestic box office) were:

  1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
  2. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  3. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
  4. Black Widow
  5. F9: The Fast Saga

Of those movies, there were a total of two nominations, both in the Visual Effects category. Spider-Man and Shang-Chi both had nominations. Neither won. Dune got the award in that category.

Perhaps that was an anomaly.

Top grossing in 2020:

  1. Bad Boys for Life
  2. 1917
  3. Sonic the Hedgehog
  4. Jumanji: The Next Level
  5. Star Wars: Episode IX-The Rise of Skywalker

No Academy Awards because there were no nominations.

One more, 2019, which raises a bit of a caveat regarding grosses for a calendar year.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker came out on December 20, 2019. 1917 came out on December 25, 2019. While release in a calendar year qualifies a film for consideration by the Academy for that year, it would be silly to think about the grosses in these cases. So that amount of time meant the meaningful annual box office was in 2020, both films qualified for the 92nd Academy Awards, for films released in 2019.

  1. Avengers: Endgame
  2. The Lion King
  3. Toy Story 4
  4. Frozen II
  5. Captain Marvel

2019 seems to make the other two years cited seem anomalous. In fact, large-grossing films were remarkably successful.

Toy Story 4 won Animated Feature Film and received a nomination for Music (Original Song).

1917 won Cinematography, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects, and was nominated for Directing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Music (Original Score), Best Picture, Production Design, Sound Editing, and Writing (Original Screenplay).

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was nominated for Music (Original Score), Sound Editing and Visual Effects.

Frozen II was nominated for Music (Original Song).

Avengers: Endgame was nominated for Visual Effects, as was The Lion King.

Quite a year, indeed.

Was it ever any different?

In 1977 the top-grossing film was the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope). It received 11 nominations (Actor in a Supporting Role, Directing, Best Picture, Writing//Art Direction, Costume Design, Film Editing, Music, Sound, Visual Effects, Special Achievement). It won the categories on the right side of the //.

1982 had E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in positions one and two at the box office. However, Raiders came out in 1981, so it didn’t compete with E.T. in the Academy Awards.

Raiders was nominated in nine categories (//Cinematography, Directing, Music, Best Picture// Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound, Special Achievement (Sound Effects Editing), Visual Effects). It won in the categories to the right of the //–more the half of the categories for which it had received nominations.

E.T. also received nine nominations and there were four statuettes that left the stage: It won Music, Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects. It was also nominated for Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Best Picture, and Writing (Directly for the Screen).

In those three cases, the Academy awarded these supremely popular films with sound and visual honors, and little else. Does this mean that popularity and doesn’t correlate with the overall and acting categories?

The number-one film at the box office in 2000 was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Mission: Impossible II followed. But Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was third.

The Academy nominated Gladiator 11 times for the 2001 Oscars. It received awards for Best Picture and Actor in a Leading Role. It also won for Costume Design, Sound, and Visual Effects. (The other categories were Directing, Art Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, and Music (Original Score).)

Nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced Tuesday, January 24, 2023.

According to Box Office Mojo the top five in domestic box office for 2022 are:

  1. Top Gun: Maverick
  2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
  3. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
  4. Avatar: The Way of Water
  5. Jurassic World: Dominion

I think we’re going to see a 2019-like year in terms of the number of nominations for a group of movies that also had appeal for those who otherwise probably don’t go to see movies, the 41 percenters.

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Stephen Macaulay

Stephen Macaulay writes about the music industry for Glorious Noise ( began his career in Rockford, Illinois, a place about which Warren Zevon once told a crowd, “How can you miss with a name like Rockford?”

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