The Best Picture Oscar for 2003 went to “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” It couldn’t have been because it was the Best Picture nominated. Maybe ticket sales more than $375 million domestically mattered? Maybe it mattered being the third of a trilogy, each a Best Picture nominee, each grossing over $300 million?
In the 21st century, three other Best Picture Oscars went to the top grossing film among the nominees: “Argo” for 2012, “Slumdog Millionaire” for 2008, and “The Departed” for 2006. Each of these grossed merely in the $135 million range. Since 2001, four other of the Best Picture winners topped what might be termed eyebrow-raising revenues over $100 million (including two that were by far the highest grossing nominees after ignoring the first and second “Lord of Rings” films).
Might we call it a new trend that 6 of the last 8 Best Picture winners saw ticket sales under $60 million? Two of those were “Moonlight” for 2016, under $30 million and “The Hurt Locker” for 2009, under $20. Rounding out the 16-year field are two other films grossing way under the $100 million “big box office” threshold.
Without bogging down in other analytical details, you might call the answer a 50-50 split (and it isn’t much over 50-50 since 1978). At this year’s Oscars, only “Dunkirk” and “Get Out” are blockbusters, with about 3 times higher sales than each of the other 7 nominees.