I need to start this by saying I know the difference between artistic achievement and popularity. That’s why I’ve never ranted about the lack of Oscars that go to big-budget movies. However, seven years ago the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences increased the number of best-picture nominees from five to a possibility of ten. They did this with the aim of highlighting more movies that people have actually seen. But it’s not working out that way.
A new poll says at least 55 percent of Americans haven’t seen a single one of the nine movies nominated for best picture of 2016. Of the nine, only two have made more than 100 million dollars at the box office: “La La Land” and “Hidden Figures”. Three others have cleared 50 million, including “Arrival”, “Fences” and “Hacksaw Ridge”. The other four, “Moonlight”, “Hell or High Water”, “Manchester by the Sea” and “Lion”, have made less than 50 million.
It’s true that many of the nominees weren’t released into theaters until late December, and it’s a common belief that the movie that wins will get a well-deserved post-Oscar bump. The belief doesn’t pan out, though. In the poll, only 13 percent of respondents have seen last year’s winner, “Spotlight”. Only 20 percent have seen the 2014 winner, “Birdman”. And only 26 percent have seen 2013’s “Twelve Years a Slave”. So it appears that the majority of Americans don’t care about Oscar-winning movies.
Other data backs that up. When asked to select the factors that determine whether or not to see a movie, the number-one answer was the actors that are in it. 71 percent said that’s important. 62 percent said they base the decision on the trailer, 48 percent value the recommendations of friends, and 39 percent follow the advice of critics. Only 35 percent said an Oscar win makes a difference to them, and almost the same number said an Oscar nomination is a factor. 43 percent said the Academy Awards make no difference to them at all.
Still, last year 34 million people watched the Oscar ceremony. But that was the lowest number in the past eight years. And just like the movies themselves, the Oscars are watched mainly by people who want to see the most-popular actors.
By the way, the last bonafide blockbuster to win best picture was “Return of the King”. That was 13 years ago.