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Stop being grouchy about the Oscars
Sure, no big blockbusters have been nominated. But so what? Since when are the Academy Awards a celebration of commerce?
By Paul R. La Monica, senior writer

NEW YORK ( - Does the almighty dollar really matter most when it comes to Oscar nominations?

According to the most recent figures from movie tracking firm Box Office Mojo, the five Best Picture nominees have combined to sell only $229 million worth of U.S. tickets.

"Crash" is considered one of the favorites for Best Picture. But it's not a box office blockbuster.
Many wonder if ratings for this year's Academy Awards telecast will suffer because of the lack of a huge hit among the major contenders.
Many wonder if ratings for this year's Academy Awards telecast will suffer because of the lack of a huge hit among the major contenders.
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Last year's five nominees had grossed about $345 million before the Oscars. And the 2003 Best Picture contenders had already grossed more than $700 million...with more than half of that coming from Best Picture winner "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King."

In fact, this year's nominees have been the least successful since the 1986 contenders, which generated only about $200 million leading up to the big night.

As a result, many entertainment insiders are predicting that ratings for the March 5 Academy Awards telecast will be lackluster...despite the draw of popular "fake news" guy Jon Stewart as host.

The conventional wisdom is that people are most interested in the Oscars when big movies that they saw are nominated. But this year's two big favorites -- "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crash" -- grossed only around $130 million combined, or about a third of the take of last year's box office champ "Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith."

Some critics have grumbled that box office hits like "Batman Begins" and "King Kong" were Best Picture-worthy and that nominating movies like them would have shown that the Academy was more in touch with the average moviegoer.

Other "small" movies were snubbed

But should the Academy Awards be about celebrating commercial success?

More often than not, what sells the most tickets isn't necessarily the "best" film. Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and so did a lot of other people apparently. The movie made almost $300 million. But we're not talking "The Godfather" here.

So that's why I think all the complaints about how this year's crop of nominees is not popular enough are a bunch of hooey. And I'm not alone.

Interestingly, according to research from market research firm Brandimensions, which looked at more than 62,000 online comments about movies from September of last year through Feb. 15, most of the five movies that film fans felt were snubbed by the Academy were also relatively small, independent pictures.

The only one that can be considered a big hit is "Walk the Line," the Johnny Cash bio-pic that has grossed $117.5 million at the box office.

The other four movies that audiences in the Brandimensions study thought were Best Picture-worthy were "The Constant Gardener," "Cinderella Man," "The Squid and the Whale," and "Transamerica." Those four films grossed about $107 million at the box office combined.

"People outside the Hollywood mainstream were the ones making the films that were most compelling," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of, a movie industry research site. "It might be an indication of the growing divide in this business. The big studios are more and more focused on making money and making what sells."

Studios can make good movies that make money

Of course, that's not to say that the big studios can't do both. "Crash" is getting a lot of attention because it was produced by a true independent, Lionsgate (Research). But the other four nominees are hardly the products of small companies.

Focus Features, the studio behind "Brokeback Mountain," is owned by GE's (Research) Universal unit. "Capote" was released by Sony's (Research) Sony Classic Pictures unit. Universal Studios is behind "Munich." And Time Warner's Warner Independent Pictures released "Good Night, and Good Luck." (Time Warner (Research) also owns See correction.

Still, even though they may not be truly "independent," Pandya argues that the creative forces behind most of these films probably had more control and less interference from the Hollywood bigwigs since these films were not associated with their parent companies' larger studios.

At the end of the day, it's obviously nice when the critics and the mainstream public agree. It's happened before and it probably will happen again. In addition to the final installment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, other recent big box office smashes that also won Best Picture are "Chicago," "Gladiator," "Titanic," and "Forrest Gump."

But the Oscars shouldn't be reduced to just dollars and cents. Would you really rather watch the Academy Awards this Sunday if the favorites for Best Picture were "Revenge of the Sith" and "War of the Worlds?"

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Correction: An earlier version of this story identified Focus Features as a subsidiary of News Corp. We regret the error. Top of page

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