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In 2009 the Academy decided to increase its Best Picture nominees from five to 10, with the goal of bringing in more of the higher-grossing studio films that have largely not been included. The issue over the years has been that smaller films with equally small viewing numbers have tended to grab much of the awards spotlight, leaving a large part of the Academy Awards-viewing audience feeling disconnected. However, increasingly lower collective box office numbers among Best Picture nominees suggests the Academy is still not recognizing movies people really care about.
After the drastic change of doubling of the number of Best Picture nominations, the Academy saw a strong and immediate box office uptick among its nominees. That following year in 2010, the group of Best Pic noms generated $4.7 billion dollars worldwide (a huge increase over the approximate $530 million dollars the year prior). And while about $2.7 billion of that was directly due to Avatar's inclusion, remove it from the equation and the numbers still suggest the newly-implemented plan had worked. Right? Not exactly as, according to THR, each subsequent year the collective Best Picture noms' total box office take has been in steady decline.
By Feb. 16 of this year, the current nominees had collectively pulled in just under $1 billion dollars ($999.5 million to be exact) globally. While this may sound pretty good, it's far behind last year's final global take of just under $2 billion, led by Gravity's $716.4 million. Prior to last year, 2013's noms took in $2.39 billion, much thanks to Life of Pi ($609 million) and in 2011, Toy Story 3, Christopher Nolan's Inception and Black Swan collectively brought in over $1.1 billion. This year's Best Pic box office take, led by Clint Eastwood's American Sniper ($400 million) and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel ($174 million), will likely not stand a chance at eclipsing last year.
What does the above information suggest? First off, it indicates the films the Academy is nominating for Best Picture are not the films people are venturing out to see at the theater. And if people aren't seeing the films that are nominated by the Academy, they are likely to disconnect from the televised Awards ceremony. How do you solve this problem? One of two obvious ways stick out in my mind. Studios will have to start finding more creative ways to get people into theaters to see the smaller, more character-driven films (something they'll be hard-pressed to do) or they will have to start nominating some of the bigger box office smashes for Best Picture (something likely to cause friction with existing viewers). A third option is for studios to attempt to find a new balance between the larger, effects-driven films and the smaller story and character-led works. Fusing the resources, budget, marketing, effects, etc. from some of these larger movies with the emphasis on character, writing, cinematography and directing of some of the smaller pieces would be ideal. Not very likely, but still... ideal.
Just to help put things in perspective, the top global box office leaders of 2014 were Transformers: Age of Extinction ($1 billion), The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ($951 million), Guardians of the Galaxy ($774 million) and Maleficent ($758 million). Unless the Academy begins nominating movies like these, they're probably going to continue to see a downward spiral as far as total box office take.