Chart of the Week: Are the Oscars Out of Touch with Regular Moviegoers?

Chart of the Week: Are the Oscars Out of Touch with Regular Moviegoers?
Nayomi Chibana

Written by:
Nayomi Chibana

Feb 23, 2019
best picture oscar winners wide header

Everyone knows that the most popular movies are rarely recognized as emblematic pieces of cinematic art, but has it always been this way?

Certainly not. Just think back as early as the 1990s and you’ll find that the growing divide between “award-worthy” films and what regular moviegoers actually want to watch is a rather recent trend.

Remember when “Titanic” won Best Picture in 1998? Or when “Forrest Gump” won both the Best Picture award and a place in everyone’s heart as the favorite feel-good movie of the year?

Let’s also not forget “Rain Man,” “Braveheart,” “Rocky,” “The Godfather,” “The Sound of Music” ... to name a few more.

If it seems like the Oscars have grown increasingly out of touch with general movie-going audiences, it’s because they have.

Just take a look at the difference between total domestic box office earnings for Best Picture Oscar winners and box office hits from the last 30 years, visualized in the graphic below.

best picture oscar winners vs box office hits infographic prediction

In the past 20 years, the only time the Academy and popular opinion intersected was in 2004, when “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won both Best Picture and the top spot at the box office.

In the 10 years prior to that, however, there were three Best Picture winners that won first or second place at the box office: "Titanic," "Forrest Gump" and "Rain Man."


Drama Is Still King at the Oscars

Although this year’s list of Best Picture nominees includes the box office hit “Black Panther,” most critics predict that either "Green Book" or the foreign-language film “Roma” will take the Oscar home for Best Picture, further supporting the notion that the Academy favors drama over other genres such as horror or comedy.

Indeed, over time, Oscar nominations have clearly declined for the Romance and Comedy genres, while Drama and Adventure are on the rise.

Overall, movies in the drama genre account for nearly 60 percent of all Best Picture winners, as seen below.


How Can the Oscars Stay Relevant?

While the proposal to add a “popular film” category has sparked the ire of critics and moviegoers alike--and will do little to bridge the divide--one thing is for sure: the Oscars will need to make drastic changes to stay relevant to an audience that is rapidly changing in its needs and demands.

Not only are viewers cutting the cord on cable TV--one of the reasons why ratings dropped to an all-time low in 2018--but their attention spans are also on the decline. A four-hour telecast is just too long for a generation with a plummeting attention span, dropping from 12 seconds to 8 seconds since the mobile revolution began in 2000 (which is also not conducive to the kind of contemplative and life-changing movie-watching experiences that the Academy seeks to promote).

So what’s the Academy to do? Nominate more movies with mass appeal? Maintain its artistic integrity and appeal to a niche audience of cinephiles and movie critics? Invite new Oscar voters who are more in tune with audiences' needs?

Or is it just that movies need to get better?

Let us know your thoughts below...

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    About the Author

    Nayomi Chibana is a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center. Besides researching trends in visual communication and next-generation storytelling, she’s passionate about data-driven content.

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