Check the figures

Posted by · 5:27 pm · December 17th, 2009

Russell Crowe in A Beautiful MindA few things puzzled me about this Variety piece in which Iain Blair takes on a familiar chestnut of a topic: the box-office divide between public favorites and Oscar contenders.

The first is that he considers the “disparity between art and commerce” to be “accelerating” — a curious argument to make at a time when “Avatar,” “Up” and “Inglourious Basterds” (none of which Blair mentions) look likely to feature on the Best Picture list. Blair’s argument is well-tailored to last year’s Oscar race, but reads somewhat stale now.

The second is, well, this entire paragraph:

Sure, “Titanic” grabbed a ton of Oscars and racked up the biggest box office in history. But more recent critically acclaimed best picture winners such as “Shakespeare in Love,” “A Beautiful Mind” and “Chicago” did middling to poor business. And “Crash” and “The English Patient” simply crashed and, well, burned at the box office.

I defer to Chad in the numbers department, but in what world is $170 million (the gross achieved by both “Chicago” and “A Beautiful Mind”) a “middling to poor” result? Hell, “Shakespeare in Love” even managed a cool $100 million.

Meanwhile, I can think of a few prestige bombs that could only dream of “crashing and burning” to the tune of $78 million, as “The English Patient” did. (That’s slightly more than “Braveheart” managed the year before, for those keeping score.) “Crash” may be the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner of all time (adjusted for inflation), but a $54 million gross was still a Cinderella result for a $6 million indie that arrived in spring with minimal expectations.

I’m not saying these are all blockbuster figures. But they’re respectable ones. “The Hurt Locker” can only gaze hungrily at such numbers, after all. A win for that would abet Blair’s argument. Here’s hoping.

→ 15 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

15 responses so far

  • 1 12-17-2009 at 5:49 pm

    Brent said...

    I laugh at how certain best picture winners are also immediately pegged as “critical darlings” or whatnot.

    Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, and Chicago ran three years in a row with relatively divisive critical receptions. I would hardly term them “acclaimed”.

  • 2 12-17-2009 at 5:51 pm

    Lev Lewis said...

    Kill me now.

  • 3 12-17-2009 at 6:04 pm

    Erik said...

    I don’t see how the author can label A Beautiful Mind and Chicago as middling at the box office, but then say that 2012 was a big hit. Even not counting inflation, 2012 made less than both A Beautiful Mind and Chicago.

  • 4 12-17-2009 at 6:07 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Brent: I didn’t have the energy to go there, but you’re so right.

  • 5 12-17-2009 at 6:15 pm

    MJS said...

    The argument also ignores the fact that BP winners tend to do incredible business when it comes to DVD sales and rentals. If you look at Netflix’s list of most rented DVDs you’ll see titles like The Departed, No Country for Old Men and Crash are all in the top ten, with Crash being their #1 most rented movie of all time. Slumdog Millionaire is already at 33 and rising while Million Dollar Baby is also a constant presence. The list is also littered with nominees that didn’t win.

    These DVD figures might not be as reported and overanalyzed as the theatrical box-office, but the money is just as green for the studio.

  • 6 12-17-2009 at 6:33 pm

    Aaron said...

    When he mentioned A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, and Shakespeare in Love followed by “middling to poor” business at the box-office, I literally stared in disbelief. Umm, all of these made $100 million and above. Didn’t Chicago make $300-something million worldwide? And Shakespeare in Love was a huge hit domestically, cracking a $100-million–how many, literate, costume-drama films do that, with a cast that was, for the most part, not big Hollywood stars (Gwyneth Paltrow was not a household name then)???

  • 7 12-17-2009 at 7:00 pm

    Ryan said...

    Feels like he’s just picking the numbers/stats that suit his point. How lame.

  • 8 12-17-2009 at 7:13 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    How many times are we going to hear this same tired old argument from people like Blair? Good grief, if you don’t have anything to write…don’t write anything.

  • 9 12-17-2009 at 11:05 pm

    Dan said...

    This is shockingly bad, in my opinion….like someone needs to be fired kind of mistake. How on earth could someone come to these conclusions?

  • 10 12-17-2009 at 11:41 pm

    rosengje said...

    This argument is absurd and just flat our incorrect. In addition to its stellar box office performance, The English Patient figured very prominently into pop culture during its time. Just ask Elaine and the Seinfeld crew.

    It is particularly puzzling because there are so many other movies that they could have used to made this same argument- remember how poorly all of the 2005 nominees fared at the box office?

  • 11 12-18-2009 at 1:05 am

    BurmaShave said...

    This is a Limbaugh argument, used to illustrate the disparity between “Hollyweird” and the preferences of “real” Americans. I heard him make it following the 2007 Oscars when Scorcese, Forrest Whitaker and Helen Mirren won for movies “no one” saw. Check Mr. Blair’s politics, and you may find the reason for his mystifying contortions of fact.

  • 12 12-18-2009 at 1:06 am

    BurmaShave said...

    I should say it’s entirely possible he’s progressive and an idiot who needs to make copy.

  • 13 12-18-2009 at 5:35 am

    Gustavo H.R. said...

    Errrr…. A BEUTIFUL MIND, CHICAGO and even SIL were huge box-office hits.

    They did poor business, yes, only IF COMPARED TO TITANIC!!!

  • 14 12-18-2009 at 10:02 am

    movieguy1 said...

    Wow, if Blair were a defense attorney, this closing argument would get his client laughed all the way to the electric chair. Someone with such gaping chasms in logic is permitted to write for Variety?

    There’s an argument to be made about this disparity, but it has more to do with the distribution of more independent-minded films in the Oscar race than it does overall box office performance. Something I thought of upon stumbling onto this article:

  • 15 12-18-2009 at 10:58 am

    Michael C. said...

    I like how he mentions the winners from ’01 and ’02.

    Even aside from the facts that these are plainly hit films they are bookended by gigantic blockbuster winners Gladiator and Lord of the friggin’ Rings.