We found the following characteristics most predictive of success:
- The Most Popular picture routinely made about twice what the Best Picture took in, and there is good evidence this trend is increasing.
- Many pictures had only men in the lead and no women.
- Women over 40 are rare, and over 50 virtually non-existent, while older men show up increasingly frequently.
- Best Pictures usually had older actors and actresses than the Most Popular movies.
- There were fewer comedies for Oscars, more Action & Adventure for Most Popular flicks.
We used these factors to predict the yawn-inducing, revisionistic, I-am-King-but-I-wish-I-were-one-of-the-boys The King’s Speech would take home the gold. That movie earned (at that time) about one-fourth what the top-grossing movie made. It focused on two older men; women were only in a supporting role. And it was decidedly not a comedy, nor and Action & Adventure flick.
In short, our model right.
This year, the model likely winner is The Artist. Here’s why.
Money is one of the most important indicators, as the picture shows. The red dots in this picture are those years when the Best Picture was also the Most Popular (i.e. top grossing). For the other films, the line is the ratio of box office grosses Best Picture divided by Most Popular. The trend implies the widening divergence between what the Academy and the public thinks is the best movie each year, as voted by wallets.
The domestic take was (as of this writing) just shy of $30 million. The top-grossing movie was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part II), which grabbed $381 million. The Artist is less than a 10th of this, about where the graph predicts it would be.
For the other contenders: The Descendants took about $77 million; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close took $31 million; The Help grabbed $170 million; Hugo had $68 million; Midnight in Paris had $57 million; Moneyball with $76 million; The Tree of Life had the least with $13 million; finally War Horse took $79 million.
Some movies did, then, take in less or the same as The Artist. These were Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Tree of Life, but both focused on children.
The Artist had the other traits that made for a winner. It only had a leading man, with Bérénice Bejo in a supporting actress role, and she was under 40. Also, Jean Dujardin who was 39: and movies with older men do better. Lastly, the movie was not a genre piece.
The runner-up is The Descendants. It too took in far less than the top-grossing movie. It also only had a man in the starring role, George Clooney who is 50. But it suffers because there were two supporting women vying for attention. It was also not a genre picture.
Unfortunately for the The Descendants, it was an R-rated picture, which limited its audience and made it more “difficult.” The Artist was PG-13, which many say is the sweet spot (it could easily have been a PG, which might have hurt it).
And then Jean Dujardin knows when to keep his mouth shut. The smug George Clooney, who has not learned that silence is golden, is not universally loved. Dujardin is just naturally likable. However, these comments only factor into which picture wins the top prize. Who takes Best Actor is a different story. The Academy often acts like an umpire who blew a call and who later in the game attempts to “make it up” by blowing another on purpose to even things out—but who invariably makes things worse. Many say Clooney is “due” because he hasn’t yet won, his actual performance be damned. We’ll see.
Finally, and this matters little, The Artist is the only picture on the list yours truly saw. The clothes! The music! The story! I loved it all. Brilliant from start to finish. And with a dog—a key movie animal. But I was predisposed, given that I enjoyed Dujardin’s and same-director Michel Hazanavicius’s OSS 117 series. I saw the second of these (in French subtitled in Chinese, so I was doubly challenged) on a plane flying to Taiwan and kept my seatmates awake with my giggling.
I admit that I should have also gone to see Moneyball. After all, how many movies feature a statistician as a hero?
1Who is now employed and prospering, thank you very much.