Our model was right: The King’s Speech won. In this weekend’s Oscar Statistics post, we modeled the chances of each nominated movie. We guessed that the movie most likely to win would be the one which took in about 1/4 of the Most Popular movie of the year, would have no significant roles for actresses, would be a drama, and would star a man at least 40 years old.
Of course, The King’s Speech, which shared all those traits, was the favorite for a variety of other well-known reasons, but we took none of these factors into account; our model was purely statistical.
Specifically, we did not try to predict what the best movie of the year would be, just what would win the Oscar for that category. As all know, the statuette is not awarded entirely for quality, but for political, personal, historical, equability, and other arguments.
The original purpose of our analysis was, however, to examine quality. Was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a better judge of quality than the “crowd-sourced” American public? The answer, we think, is probably yes.
Here are the movies for Oscar-winning Best Picture and Highest Grossing for those years when the Oscar winner made less than 25% of the Most Popular movie (recalling that we measured box office gross by hand and with some error).
(First a note: our sources give two difference answers for Gigi; one says the movie made $7.3 million, another says double that. If the truth lies in-between, then Gigi should drop off this list. Since there is some doubt, we do not account for it below.)
Except for Quo Vadis? besting An American in Paris in 1951, every other Highest Grossing Movie could be considered a cartoon, a movie that the whole family could, and probably did, go to, thus boosting the bottom line. Certainly many of the movies in the list were cartoons (hand- or computer-drawn). The rest were cartoonish.
Because of ratings, some of the Oscar-winning movies the whole family could not go to, like Ordinary People, No Country for Old Men, and The Hurt Locker which hurts them in the bottom-line comparison. Even so, there are a distinct differences in the quality between the two columns.
Crash was an example of re-capturing the glory of long-won battles, but surely it was better than the direct-to-film-merchandising of Star Wars Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith. In the Heat of the Night might—for all the right reasons, of course—be overrated, but it was better than the watery version of The Jungle Book.
On the other hand, were Chariots of Fire and Gandhi, with vaguely similar sub-themes of the previous movies, and while also reflecting the Academy’s love of all things British, both better than Raiders of the Lost Ark and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial? Probably; maybe.
Then few older than six would argue Shrek 2 was better than Million Dollar Baby or that Ghostbusters improved upon Amadeus. And we’d have to push that age down a year when comparing Rebecca with Pinocchio, Mrs. Miniver with Bambi, and All about Eve with Cinderella.
However, it is true that this latter three Most Popular movies are good children’s films. So in effect, we are comparing the wrong things. Of course the Oscar winning movie would be better than a movie aimed at a child. But that was the case only into the 1970s, after which the children’s movies had pretensions of being grown-up, culminating in the politically simplistic Avatar.
Now look at the 17 movies which won Oscars were also the Highest Grossing. (This means the Oscar-wining movie had 100% of the take of the Highest Grossing movie. The next lowest percentage for an Oscar-winning movie’s take of the Highest was 85%.)
Two of these were R-rated: The Godfather and Rain Man, which means many sales were not to kids. Two of them involved simple minds, an increasingly popular theme: Rain Man and Forrest Gump. Only one was cartoonish: the endless orc slaughter-fest The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King . Two were with Dustin Hoffman (when he was 42 and 51).
At least three had strong Christian themes: Going My Way, Ben-Hur, and The Sound of Music, but none since 1965. Most of the movies before 1979 are better than the movies which came after.
This is a loose assessment, of course, but since Kramer vs. Kramer movies in this category were goofier, for lack of a better word. It is a wild guess, and therefore likely to be wrong, but perhaps the increase in goofiness reflects the voting members of the Academy paying more attention to the bottom line then they had done previously.