After all, look at the history of the Oscars: Annie Hall won over Star Wars in 1978, Chariots of Fire creamed The Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1982, The Hurt Locker beat Avatar in 2010, The King’s Speech bested both Inception and Toy Story 3 in 2011.
The list goes on, but not for very long. Although the Academy does seem to trend towards smaller films with more artistic ambition than mainstream appeal lately, the history of the Academy Awards is filled with blockbuster Best Picture winners: Mrs. Miniver, Casablanca, From Here to Eternity, Oliver!, Patton, The French Connection, Schindler’s List, Braveheart and Gladiator, and those aren’t even the biggest hits of all.
In fact, if you adjust for inflation, you’ll discover that 20 of the Best Picture winners so far have smashed records, and still remain some of the biggest box office successes in history. So where does the idea that the Academy hates blockbusters come from?
Besides the above examples of popular films getting passed over for smaller critical successes, perhaps it stems from the fact that blockbusters have changed over the past few decades. The types of films that make enormous amounts of money now would have been trifling B-Movies throughout the bulk of the 20th Century. But many of the most financially successful Best Pictures are serious dramas that nevertheless drew massive crowds and, again if you adjust for inflation, actually made a lot more money than films like The Avengers, The Dark Knight or Pirates of the Caribbean.
It would seem then that audiences have changed, not the Academy. They still reward the same type of dramatically resonant motion pictures that, decades prior, audiences rewarded too. If the films had impressive visual effects, all the better, but simply having impressive visual effects – or taking an absurd concept like a man in a bat costume and somehow making it work – simply isn’t enough for the Oscars, and it never has been.
But Gravity, with a powerful leading performance from Sandra Bullock, and a story that seems simplistic but highlights the emotional drama of overcoming impossible odds, could very well be the film that once again bridges the gap between audience appreciation and Oscar gold. Both the Director’s Guild and the Producer’s Guild awarded the film their highest honors recently, and both wins are considered excellent prognosticators for which film will actually take home Best Picture in the end.
Will Gravity join the following films as one of the best blockbuster Best Pictures in history? Maybe, but it still didn’t make as much money as these twenty did.
The Top 20 Blockbuster Best Picture Winners:
Note: Figures were determined by domestic gross only, and were adjusted for inflation by Box Office Mojo.