The 2014 Oscar nominations for Best Picture lists only one bonafide blockbuster, Gravity, which attained a domestic gross of over $260 million to date. The rest of the mega blockbusters were snubbed, demonstrating once again that when it comes to handing out respect, Hollywood bites the hand that feeds it.
While some industry insiders may rejoice that a couple other nominations grossed over $100 million domestically, that criteria no longer denotes true blockbuster status due to today's higher ticket prices. The domestic hurdle is now $200 million which was vaulted by thirteen films last year, yet twelve of them did not get nominated for Best Picture. To put this in sharp perspective, the average domestic gross of the nine nominated films is roughly $82 million, and discounting Gravity, it's only about $59 million (as of this writing). In contrast, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire did roughly $421 million domestically, Iron Man 3 did $409 million, Despicable Me 2 did $368 million, Frozen did $360 million, and Man of Steel did $291 million.
Despite the awards that Hollywood heaps upon smaller movies each year, the great majority of these films don't pay the bills. One analysis shows that about 5 percent of films account for almost all of studio profits, and these are traditionally the huge blockbusters.
Box Office is an important measure not because of the dollars, but because of what the dollars represent; people and artistry! Box office receipts reflects moviegoers who paid hard earned money to see a well told story. When they loved it, they told others who paid their hard earned money, too. Importantly, creating mega mass appeal does not occur without considerable artistry, something that Academy voters refuse to recognize.
It's not that the nominated films don't have merit. They do. 12 Years A Slave is an engaging story of a successful, free black man from New York State who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. But hasn't the ugly story of slavery been told many times in many films? The Wolf of Wall Street is about the rise and fall of an unscrupulous, sex and drug crazed Wall Street broker. But how many times can we watch virtually the same drug and sexually explicit scenes without getting bored in this long three hour film. Audiences rated it a "C". Other nominations such as Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena are based on ideas whose concept and artistry simply did not connect with audiences.
But blockbusters do connect on the grand scale. The Hunger Games is an engaging story about self sacrifice, love, and survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Frozen is a fine tale about a girl's struggle to contain her power which threatens to destroy the sister she loves. Many of the mega blockbusters have narratives rooted in deep emotional needs, brought to life in superbly crafted acting, direction, camera work, music, and editing. So much so, that mass audiences responded to the artistry.
But not the Academy voters. Why?
Academy voters favor so-called important films, particularly those saturated with gritty, real life dramas that are actor driven. Mass audiences care more about escaping from real life drama, appreciating actors who superbly fuel the fantasy. Yet cheerful, optimistic narratives often lose to tragic, pessimistic ones. Sad wins. The Best Picture nominations read more like the Best Actor and Best Actress categories, suggesting that this is what Best Picture has become, yet another acting prize. Whereas most mega blockbusters are pushed to the Best Visual Effects category, as though that is the only artistry they contain.
The demographics of Academy voters strongly influences what gets nominated. One study revealed that roughly 76 percent of the voters are male with a median age of 63. Can we really expect them to appreciate Frozenor Monster University, or even on a serious level, the story about a teenage sister who sacrifices herself for her younger sibling in The Hunger Games?Or are they more apt to appreciate and nominate American Hustle andNebraska which fit their older demo and sensibilities? The nominations reveal the answer, as it has for years.
Unfortunately, some in Hollywood also think that if mass audiences like a film, then it must be somehow less artful. So if a film fails to attract audiences, the filmmaker is apt to claim that it is of a deeper quality that mass audiences can't understand or appreciate. It's the audiences' fault, so the logic goes, and not the fault of the filmmaker for having not attracted an audience. Woody Allen has stated that he only makes films to please himself and if audiences happen to like them that's simply an added bonus. Audiences are an afterthought at best. Some claim that small eclectic films often get passed over by mass audiences because they don't get significant marketing support. But the truth is the opposite. Many small artsy films are based on small ideas that don't justify large marketing support.
Mass appeal is also said to equal commercialism; a foul word in some corners of Hollywood. But films become commercial (read: actually make money) only when huge audiences are emotionally moved by a story well told and produced.
Blockbusters garner so little respect from insiders that many talented artisans abandoned them. This attitude was most recently echoed by Shia LaBeouf of the Transformers franchise.
Mega blockbusters are to be celebrated. They are carefully crafted by skilled storytellers who understand and appreciate the deep emotional needs of mass audiences. While some have been recognized with a Best Picture nod, most have not. That's a shame.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has contributed a great deal to the industry. It would do an additional service by adding a new category to the Oscars called Best Blockbuster. The category would be comprised of the top ten films as measured by worldwide box office receipts. The Academy voters can select their favorite from within that list, thus insuring that they consider blockbusters that they might have otherwise overlooked. This would pit films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire directly against Iron Man 3, Frozen, Fast & Furious 6, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and Gravity among others. This exciting race would greatly appeal to mass audiences, driving millions more of them to tune into awards night (read; ratings!).
Besides, without mega blockbusters, there would be no Hollywood and possibly no Academy. So stop biting the hand that feeds an entire industry.