Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Do Oscar nominations (or wins) translate into bucks?

It’s a hard one to answer. Last year, we would have replied with a definitive “no”. Sure, Avatar was the biggest film of all time, but nobody would seriously argue that the success of Cameron’s epic was down to its …

Thu, Mar 3, 2011, 16:58

   

It’s a hard one to answer. Last year, we would have replied with a definitive “no”. Sure, Avatar was the biggest film of all time, but nobody would seriously argue that the success of Cameron’s epic was down to its popularity with awards juries. Elsewhere, in Mexaplex 9, a yawning void greeted the eventual best-picture winner, The Hurt Locker. That film was, by many estimates, the least successful film ever to triumph in the big race. It took, would you believe, just $17 million in the US. Films about Mongolian peasants draw in more bucks.

Calm down, dear. They like you.

This year, the real best picture nominees — those that also got best director nods — have all done very decently at the US box-office. True Grit, Black Swan and The King’s Speech all passed the $100 million mark. The Social Network and The Fighter (on the surface, the most commercial of the five) are just a few million off that watershed. Having racked up $167 million, True Grit is a genuine hit. This week, Black Swan managed a quite remarkable feat. By passing out Narnia, it became 20th Century Fox’s most successful release of 2010. It should be noted that Fox — whose figures were of course boosted by a certain 2009 release featuring blue aliens — did not have a particularly stellar year. But this is still a very odd situation: a major studio’s biggest hit is a scary, vaguely avant-garde film about ballet.

On balance, the awards chatter probably does matter. Black Swan, already doing nicely at nomination time, hung around throughout the Globes, Guilds, Baftas and — centuries later — the Oscars themselves. That added publicity must have helped. True Grit, however — ignored at the Globes, the first big jamboree — was well on the way to being a smash before, to many people’s surprise, it clocked up 10 Oscar nominations. The lesson probably is that, though cynics such as I will continue to wail, if you put quality product before the public, they may still turn out in sizable numbers. People are not as dumb as we often pretend. Older viewers will go to the cinema if they believe there’s something worth seeing. There is slim possibility that, when the 2011 sequel-fest is over, we might actually see more serious product from the major studios.

Mind you, a glance at the weekend figures suggests that the biggest film of this week could (still) be Yogi Bear. Make of that what you will.