For the past several years, moviegoers have griped that the Oscars tend to go to films that few people have seen. Last year, “Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy’s drama about the Catholic child-abuse scandal, won best picture but earned a modest $44 million at the domestic box office. “Birdman,” the previous year’s winner, earned even less with $42 million. And let’s not forget the acclaimed war film “The Hurt Locker,” still the lowest-grossing best picture winner with $17 million.
How are this year’s best picture nominees stacking up financially? As of this writing, only two have crossed the $100 million mark. The rest are lagging far behind.
For starters, “Moonlight,” about a gay African-American growing up in Miami, is the lowest grosser of the nine nominees, with just $20 million. Faring rather better is “Hell or High Water,” an indie crime drama that has turned its strong critical following into $27 million at the box office. “Lion,” an acclaimed drama starring Dev Patel, has earned just $30 million, possibly because it focuses on a helpless, homeless child — a tough sell for many moviegoers.
“Manchester by the Sea,” with Casey Affleck as a loner who becomes the legal guardian of his nephew, has earned a respectable $45 million. “Fences,” another drama about a shattered family, has pulled in nearly $54 million, largely on the strength of Denzel Washington in the lead role. Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” is hovering at $66 million, a healthy sum but not exactly a blockbuster.
Unsurprisingly, the better-performing nominees this year are somewhat lighter movies. “Arrival,” a science-fiction drama starring Amy Adams, is creeping toward $100 million, while the musical “La La Land,” featuring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, is currently at $126 million. The top-grossing film on this year’s best picture list, though, is “Hidden Figures,” an upbeat story of three African-American women breaking racial and gender barriers at NASA during the 1960s. Its box-office take is $132 million.