Oscar Impact: $$$ Cash Value?

Oscar Huge Impact


The expression, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” based on Karl Marx’s theory of “the haves and haves not,” describes quite accurately the distribution of rewards in the film industry. The Oscar Award perpetuates the inequality that prevails in Hollywood between the haves and have?nots in every respect: Money, prestige, and power. 


How pervasive are the Oscar’s effects on the winning and nominated films? Is the impact felt in the short run or in the long run? Some observers have stressed the “overnight success,” winners who become international star.  Others talk about the Oscar’s negative impact, or the Oscar as a jinx, winners who become victims of one kind or another.


Part One: Impact on Commercial Appeal


The goal of every studio in Hollywood is to win the Best Picture Oscar since the top prize carries with it prestige, hard cash, and big profits in ancillary markets (DVD).


The Informer


The first film to benefit directly from winning, though not from Best Picture, was John Ford’s The Informer, which opened to good reviews but was not popular at the box office.  However, after winning four Oscars, the largest number of awards for any film in 1935, including Director and Actor, it became a hit.


 Best Years of Our Lives


A more dramatic impact was felt in 1947, when The Best Years of Our Lives turned out to be the most commercial Oscar?winner of its time, grossing in domestic rentals over $11 million.  The Best Picture, acting, and other awards translated into at least two more million dollars at the box office.




Even when the Oscar doesn’t turn the winning movies into blockbusters, it still has some effect.  A success d’estime, Hamlet (1948) was initially intended for select audiences in the arthouse circuit. But its surprise Best Picture Oscar made it a bigger draw, particularly for audiences who would not have seen it otherwise.


The Oscar’s commercial value</b >, as measured by grosses, wasn’t immense in the first two decades of its operation.  In the 1930s, the average domestic rentals of an Oscar?winner was about 2 million dollars, as was the case of Cimarron, the 1930-31 winner and the year’s top money?maker.  Grand Hotel, the 1931-32 winner, was also that year’s top grosser, with $2.25 million in receipts.  Cavalcade, in 1932-33, ranked second among the season’s blockbusters with 3.5 million dollars, which made it the decade’s second most popular Oscar?winner, after Gone With the Wind in 1939.


In the 1940s, the average performance of the Oscar winners was about $4.6 million, or twice as much as that of the 1930s. 




The three most commercial Oscar-winning films of the 1950s were: Around the World in 80 Days, with 23 million in domestic rentals; The Bridge on the River Kwai, with 17 million; and Ben?Hur, with 36 million.  Each of these movies was a blockbuster prior to the nominations, but became a bonanza after winning the Best Picture Oscar.


The Academy continued to honor small-scale pictures whose Oscar had modest influence on their standing.  Contrary to public opinion, All About Eve, in 1950, was not a huge hit–it ranked as the year’s eighth grosser with $2.9 million.  On the other hand, it’s doubtful that an intimate drama such as Marty would have grossed 2 million in 1955 without the Oscar. 




MGM’s musical Gigi was commercially successful before winning Best Picture, but the award added about $2 million to its grosses, thus making it the fifth top?grosser of the year, with $7 million.



The award’s pecuniary effect became all the more apparent in the 1960s.  Billy Wilder’ The Apartment was the only Oscar?winner in the entire decade to have grossed less than $10 million; the average grosses were $21 million.  True, more blockbusters were nominated for Best Picture in the 1960s than ever before, which means that most winners were hits before being nominated.

The Sound of Music (nicknamed “The Sound of Money”) didn’t need the 1965 Best Picture to become the decade’s blockbuster, but the 1966 Oscar for A Man for All Seasons doubled its domestic receipts to about $13 million, a phenomenal amount for a historical film, based on a stage play, that lacked strong production values.