Best Picture Winners By Genre
Out of the past 77 Best Picture winners, from Wings at the first ceremony in 1929 to Million Dollar Baby last year, the majority have been dramas, accounting for 28 of the statuettes.
The second most popular genre is the biopic – especially in 1936-8 when three won in a row: Mutiny On The Bounty, The Great Ziegfeld and The Life of Emile Zola – with 12 wins, followed by epics, 10 of which have won since Gone With The Wind in 1940. Musicals and comedies are tied with eight wins apiece – while Chicago might have signalled a resurgence for musicals, no comedies have won since Annie Hall in 1978 – followed by five wins for outright war films, three for thrillers and a measly two for Westerns. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the first fantasy film to win Best Picture.
Fourteen films have used war as the backdrop for action, with a colossal nine Best Pictures set during or around World War Two (the first being Mrs Miniver, which won in 1943, and the most recent The English Patient, in 1997), three during World War One (including first winner Wings and Lawrence Of Arabia in 1963) and two during the American Civil War.
The most popular setting of all is present-day New York, with 11 wins to its credit from The Broadway Melody back in 1930 to Kramer Vs Kramer in 1980. Winning films also go all the way back in time to Jerusalem in 1AD for 1960 winner Ben-Hur, but most are set within the past 100 years.
In terms of source material, don’t waste time on that original screenplay – 39 winners have been adapted from novels, a further 13 from plays, pre-existing musicals or teleplays and four from short stories, articles and ‘writings’, with only 21 nods for originally scripted Best Pictures.
Winners of Best Picture range from the budget-breaking Titanic at $200 million to the relatively inexpensive American Beauty at $15 million, but the real cost of an Oscar can lie in the marketing campaigns. Miramax were accused of having ‘bought’ the Best Picture statuette for Shakespeare In Love in 1999 with a total Oscar marketing campaign estimated at $15 million (when combined with the Life Is Beautiful spend, which also brought them awards for Best Actor, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Music).
While the Academy now strictly prohibits any activities that could be seen to influence their voting members – after Miramax took out a full-page ad purporting to be written independently by former Academy president and two-times Best Director winner Robert Wise, in praise of Gangs Of New York – there’s little they can do about advertising, TV specials or influencing voters of other awards.
In addition to blanket print and TV advertising in regions home to a significant number of voters, Making Of shows are routinely produced to plug eligible releases on the small screen – studios will pay $5-6,000 per half for them to be scheduled on local terrestrial and satellite channels.
Although the Academy never names its members, many will be invited to secret screenings and launches in exotic locations in order to best enjoy the films under consideration while, infamously, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – who vote for the Golden Globes – are lavished with expensive promotional treats from studios and even hopeful stars. Significantly, their decisions are often indicative of and therefore perhaps influential towards the Academy’s.
On top of that, figure in the costs for the stars of the films – many of whom will have already been paid several million for their acting services – to be taken on promotional junkets around the world and to preliminary awards ceremonies. Designer dresses and tuxedos might come free for big names, but stylists and hair and make-up artists can charge $5,000 daily, while private jets start at $50,000.
Miramax judged the market well in 1998, as DreamWorks did in 2001 when its $20-million campaign ensured the statuette went to Gladiator – but not all big spends result in big business on the night. Universal spent untold millions promoting Seabiscuit, which garnered seven nominations, yet it galloped away with zilch.
For the 1961 ceremony, John Wayne spent a chunk of his own personal fortune on promoting The Alamo to the Academy as “enduring screen literature”, “The George Washington of films” and “the most important motion picture ever made.” It, too, attracted seven nominations, but only won Best Sound.
Many films that never won Best Picture are more fondly remembered than those that did, so is winning an Oscar really worth it? In cold, hard cash terms – the only language Hollywood understands – the answer’s yes.
“A successful awards season can mean the difference between a movie grossing $5 million and grossing $20 million,” says Miramax’s co-founder Harvey Weinstein.
Even a mere nomination – especially in the top five categories – raises enough publicity to significantly increase ticket sales. Studies estimate that winning Best Picture can add upwards of $15 million to a movie, either at the box office or in subsequent DVD and video sales, while nods for its stars can bring in another $5 million. Winning actors’ salaries rocket after wins, whether the roles improve or not. Kudos to the studios is, of course, priceless...