postThursday, 21 February 2008

What are Film Awards Worth?

Each year hundreds of films are released during awards season in the hopes of gaining some silverware and critical acclaim but is doing so worth it in light of the over-saturation of releases that takes place? Rob Scott investigates...


The following article was originally written for in September 2007. It was being held for release till closer to the Oscars. However, there has been editorial restructuring at, which left the article homeless. Out of desperation I have published it here - at the worst blog in the world.

Award season has begun and in the next few months more major film award ceremonies and festivals will take place then during any other period of the year. In the last five years 88% of all best picture nominees have been released during this period.


This season hundreds of prospective films will scramble for attention and distribution in anticipation of the announcement of the 80th Academy Award nominations on 22 January 2008. This high influx of independent and studio films competing for awards is accompanied by the commercial Holiday releases, making the end of the year one of the most crowded periods. Many films are lost in the shuffle as wide spread distribution and long cinematic runs are extremely difficult to obtain.

Major studios run expensive campaigns to promote their contenders. In 2002 Universal Pictures invested $15 million, in addition to the films $30 million marketing budget, to promote A Beautiful Mind to the 5,739 voting academy members. Obviously the major studios see the additional spending as a worthy investment. Without the studios official numbers, the value of such an investment is one the rest of us can only speculate. Since data concerning a films gross is harder to come by after its box office run many researchers exclusively make use of the box office figures.

Commentators have long debated the relationship between awards and financial success. A general Hollywood rule of thumb is that an Oscar is worth $25 million in box office receipts. Others claim that it will add 15% onto the films box office gross. A number of studies have been conducted to investigate the monetary value of an Oscar. A 2001 study found a considerable correlation between an increase in financial revenue for a nomination or win in the best picture, actor or actress categories. The same study also discovered that the supporting actor/actress categories had little or no effect on a films box office performance.

However, only a handful of films win a major Oscar each year and the Academy Awards are only one of the many awards ceremonies that take place during the season. How does critical acclaim translate into financial gain over the course of the entire season? And what are the effects of critical acclaim on an independent film?

It is assumed that Independent films rely on critical acclaim as a major source of marketing. Due to the low marketing budgets of independent films and smaller audiences resulting in lower word-of-mouth, critical acclaim and awards are the major “buzz” generating system that helps smaller films get larger distribution and public awareness.

To test this theory a sample of independent films from the Independent Spirit Awards nominees of the last five years was constructed. The Independent Spirit Awards were chosen because they reflect the most acclaimed independent films of a particular year. Films with at least one nomination in the best picture, director, actor and actress categories were selected. From this sample five films were eliminated as they did not have a box office release or no box office data could be found. This resulted in a total sample of 60 independent films. Below is a table displaying the top and bottom 10 grossing films on this list (films that did not have a significant amount of time in release during awards season (September-December) were excluded).

Highest Grossing Films

Lowest Grossing

1) Brokeback Mountain#

1) Room

2) Sideways#

2) Virgin

3) Little Miss Sunshine#

3) The Dead Girl

4) Lost in Translation#

4) Down to the Bone

5) Pan’s Labyrinth#

5) Man Push Cart

6) Monster#

6) On the Outs

7) Good Night, and Good Luck#

7) Forty Shades of Blue

8) Capote#

8) Skins

9) Hustle & Flow#

9) Primer

10) Antwone Fisher

10) Tully

# indicates Golden Globe or Oscar win/nomination

Firstly, lets determine if gross and distribution are intricately connected. Box office ‘science’ claims there is a causal relationship between distribution and box office gross. The more screens a film shows on for the longest possible period the more revenue that film will generate. In a competitive market place theatre owners are less likely to allocate screens to smaller films with low marketing budgets and lower perceived public demand. Below are the 10 widest and lowest releases.

Widest Release

Lowest Release

1) Brokeback Mountain#

1) Room

2) Sideways#

2) Virgin

3) Little Miss Sunshine#

3) Man Push Cart

4) Capote#

4) The Dead Girl

5) Pan's Labyrinth#

5) Down to the Bone

6) Monster#

6) Forty Shades of Blue

7) Antwone Fisher

7) On the Outs

8) Hustle and Flow#

8) Tully

9) Good Night, and Good Luck#

9) Skins

10) Lost in Translation#

10) Primer

# indicates Golden Globe or Oscar win/nomination

It is clear from this that there is a strong correlation between gross and distribution as 100% of the top grossing films were the widest distributed and 100% of the lowest grossing films were the least distributed. Lets now compare the distribution patterns of the films with the amount of recognition the films received critically. Below are the top and bottom 10 critically acclaimed films.

Most Critically Acclaimed**

Least Critically Acclaimed**

1) Brokeback Mountain#

1) Room

2) Sideways#

2) Forty Shades of Blue

3) Lost in Translation#

3) Virgin

4) Pan's Labyrinth#

4) Skins

5) Far from Heaven#

5) The Door in the Floor

6) Capote#

6) The Dead Girl

7) Good Night, and Good Luck#

7) On the Outs

8) Little Miss Sunshine#

8) Sweet Land

9) The Motorcycle Diaries#

9) The Painted Vail

10) Hustle & Flow#

10) For Your Consideration

# indicates Golden Globe or Oscar win/nomination
** Films are represented in terms of their total number of wins and nominations and all awards have been given equal weighting, ignoring the fact that certain awards are more prestigious than others.

80% of the most critically acclaimed films were also the most widely distributed and 90% of the most distributed films received at least one Oscar nomination. 60% of the films with the least awards were also the least distributed. It is clear from this that for independent films critical acclaim is vitally important for financial success. Critical acclaim counters the effect of a low marketing budget and helps to obtain wider distribution and as it has already been noted distribution and gross go hand-in-hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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