Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Predicting the Visual Effects Oscar, Part 2

If you start reading this post without first reading Part 1, you're gonna be in a world of hurt. -tv

Okay, let's get knee-deep in data. We laid down the ground rules in Part 1, and we acknowledged that being the winner of the Academy Award for visual effects (or any category, for that matter) is not nearly as important as being nominated. Let's dive in and see if we can answer the question: forgetting about actual innovation and creative achievement (which is what most Academy voters automatically do), which is the better predictor of the winner of the visual effects Oscar: critical acclaim or box office popularity?

A note: you may notice a pie chart that appears next to the box office take in each slide. This chart represents each films' box office earnings as a percentage of all three films. This pie chart will come into play later, as we try to quantitatively (and fairly) compare box office earnings over several years.

1984, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"
click on a chart to get a larger view

"Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" won the Oscar in 1984, edging out "Ghostbusters" and "2010." On the Tomatometer, "Indy" and "Ghostbusters" are pretty much tied, and "Ghostbusters" made a bit more money than "Indy," as well. "2010" fared much worse at the box office, and although positively reviewed, didn't get the accolades of the other films. 1984's data supports neither critical acclaim nor popularity.

1985, "Cocoon"
"Cocoon" towers over its rivals ("Return to Oz" and "Young Sherlock Holmes") in box office, and, although all films were positively reviewed, had the most critical acclaim.

1986, "Aliens"
Although both "Aliens" and "Little Shop of Horrors" were positively reviewed, "Aliens" was almost unanimously celebrated by the critics, and also earned over double its other fellow nominees at the box office.

1987, "Innerspace"
"Innerspace" and "Predator" earned nearly identical mounds of critical acclaim, but "Innerspace," the winner of the Oscar, actually earned a great deal less at the box office.

So far, between 1984-1987, it looks like critical acclaim might be a better predictor of Oscar success. Let's keep going.

1988, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
Both "Roger Rabbit" and "Die Hard" received nearly unanimous critical acclaim, but "Roger Rabbit" destroyed "Die Hard" and "Willow" at the box office.

1989, "The Abyss"
Of the three nominated films of 1989, "The Abyss" barely edges out the other nominees in critical acclaim, but was destroyed in the box office by "Back to the Future Part II".

Two more years, and two more instances of critical acclaim trumping box office popularity for the visual effects Oscar. Continue, we shall...

1990, "Total Recall"
With no competition, this year screws up our data. And, most certainly, there deserved to be other nominees for the visual effects Oscar. "The Hunt for Red October," "Back to the Future Part III," "Ghost," "Die Hard 2" or even "Robocop 2" were all worthy of nominations.

1991, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day"
"T2" edged out "Backdraft" in critical acclaim, and towered at the box office over the hits "Backdraft" and "Hook."

Oh, here's a bit of trivia: "Hook" was the worst reviewed film on our list of visual effects nominees from 1984-2006, with 22%. The next two worst reviewed films were "Pearl Harbor" (at 25%) and "Hollow Man" (at 28%).

1992, "Death Becomes Her"
1992 certainly is an interesting year. "Batman Returns" ruled in critical acclaim and in box office popularity, earning accolades far higher than "Death Becomes Her" and "Alien 3." But "Death Becomes Her," which truly had the best visual effects of the three films, took home the Oscar. 1992 certainly was the year that illustrated that sometimes, every once in a while, visual effects innovation and quality can overcome poor critical acclaim and lack of popularity.

1993, "Jurassic Park"
All three films were greeted with positive critical acclaim, but "Jurassic Park" out earned its competition by a gigantic amount.

1994, "Forrest Gump"
Each of the three nominees for 1994 were well-received by critics; however, in a field of blockbusters, "Forrest Gump" made over double the box office of the popular films, "The Mask" and "True Lies."

If you're keeping track, 1991, 1993 and 1994 all had the box office champ winning the Oscar for visual effects, somewhat diminishing our earlier assessment, that critical acclaim might be a better predictor. More data is necessary!

1995, "Babe"
Yep, the year the pig beat out the astronauts. Although both films were equally hailed by critics, "Apollo 13" actually out earned "Babe" by almost threefold.

1996, "Independence Day"
A fairly dismal year for quality visual effects films, 1996 saw "Independence Day" earn a sliver more critical acclaim than its competition (which isn't saying much), while out-earning "Twister" and "Dragonheart" at the box office.

1997, "Titanic"
"Titanic" not only earned the greatest amount of critical acclaim, but earned a staggering $601 million at the box office, which makes "Lost World"'s take of $229 million seem paltry.

So that's two years in a row where critical acclaim and box office success both predicted the award. You're still reading this? Wow, you're a brave soul. Let's dig deeper!

1998, "What Dreams May Come"
Another pathetic year for quality effects films (similar to 1996), "What Dreams May Come" slightly edged the two other crappy films that were nominated for the Oscar, in critical acclaim. However, the crap-fest "Armageddon," one of the dumbest movies ever made, destroyed "Dreams" and "Mighty Joe Young" at the box office.

1999, "The Matrix"
While all three nominees were big hits, "The Matrix" clearly had the greatest amount of critical acclaim, while its $171 million box office take was dwarfed by "The Phantom Menace's" $431 million.

2000, "Gladiator"
Another clear victor in the critical acclaim realm, "Gladiator" towered over its fellow nominees "The Perfect Storm" and "Hollow Man" by the critics; its box office take was slightly higher than "The Perfect Storm," although they were both big hits.

The year 2000 was, in my mind, the poster child year of the clear inequities and unrealities of the winner of the visual effects Academy Award. The aesthetic and technical breakthroughs of the work that ILM created for "The Perfect Storm" and the work that Sony/Tippett created for "Hollow Man" clearly, clearly towers above the visual effects accomplishments of "Gladiator." The "Gladiator" effects, by and large, were extremely well executed and had a classic feel while updated for today's audiences, and the artistic sensibility of director Ridley Scott. But to actually give it the award over the phenomenal and innovative work in "Hollow" and "Storm" was quite a difficult pill to swallow.

The full Academy, which votes for the winners of each category (as opposed to the visual effects professionals that decide on the nominees) simply did not care about the breakthroughs or innovations that "Storm" or "Hollow" had to offer. "Gladiator" was, plain and simply, the better movie. And Academy voters, in my opinion, want to reward the better movie, regardless of the accomplishments of the other nominees.

Moving forward...

2001, "The Fellowship of the Ring"
The era of "Lord of the Rings" began in 2001, with "Fellowship" earning the highest critical acclaim, while earning more than "A.I." and the crap-fest "Pearl Harbor."

2002, "The Two Towers"
The staggeringly highly acclaimed "Two Towers" won the Oscar over the well received "Spider-Man" and "Star Wars: Episode II." And all three films were gigantic hits, each earning over $300 million, but "Spider-Man" was the top earner at over $400 million.

2003, "Return of the King"
In terms of acclaim, 2003 was a banner year for our visual effects nominees. All three films earned big numbers from the critics, but "Return of the King" posted the highest ratings. And although "Pirates'" $300 million take is impressive, it pales in the massiveness of "Return's" $377 million take.

2004, "Spider-Man 2"
The critics and the box office go hand in hand for 2004, with all three films earning critical acclaim and big box office numbers. But "Spider-Man 2" was on top of both charts, followed by "Harry Potter 3" and "I, Robot."

2005, "King Kong"
Audiences and critics were treated to three critically acclaimed films in 2005, all three of which were big box office hits. "King Kong" barely edged out "Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe" and "War of the Worlds," and although all three were box office smashes, "Lion" earned around $70 million more than its competitors.

2006, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
While both "Pirates 2" and "Poseidon" fared far worse with the critics than "Superman Returns," "Pirates 2" earned a kajillion dollars (actually, $423 million) while "Superman" earned less than half that amount.

Wow, that's a lot of data. What does it all mean? We'll find out in Part 3.


Andrew Sibulsky said...

Liking the series so far, Todd - it's nice to see someone taking a level-headed look at the VFX Oscar, instead of just whining about how their favorite studio lost.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting! It's nice to see someone knowledgeable talking about this. One question I have at this point - and you may be planning to address it in Pt.3 - is to see if the total number of awards a film is nominated for is any kind of a predictor of fx award success? Do voters who are not familiar with a certain kind of technical work look at how many awards a movie is nominated for - and, perhaps more specifically, how many *technical* awards a movie is nominated for, and think "oh, all the techies/nominators seem to like it quite well, so maybe I should vote for it..."

It's interesting to see the patterns that are emerging so far, and there were a few times I was surprised - even though I was an active movie goer back when Die Hard, Roger Rabbit and Willow were all out, I somehow came away with the impression that Die Hard had been the box office winner. :D

Todd Vaziri said...

Thorswitch, I'm glad you're enjoying the articles.

You make an interesting point - another way to gauge the 'hype' factor of a movie is, in fact, by tracking the number of additional Academy Award nominations that a particular visual effects nominee earned that year. This way, you would be able to clearly identify the flicks that have immense Oscar buzz behind it, whose momentum could easily drive it to a visual effects statuette. However, I'd contend that these types of films are few and far between in the visual effects world. For every "Titanic" (with 14 nominations), there are a dozen films like "Independence Day," "Death Becomes Her," and "Return to Oz," (2, 1 and 1 nominations, respectively) and quite possibly, there are several years without any nominated visual effects film that would get a boost from having several other nominations.

"Forrest Gump," "Titanic," "Gladiator" and "Return of the King" are the only films in the last 23 years that I can see having benefited in the visual effects category from the buzz of multiple nominations.

However, if you'd like to gather that data together and send it to me, I'd be happy to post it!