There was a time when the Academy Award for Best Picture was given to films that were not just critical darlings, but commercial successes as well. This was the case for decades, in fact, as Gone with the Wind still stands as the most successful film of all time when adjusted for inflation and from the 1920s to the 70s, there was typically a strong correlation between a film being number one at the box office and taking home the big prize on Oscar night. However, more and more we’re seeing the Best Picture Oscar go to movies that general audiences have little interest in seeing. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that these movies are undeserving of the accolades they receive, but more that what Academy voters and the average American like to watch are becoming increasingly disparate.
With that in mind, here are the 15 lowest-grossing Best Picture winners of all time, adjusted for inflation.
15. Crash (2005)
Original Gross: $54,557,348
Adjusted Gross: $69,713,284
One of the most controversial Best Picture winners in Oscar history, Crash beat out the running favorite Brokeback Mountain to win the top prize at the 78th Academy Awards. The win sparked allegations of anti-gay sentiment among Academy voters, while others simply felt that Crash was undeserving of the accolades it received. Featuring a large ensemble cast including actors such as Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, and Thandie Newton, the fervor surrounding Crash did not translate to overwhelming box office success, as the film earned a respectable, though far from earth-shattering $54.5 million ($69.7M in today’s dollars).
http://www.sky.com/tv/movie/crash-2004 Source: Sky.com
14. The Shape of Water (2017)
Domestic Gross: $63,842,519
The most recent Best Picture winner, Guillermo del Toro’s moving, fantastical film about a deaf woman who falls in love with a mysterious creature imprisoned in a government facility was probably never going to set the box office on fire even with the accolades it received. That being said, The Shape of Water did see a substantial increase in domestic earnings following the announcement of its 13 Oscar nominations in January 2018 and finished its run with $63.8 million. While this made The Shape of Water a modest hit in the grand scheme of things, it’s still the best box office performance from a Best Picture winner since Ben Affleck’s Argo grossed $136 million in 2012.
http://www.dreadcentral.com/editorials/268073/shape-water-power-silent-performance/ Source: Dread Central
13. Gigi (1958)
Original Gross: $7,300,000
Adjusted Gross: $63,036,131
This 1958 musical directed by Vincente Minnelli is widely considered to be the last great Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical production, a distinction that is reflected in its then-record breaking cleanup on Oscar night. Gigi won nine awards at the 1959 ceremony, the most ever by a single film up to that point. However, Gigi’s achievements would not hold for long, as the record was broken the very next year when Ben-Hur won 11 Oscars. In terms of box office, Gigi turned a profit and earned $7.3 million domestically, which when adjusted for inflation converts to just over $63 million – not a shabby take by any means, but definitely not anywhere near the top of the Best Picture all-time list.
http://www.cinematrove.com/gigi-1958/ Source: Cinema Trove
12 Years a Slave (2013)
Original Gross: $56,671,993
Adjusted Gross: $60,709,583
When you take into account its intense subject matter, 12 Years a Slave actually performed very well at the box office. Though a bit slow to start, Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s harrowing 1853 memoir of the same name gained a lot of traction once awards season rolled around and the film received a ton of nominations. 12 Years a Slave went onto win three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o and Best Director. Domestically, the film earned $56.6 million but performed much better overseas with $131M earned in foreign markets, making 12 Years a Slave – which only cost $20 million to make – a commercial success overall.
11. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
Original Gross: $3,000,000
Adjusted Gross: $53,860,575
A fictionalized tribute to Broadway theater impresario Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Robert Z. Leonard’s 1936 musical ended up becoming of the most successful films of the 1930s, earning three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress for Luise Rainer, and Best Dance Direction for Seymour Felix. While the film is still regarded as one of the best musicals to come out of Hollywood’s Golden Age, The Great Ziegfeld hasn’t aged as well as its accolades would suggest, with contemporary critics considering it overlong and excessively showy. In terms of box office performance, The Great Ziegfeld earned approximately $3M, which was an impressive haul back in the mid-30s at the height of the Great Depression, but by today’s standards makes it a lower Best Picture performer.
10. The Artist (2011)
Original Gross: $44,671,682
Adjusted Gross: $49,560,089
This modern day silent film and love letter to classic Hollywood took the 84th Academy Awards by storm when it won five of the ten categories it was nominated for, including Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Jean Dujardin, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and of course, Best Picture. However, much like almost everyone has already forgotten about this film’s existence, The Artist didn’t exactly light up the box office charts, finishing with $44.6M in domestic receipts, making it the 10th lowest grossing Best Picture winner of all time.
9. Spotlight (2015)
Original Gross: $45,055,776
Adjusted Gross: $47,438,998
Out of the eight films nominated for 2015’s Best Picture, Spotlight ranked third overall in terms of profitability, earning just over $45M domestically against a $20M budget. This was good enough for an estimated profit of $10 million, which is pretty good for a serious drama about Boston newspaper reporters trying to expose child sex abuse in the Catholic church. Still, this pales in comparison to the box office haul of one of Spotlight’s competitors, The Martian, which earned over $600M worldwide and had a profit of $100M or higher. Sure, that’s like comparing apples to oranges, but Spotlight was still part of a downward trend in Best Picture earnings in the 2010s, which only proves that Oscar wins can only get you so far when it comes to trying to convince people to see your movie.
Open Road Films
8. It Happened One Night (1934)
Original Gross: $2,500,000
Adjusted Gross: $46,558,582
A screwball comedy classic directed by Frank Capra and starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night was the first film to win all five of the top Oscar categories: Best Picture, Actor (Cable), Actress (Colbert), Director (Capra), and Screenplay. This is a feat that wouldn’t be repeated until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest accomplished it in 1975. In terms of Box Office performance, It Happened One Night is yet another case of old Hollywood success being difficult to compare to modern trends, as the film’s $2.5M haul made it Columbia’s highest grossing film up to that point but when adjusted for inflation, this number fails to impress and puts Capra’s film on the lower end of Best Picture winner earnings.
7. Birdman (2014)
Original Gross: $42,340,598
Adjusted Gross: $44,633,117
Coming in as the 82nd highest grossing film of 2014, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was a box office disappointment overall and one of the lowest grossing Best Picture winners of the modern era. Whether it was the strange title or the bewildering subject matter at the heart of Iñárritu’s dark comedy, not many moviegoers were interested in seeing Michael Keaton play a washed up actor trying to launch his Broadway career.
http://www.hitfix.com/movies/birdman Source: Hitfix.com
6. An American in Paris (1951)
Original Gross: $4,500,000
Adjusted Gross: $43,192,038
Yet another Vincette Minnelli-directed Best Picture-winning musical, An American in Paris is still regarded as one of the greatest movie musicals ever made. Though the film proved financially successful in its time, earning $4.5M for MGM and turning a profit in the process, An American in Paris’ adjusted earnings place it on the lower end of Best Picture winners when ranked by box office performance.
5. Marty (1955)
Original Gross: $4,000,000
Adjusted Gross: $37,246,865
The placement of Marty – Delbert Mann’s 1955 drama about a mid-30s butcher living in the Bronx who unexpectedly finds love – in the top 5 ranking needs to be clarified a bit. Though the film’s box office earnings are quite low compared to the majority of other Best Picture winners out there, the fact that the film was made for just $350,000 means that it was still quite profitable. That being said, this is one of those films that critics and film buffs adore but you’d probably be hard-pressed to see it discussed much by the average movie fan.
https://medium.com/@jordanarobison/watching-marty-1955-for-the-first-time-with-my-wife-d4e063ed7b28 Source: Medium
4. All The King’s Men (1949)
Original Gross: $3,500,000
Adjusted Gross: $36,699,117
Based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, All The King’s Men follows the rise of Willie Stark from rural politician to ruthless governor was a hit with critics and a box office success in its time with $3.5 million in earnings. However, when adjusted for inflation, this figure only translates to around $36.7M, making All The King’s Men one of the weakest Best Picture winners of all time in terms of total earnings.
https://medium.com/@boedeckerboulder/the-boedecker-theater-cinema-blog-8bd6e1a33381 Source: Medium
3. Hamlet (1948)
Original Gross: $3,075,000
Adjusted Gross: $31,841,433
Laurence Olivier’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy is the most decorated Hamlet movie ever made when it comes to awards, with Olivier winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor. Nowadays, the film is still well-regarded (particularly Olivier’s lead performance) but as a Hamlet adaptation, it leaves much to be desired given that it compresses a four hour long play into a two hour runtime. Unsurprisingly given that Shakespeare adaptations aren’t collectively known for putting up huge box office numbers, Hamlet was a hit by 1948 standards but not so much when measured up to most Best Picture winners that have been released since.
https://letterboxd.com/film/hamlet/ Source: Letterboxd
2. Moonlight (2016)
Original Gross: $27,854,932
Adjusted Gross: $28,962,945
The most recent example of the division between the Academy and the public’s taste in movies, Moonlight was revered by critics but its selection as Best Picture was both an artsy and political pick – and an alienating one at that. With $27.8M earned domestically, Moonlight’s box office failure can be read as being symptomatic of a larger trend of small, independent movies made for adult audiences not having lets at the multiplex . That isn’t to say that these kinds of movies don’t have a sizable audience, but with TV continuing to become a more viable, popular option for creators to tell these kinds of stories, it’s simply becoming less likely that the Moonlights of the world are going to become $100 million box office phenomenons.
https://www.the-numbers.com/movie/Moonlight-(2015) Source: The Numbers
1. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Original Gross: $14,700,000
Adjusted Gross: $17,099,352
Yes, we were surprised to see this one land at the number one spot too. Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be, as at the time of The Hurt Locker’s release, movies about the Iraq War were still an unpopular subject among American audiences and even though Kathryn Bigelow’s film had the benefit of a Best Picture win under its belt, it barely turned a profit. The film did so poorly at the box office, in fact, that it is one of only five Best Picture winners to never enter the weekend box office top 5, as well as one of only two to never enter the top 10. On the bright side, The Hurt Locker also made history for much more positive reasons, chief of which is that it earned Bigelow a Best Director Oscar, marking the first time in history that the prize was awarded to a female director.