Fifty Shades of Grey
Chuck Zlotnick—Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection
By Brad Tuttle
February 24, 2015

The one overarching criticism of the 2015 Oscars isn’t exactly a new one. People have been complaining for years that the Academy Awards—who gets nominated, and who eventually wins—are generally too snobby, too elitist, and just plain too out of touch with mainstream American culture and the movie-going masses. This year, the near absence of minority nominees was especially glaring, noted by host Neil Patrick Harris’s joke that the night’s purpose was to honor “Hollywood’s best and whitest—sorry, brightest.”

“Members of the Academy have simply grown too old to appreciate, understand or even notice pop culture,” noted one USA Today column, citing data indicating that Oscar voters are not only past their prime (median age: 62) but also are overwhelmingly male and white.

As one film expert explained to the New York Times, the 2015 show gives much credence to the critique that the Academy Awards are snobby, and perhaps are growing increasingly irrelevant:

For one indication of how out of touch the Oscars are with what fans want to see in theaters, look no further than how the current most popular film, Fifty Shades of Grey, compares at the box office with the Academy Awards’ darlings. Best Picture winner Birdman has taken in a total of $37 million in domestic ticket sales, while Boyhood—universally regarded as the runner-up in the category—did about $25 million at the box office in 2014. Together, that’s $62 million, or about two-thirds of the $94 million in revenues that Fifty Shades of Grey made in just four days around President’s Day weekend.

Overall, in less than two weeks, Fifty Shades of Grey has surpassed the $400 million mark in global ticket sales. Remove American Sniper—the one Best Picture nominee with truly blockbuster sales, to the tune of $320 million and counting—and the box office take of Fifty Shades already handily trumps that of the remaining seven Best Picture nominees combined. (Collectively, they’ve earned roughly $300 million in ticket sales, per BoxOfficeMojo.com.)

Based on this disconnect of the movies the Academy wants to celebrate and the films that the public actually wants to see, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that TV ratings for the show were exceptionally lackluster. The number of viewers dropped 16% compared with the year before, making for the fourth worst performance in four decades. Twitter usage related to the awards was down as well, by about 6%. Insult to injury: The show’s most tweeted moment didn’t feature a movie star or a new film, but was Lady Gaga singing a medley from The Sound of Music.

In the aftermath of the 2015 Oscars, which opened with a musical number in which Jack Black—star of Kung Fu Panda, Kung Fu Panda 2, and (soon) Kung Fu Panda 3, mind you—bashes Hollywood for focusing on box office results and pushing sequels and superhero films, James Gunn, writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy, took to Facebook to defend comic book movies and, by extension, popular movies in general.

“The truth is, popular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite,” Gunn wrote on Monday:

Perhaps The Lego Movie—like Guardians, in the top five at the box office in 2014, but mostly snubbed at the Oscars—had the best response to the Academy’s elitism. The film was featured in what had to be the show’s Most “Awesome” Performance, with an wild and energetic version of “Everything Is Awesome” by Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island. And in the middle of the song, dancers handed out “Oscars” built with yellow Lego bricks to the audience.

The move could be viewed as just some clever product placement, much like the movie itself. But it also might have sent a little message, along the lines of: Members of some elitist “Academy” aren’t the only ones who get to give out awards. Heck, anyone can make their own awards and hand them out however they please.

Isn’t that essentially what we’re doing when we plunk down good money to buy tickets to a movie?

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