The top (best picture) Oscar has increasingly gone to films that are soon forgotten, intones a recent issue of the British newsweekly, The Economist.
Gosh, no kidding.
This confirms our suspicion that recent Oscar winners, while often experiencing temporary box office boosts, are soon consigned to the dustbin of neglected Hollywoodiana.
Quickly: which movie actually won the best picture Oscar for 2018? (Answer below.)
To buttress its overall thesis, The Economist referred to a website we like a lot — IMDb — which contains a list of references to what the newsweekly describes as rates of mentions of every film in subsequent films and tv shows.
In other words, the listing tracks how many times a specific movie is talked about and/or cited in other and later films or tv shows. Back to The Economist: For example, ‘Casablanca’ has over 1,600 references , including a discussion in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and a poster in ‘True Romance.’
The Economist figures, as do we, that the more after-initial-playoff mentions of a movie, the greater its claim to being the kind of “classic” we talk about. The film lives on long after its departure from theaters.
So a rough proxy for a movie’s cultural influence is to count how many times it was referred to in subsequent years, and then compare its tally with those of all other films made in the same year.
In general, best picture Oscar winners from Hollywood’s classic period, the Thirties to the Sixties, were most frequently talked about. Fully 68% of references to films made in 1939 are to ‘Gone With The Wind’ (a winner) and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (nominated).
Best picture winners in the 1950’s had a 20% chance of being the most-referred-to film, discovered The Economist. That changed after the 1970’s when box office blockbusters took over popular conversation, and more or less split audience preferences from critics’ darlings.
The exception that may prove the rule, of course, was 1972’s The Godfather, which won a best picture Oscar and also emerged as the year’s biggest box office smash. A genuine classic, the movie drew more than 30% of subsequent references for films released in that year.
As Oscar voters more and more spurned more commercial movies, the rate of subsequent best-picture winner’s mentions — and the film’s cultural influence overall — has diminished sharply. It has usually been the big blockbuster that hog the conversations.
The result: Best Picture winners today have just a 2% chance of leading the references table.
As The Economist headlines: No longer a tastemaker… The Academy’s influence peaked a half century ago. (And by the way, when was the last time 2018’s best picture winner,”Green Book,’ came up in conversation around the watercooler?)