Magazine article Variety

Academy Awards Need to Polish Image of Tainted Industry

Magazine article Variety

Academy Awards Need to Polish Image of Tainted Industry

Article excerpt

WHEN THE ACADEMY Awards were first handed out 89 years ago, Variety reported at the time that the planning for the dinner and ceremony at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood took about a week of organizing to pull together and the awards ceremony took all of 15 minutes.

Those were the days.

Another sign of the changing times was Academy founder Louis B. Mayer's original scheme to use the Academy to delay or block unionization of Hollywood. As David Thomson colorfully describes the birth of the Academy in Vanity Fair: "So Mr. Mayer and his pals decided they needed an organization to handle labor problems at the studio without having to get into the union thing, and it would be a public relations operation that pumped out the message that Hollywood was a wonderful place where delightful and thrilling stories were made to give the folks a good time."

If time has totally transmogrified the planning, execution and union-busting purpose of the Oscars, what remains steadfast, true and virtually unaltered after all these years is the industry's dream of using the Oscars to put butts in seats and to puffup the industry's oft-tattered image.

As these 90th edition statues prepared to meet their new owners, it would appear the first goal of boosting box office is increasingly vanishing into the Hollywood ether.

In box-office terms, the Oscars ironically now seem almost exclusively focused on promoting the kinds of films that play only a marginal - and shrinking - role in the economics of the American film industry.

A quick sprint through the history of the business of the Oscar best picture race reveals: With $11 billion in domestic box office revenues in 2017, the nine best picture nominees' cumulative gross of approximately $530 million represents less than 5% of the annual theatrical tally.

In 2010, the first year the best picture race doubled its entries in an effort to include blockbusters such as the previous year's most prominent "snub," "The Dark Knight," the 10 best picture nominees repped closer to 11% of the year's box-office receipts. So in less than a decade, the gap between the Oscar contenders and the publicly embraced hits has more than doubled.

But the real disconnection between the Oscars as arbiter of the film arts' creative excellence and as celebration of the medium's most fan-friendly offerings is revealed when you compare the best picture race today to the days when moviegoing had far fewer rivals. …

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