Friday, 11 June 2021

1930 to 1945 by the numbers Part IV (Oscar nominees vs box office hits)

Previous articles within my 1930 to 1945 project were concerned with box office figures. Which films, studios, genres, directors, and actors were the most prominent ones at the box office. This article will look at the Academy Award nominees for best film for that time period, and compare it to the box office lists. What is the same and what is different? Is MGM as dominant there as it was at the box office?

Here are all the nominees for best film for each year. As you can see the number of films that were nominated varied a lot from year to year.

There are in total 142 films, and while there are overlaps with the most successful films, box office wise, there are also differences. Of those that made it onto the top ten lists for each year (see earlier post), 61 also got nominated for best film. Among the nominees are also several European films, four British and one French, and there are more production companies involved. MGM is the studio with the most nominations, but it does not dominate as much as at the box office.

For both the box office successes and best film nominees, the same three studios are in the top: MGM, Paramount, and Warner Bros, with MGM having the most films either way. Of the 142 films, 34 were made by MGM, which makes 24%. That is a lot but still considerably less than at the box office, where MGM dominated with 35%. Paramount also lost something, 11,3% among the nominees but 18% of the box office. They were overtaken by Warner Bros., which had 11% of the box office hits but 17,8% among the nominated films. Several small independent productions got nominated that were not among the box office hits, such as The Caddo Company (The Front Page 1931), Hal Roach Productions (Of Mice and Men 1939), Sol Lesser (Our Town 1940), and Argosy-Wanger (The Long Voyage Home 1940). A neglected part of the history of the studio era are definitely the independents, beyond David O. Selznick.

The European productions that got nominated for best picture were The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), La grande illusion (1937), Pygmalion (1938), 49th Parallel (1941) and In Which We Serve (1942). The last two could be seen as contributions to the war effort (and 49th Parallel is set in Canada) but the first three are interesting, especially the inclusion of La grande illusion as the only non-English language film for the whole period. It shows in what immense esteem the film was held, and still is.

The kind of films that are nominated for best film are more or less the same as those that were the most profitable, but with some artistically more daring films nominated, and fewer melodramas, musicals, and rambunctious comedies. There are no European films among the box office hits, and none of Orson Welles's films either. The films by Chaplin were considerably more popular among the audiences than among the voters at the Academy.

That is one thing that signals a difference between box office hits and best film nominees, who directed the films that were nominated, compared to who directed box office hits.

These were the directors who did the most films among the box office hits:

Clarence Brown (mainly MGM), Frank Capra (Columbia), Mervyn LeRoy (WB and MGM), Michael Curtiz (WB), and Cecil B. DeMille (Paramount) had 5 films each. George Cukor (three studios) and Henry King (Fox and Twentieth Century-Fox) had 6 films each. Victor Fleming (Fox and MGM) had 7 films, and W.S. Van Dyke 8 films, all for MGM.

Among the nominees for best film, it is instead William Wyler who has directed the most films: seven. The following directed six each: John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy, Sam Wood, Frank Capra, and Michael Curtiz. George Cukor too, but one of them was co-directed with Ernst Lubitsch, One Hour with You (1932). The following had five films among the nominees: Henry King, Leo McCarey, and Lubitsch (including One Hour with You).

Only Capra, LeRoy, Curtiz, Cukor, and King are on both lists. Van Dyke, and especially DeMille, did a lot better with the audiences than with the members of the Academy. Here are all the best film nominees again, but with their directors instead of studio/producer:


You might want to compare it to the list of those who were nominated for best direction:

73 nominations, to 37 directors. Wyler, Capra, and Clarence Brown got five each. Ford and Curtiz got four each. Hitchcock, although he did not arrive until 1940, still managed three.

This research work continues, and in future posts I want to look at, for example, the extent to which the films at the box office, as well as among those nominated for best film, were based on previously published material, such as novels, short stories, or articles.


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The earlier articles in this series:

https://fredrikonfilm.blogspot.com/2021/03/1930-to-1945-by-numbers-part-i.html

https://fredrikonfilm.blogspot.com/2021/04/1930-to-1945-by-numbers-part-ii.html

https://fredrikonfilm.blogspot.com/2021/04/1930-to-1945-by-numbers-part-iii-actors.html

You can support me on Patreon if you like: https://www.patreon.com/fredrikonfilm

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