The ballyhoo over this year’s Academy Awards show might boost the television ratings but it will do little to resurrect three of the films' bad box office numbers. Of course, the Academy of Arts and Sciences might be willing this year to trade ratings numbers for box office receipts. Last year’s Oscar awards drew their lowest rating in history with an estimated 32 million viewers. In fact, according to Nielson Media Research the highest-rated Oscar telecast of the past five years was 2004, when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won best picture. That might be due to the fact that people actually went to the theaters to see the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and were therefore interested in finding out if the Academy agreed with their assessment of what makes for great theater.
Not so this year…the combined box office receipts for the five films nominated for best picture is around $300 million. That’s about 57% of The Dark Knight’s box office take. And if you take out Slumdog Millionaire (which grossed $86,696,000) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which grossed $122,276,000) you have a total box office Oscar meltdown with the three remaining nominees accounting for a paltry $61,954,000. In Hollywood terms, that is considered chump change.
So…why does Hollywood keep patting itself on the back for movies very few people want to see? A look at the nominees for best picture since 2004 reveals a Hollywood elite that is pushing a view of America that Americans are not interested in viewing. In 2005, moviegoers were asked to endure the trashing of the American cowboy and the glorification of homosexual attraction in the forgettable Brokeback Mountain. They were asked to enter into the twisted mind of narcissistic, self-serving Truman Capote. As you might imagine, most people decided it wasn’t worth the price of a movie ticket to watch someone self-destruct in a cesspool of homosexual decadence, lies, and blind ambition. A majority of the movie-going public came to the same sane conclusion about the eventual Oscar winner for 2005. Crash was billed as a movie that takes on racial stereotypes. It comes off as a movie that makes everything a racial stereotype and totally confuses the idea of good and bad. The rapid-fire profanity and vulgar sex scenes make Crash a perfect Oscar winner for best picture as it perfectly presents what Hollywood thinks Americans should become. Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans were willing to let Crash live up to its name at the box office.
This year’s nominees again represent a thumb in the eye and a thumbing of the nose to the majority of the movie-going public. Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly homosexual to win a major elected office in the United States. Harvey celebrates his 40th birthday by sleeping with a man he meets on a New York subway platform. He and his partner decide to move to the Castro district of San Francisco where Harvey, after losing multiple races for city supervisor and one run for the state assembly, wins a city supervisor seat only to be gunned down by fellow supervisor Dan White.
As you might imagine, Harvey Milk is considered a hero and a martyr in the homosexual community. The movie about his life portrays Christians as bigoted villains because they believe homosexuality is a sin and a threat to the traditional family values that have endured for centuries and have helped shape our culture.
Sean Penn, who won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, used his acceptance speech to take a shot at the people of California who voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage. Penn said, “I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.”
Granted, the big winner on Oscar night was Slumdog Millionaire. Taking home eight Oscars including best picture, it was a box office success and a sentimental favorite. The other Oscar nominee with box office clout, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button can thank star power more than story content for its success. While director David Fincher deals thoughtfully with the concept of death by creatively approaching it from the end and working toward the beginning, his treatment of sexual morality in the film should have ended before the beginning.
If this year’s Oscar nominated films is any indication of how Hollywood sees mainstream America, it appears the two will be out of step for the foreseeable future. Hollywood would rather make movies that, for the most part, go unseen and then pat themselves on the back for presenting their vision of what America should be. As least for now, most Americans don’t want to spend their hard earned money to see the values they hold dear trashed on the sliver screen.
I agree with John Podhoretz, who wrote a review of the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop that appeared in the February 23rd edition of The Weekly Standard. He noted the shock in Hollywood over the success ($100 million at the box office so far) of a movie Variety dismissed as, “an almost shockingly amateurish one-note-joke.” Podhoretz said, “It seems clear that audiences have been hungering for a comedy that doesn’t force them to cover their own eyes in discomfort, their children’s eyes in embarrassment, or their grandmother’s eyes in shame.”
Maybe if we all hunger for the same, Hollywood will eventually change the menu.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.