Oscars 2016: Indies Knock Box Office Hits Off Best Picture List

“Star Wars,” “Inside Out” and “Straight Outta Compton” miss the cut while “Brooklyn,” “Spotlight” and “Room” get in


Blockbusters and box office hits took a backseat to smaller, independent movies on the list of Best Picture Oscar nominees announced Thursday by the Academy.

Disney’s record-shattering “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which last week became the highest-grossing film ever at the U.S. box office, was snubbed. And so was “Inside Out” from Pixar Animation. Universal’s breakout hit “Straight Outta Compton” didn’t make it either.

Instead “Room,” Brooklyn” and “Spotlight” made the list. To put this in perspective, those three films combined have grossed a total of $57 million. The three hit films that failed to get in have grossed $1.3 billion domestically.

That’s par for the course recently among Academy voters, who tend to favor art over commerce most years. Last year, not a single movie nominated for Best Picture had grossed $100 million before the announcement. However, “American Sniper” went from the $3 million it made in a limited run to a record-breaking $350 million after the nominations.

The Academy didn’t turn its back on the most popular films, which had to be a relief for ABC TV executives, since ratings tend to rise when the best known movies are in the running. Fox’s “The Martian” will be the highest-grossing film nominated, with $227 million domestically, and Warner Bros.’ “Mad Max: Fury Road” has brought in $153 million.

“The Revenant” gained a ton of momentum off its strong showing at the Golden Globes earlier this week and a breakout expansion last weekend, and Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson said Thursday that the studio was upping its theater count to 3,575.

Of course, Open Road’s “Spotlight” and Fox Searchlight’s “Brooklyn” have been hits too, just on a smaller scale. While their grosses are a fraction of those taken in by the hit films, so are their budgets.

The two film companies plan to make the most of their opportunity. Both are set to expand their theater counts significantly this weekend, with “Brooklyn” going from 294 to 681, and “Spotlight,” which was in 368 theaters last weekend, widening to 973 this weekend.

Of course, box office numbers are notoriously poor indicators of Oscar success.

In 2009, the year Jim Cameron’s “Avatar” was dominating the box office with nearly $600 million, five movies over $100 million were nominated, including “Up” with $293 million and “The Blind Side” with $238 million. But in one of the biggest Oscar upsets ever, “The Hurt Locker” took home the big prize. Giving the win an extra edge, the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Cameron’s ex-wife.