Do Blockbuster Movies Ever Win Best Picture Oscars?

01
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Box Office Blockbusters vs. Awards Recognition -- Why Not Both?

Return of the King
New Line Cinema

This observation won't make you choke on your popcorn, but it’s true: Oftentimes the biggest blockbuster movie of a year isn’t the best movie of the year. While superheroes and franchises sell the most tickets these days, they’re not always considered quality filmmaking. Because of that, it’s rare to see any of the highest grossing movies of any given year even being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In fact, in recent years the Best Picture Oscar has been awarded to films that most moviegoers haven’t even seen.

Of course, there's no need to disparage either blockbusters or masterpieces, but rarely do the two coincide. Only 6 times since 1995 has the highest grossing movie of the year been nominated for Best Picture, and no Best Picture Oscar winner has grossed more than $150 million at the U.S. box office since 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In fact, since then 6 winners have failed to gross even $75 million. It’s common for most of Best Picture nominees in a given year to gross less than $100 million, and several didn't even break $50 million until after nominations are announced… if at all.

Check out how the highest grossing films since 1995 have fared in the Best Picture Oscar race each year.

02
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1995

Toy Story
Walt Disney Pictures

Highest Grossing Movie: Toy Story ($191.8 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: Braveheart ($75.6 million)

While Toy Story wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, director John Lasseter received a Special Achievement Award for creating the First Feature-Length Computer-Animated Film. Since Special Achievement Awards are rarely awarded – there hasn’t been one awarded since Toy Story – it could be considered an even bigger achievement.

03
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1996

Independence Day
20th Century Fox

Highest Grossing Movie: Independence Day ($306.2 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: The English Patient ($78.6 million)  

Independence Day was nominated for two Oscars in technical categories, and won for Best Visual Effects.
 

04
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1997

Titanic
20th Century Fox

Highest Grossing Movie: Titanic ($600.8 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? Yes
Best Picture Winner: Titanic

Titanic dominated both the box office and the 70th Academy Awards, winning 11 Oscars.
 

05
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1998

Saving Private Ryan
DreamWorks

Highest Grossing Movie: Saving Private Ryan ($216.5 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? Yes
Best Picture Winner: Shakespeare in Love ($100.3 million)

Saving Private Ryan won five Oscars – including Best Director for Steven Spielberg -- but in a major surprise, lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love. Many consider it one of the most shocking upsets in Oscar history.

06
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1999

Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace
Lucasfilm

Highest Grossing Movie: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ($431.1 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: American Beauty ($130.1 million)

The first Star Wars prequel was considered an average film by most critics, so it was not considered an Oscar contender. It was nominated for three technical Oscars, but won none.

07
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2000

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Universal Pictures

Highest Grossing Movie: How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($260 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: Gladiator ($187.7 million)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas might have won over audiences, but it got so-so reviews when it was released. Still, it won the Oscar for Best Makeup. Of course, Gladiator did very well at the box office too.

08
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2001

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Warner Bros.

Highest Grossing Movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ($317.5 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: A Beautiful Mind ($170.7 million)

Director Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas may not have been Best Picture material, but he struck gold the following year with A Beautiful Mind.

09
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2002

Spider-Man
Columbia Pictures

Highest Grossing Movie: Spider-Man ($403.7 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: Chicago ($170.6)

Peter Parker’s first movie received nominations for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects, but didn't win. Nonetheless, many analysts didn’t expect Chicago to win the Best Picture Oscar despite its box office success.

10
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2003

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
New Line Cinema

Highest Grossing Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($377 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? Yes
Best Picture Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Like Titanic five years earlier, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King dominated both the box office and the Oscars. It also took home 11 Oscars.

11
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2004

Shrek 2
Dreamworks

Highest Grossing Movie: Shrek 2 ($441.2 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: Million Dollar Baby ($100.5 million)

Animated films and sequels tend to fare poorly when it comes to Oscar nominations, so Shrek 2 never had a chance even though it made more than four times the eventual winner. It was nominated for Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature.

12
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2005

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Lucasfilm

Highest Grossing Movie: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ($380.3 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: Crash ($54.6 million)

Like Shakespeare in Love, Crash winning Best Picture was considered a major upset and was the lowest-grossing winner since 1987’s The Last Emperor. Revenge of the Sith received a nomination for Best Makeup.

13
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2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Walt Disney Pictures

Highest Grossing Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($423.3 million)
Nominated for Best Picture?  No
Best Picture Winner: The Departed ($132.4 million)

While the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, this year was all about Martin Scorese’s The Departed, which won four Oscars.

14
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2007

Spider-Man 3
Columbia Pictures

Highest Grossing Movie: Spider-Man 3 ($336.5 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: No Country for Old Men ($74.3 million)

Despite its box office success, Spider-Man 3 was not a critical favorite at all and didn't have a chance of getting nominated for Best Picture.

15
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2008

The Dark Knight
Warner Bros.

Highest Grossing Movie: The Dark Knight ($533.3 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: Slumdog Millionaire ($141.3 million)

The Dark Knight became the first superhero movie to win an Oscar for acting (Health Ledger for Best Supporting Actor), and many were surprised that the film didn’t receive a Best Picture nomination despite its massive success and widespread acclaim.

16
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2009

Avatar
20th Century Fox

Highest Grossing Movie: Avatar ($749.8 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? Yes
Best Picture Winner: The Hurt Locker ($17 million)

What a contrast: Avatar broke the record for the highest-grossing movie of all-time, while The Hurt Locker broke the record for the lowest-grossing movie to win Best Picture. In an attempt to include more blockbusters like Avatar, the Academy also expanded the number of nominated films from five to ten for the first time since 1944.

17
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2010

Toy Story 3
Walt Disney Pictures

Highest Grossing Movie: Toy Story 3 ($415 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? Yes
Best Picture Winner: The King's Speech ($135.5 million)

With Best Picture having ten nominations, Toy Story 3 easily made the cut. Though it didn't win Best Picture, Toy Story 3 won for Best Animated Feature so Pixar didn’t go home empty-handed.  

18
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2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Warner Bros.

Highest Grossing Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($381 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: The Artist ($44.7 million)

Even though there were nine nominations for Best Picture, the final Harry Potter movie didn’t make the cut. The Artist was a critical favorite, but many questioned if the little-seen silent movie really resonated with general audiences.

19
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2012

The Avengers
Marvel Studios

Highest Grossing Movie: The Avengers ($623.4 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: Argo ($136 million)

The Avengers received just one Oscar nomination – for Visual Effects – though it didn’t win.

20
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2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Lionsgate

Highest Grossing Movie: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ($424.7 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: 12 Years a Slave ($56.7 million)

Like with Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Avengers, yet another popular franchise blockbuster was not nominated for Best Picture.

21
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2014

American Sniper
Warner Bros.

Highest Grossing Movie: American Sniper ($350.1 million)
Nominated for Best Picture? Yes
Best Picture Winner: Birdman ($42.3 million)

Not only was American Sniper the highest grossing 2014 movie, it grossed more than the other seven Best Pictures nominees combined.

22
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2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Lucasfilm

Highest Grossing Movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($830+ million)
Nominated for Best Picture? No
Best Picture Winner: TBD

While it isn't known what film will be awarded Best Picture of 2015, it won't be Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the highest-grossing movie of all time in the U.S. The Force Awakens was not nominated for Best Picture. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Hollywood legend John Williams' 50th nomination.