Argo-nomics: the Commercial Value of Oscars

The Oscars: merit award or money maker?

| Orawan Gardner

Argo (Affleck, 2012) won best picture at the Oscars last night. This confirms an opinion I’ve had about the awards for a while now, which is that they’re as much about merit as they are about industry self-congratulations and, of course, making money.

Not to say that Argo is without merit—I don’t think many can claim it isn’t at least entertaining—but this is the second year in a row where a film about filmmaking has won the top honor at an event put on by filmmakers to celebrate how great film is.  Sound circular? Well, it kind of is—and not without reason. In film, self-promotion pays.

Last year’s best picture winner, The Artist (Langmann, 2011), enjoyed a 41 percent boost in ticket sales after the awards ceremony. Academy Awards and nominations also increase a film’s distribution, DVD sales, and star earning potential. Actors who win for lead performances can expect about a 20 percent increase in pay for their next film. No wonder Daniel Day-Lewis looked so giddy last night.

According to CBS,

[A]ward nominations can mean the difference between profits and bankruptcy for some movie productions. This is why marketers go to great lengths to promote their movies for the Oscars long before the nominations are announced in January. They spend from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars promoting their films for an Oscar nomination.

The Oscars, in the end, are not just awards, but another kind of (very effective) advertisement. With so much to gain, it makes sense that Academy voters shy away from the controversial or quirky films in favor of the flashy or epic—in other words, most widely marketable. Argo portrays the film industry as a kind of action hero, making its win not just a promotion of that specific film, but of the industry as a whole. That’s just good business practice.

Orawan Gardner

Orawan was formerly a project associate who produced written and visual content for Orawan was an AmeriCorps VISTA member and studied film at Vassar College, where she received her B.A.

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