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Why America's Favorite Movies Don't Win Best Picture Oscars

"If this trend continues, in 20 years nobody but Academy members will even have heard of the Best Picture," Briggs said in a pre-Oscars blog post last year. "On the other hand, if the previous 5 Most Popular pictures are any guide -- Shrek 2, Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Spider-Man 3, The Dark Knight, Avatar -- the Most Popular movie two decades from now will be targeted at audiences who are still attempting to master pasting and scissoring skills."

This year's Top 10 grossing films bear that out. Among the witches, transforming robots and dudebros were five other sequels ( Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Fast Five, Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol, Cars 2 and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and the comic-book prequel Thor. With the exception of the Hangover sequel, The Help and Bridesmaids, much of last year's Top 20 was a CGI blur. It's also exactly what mass-consumption movie audiences wanted to see.

"They want make-believe, effects, explosions, sex -- in short, pure distraction," Farr says. "The movies that cater to this group are often fairly mindless and formulaic."

They also overwhelmingly tend to be action and adventure movies. Briggs notes that only four Best Picture films have ever fit into that genre: Around the World in 80 Days in 1956, Ben-Hur in 1959, Gladiator in 2000 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003. Conversely, a full 33% of the top-grossing films during that same span have been in the action genre. If you want to win an Oscar, write a drama. That genre has won roughly 56% of all best-picture Oscars while making up only 27% of the top-grossing films of the Oscar era.

Whatever you do, don't make people laugh. Comedies have been named best picture only four times since 1929 and only twice in the past 75 years: Annie Hall in 1977 and Shakespeare in Love in 1998. Considering comedies were 11% of top-grossing films in the past 84 years, the Academy voting panel's a pretty tough room.

"The movies that tend to win Oscars are usually slightly higher-brow," Farr says. "They may have high entertainment value, but are also being judged on excellence in story, script, acting and technique."
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