Abstract: Oscars, Razzies, and Tentpoles

2018 is slated for roughly 40 tentpole releases. The name “tentpole” comes from the fact that these films both support a studio and can also support the sale of related merchandise. For the past years, Disney’s run of success has proven the wisdom of betting on tentpoles. But, Marvel hasn’t cornered the market on tentpoles. After all, Transformers 4 made 1.1 billion dollars worldwide. Wonder Woman made 821 million worldwide. So, it’s not hard to understand why studios continue to greenlight these tentpoles. What interests me is why people continue to go to these movies time after time when they often feel so similar. The basic plots aren’t changing much movie to movie, yet people keep showing up and paying increasingly steep ticket prices. So, one trend is that big budget movies, sequels, and franchises continue to dominate the marketplace, and Black Panther’s recent success indicates that studios aren’t likely to deviate from that strategy.

At the same time, I want to look at movies that are a bit smaller than Black Panther. One metric for what attracts an audience is box-office success. I’m also curious what stories draw the Oscars’ voters, who are certainly not a perfect and objective measure of quality, but give some idea of the films that are mainstream but deemed artistically worthy of recognition. I’ll be looking at the movies nominated for Best Original and Adapted Screenplay in the past year to see what about the stories captured people. What currents in our culture are they responding to that led to such a positive response? What do the movies that we raise up tell about our cultural values and fears?

Lastly, I want to take time to look at some of the worst films of the years, which are recognized by the “anti-Oscars,” the Razzies. Again, this is not a perfect measure, but it gives a slice of five movies from the past year that, regardless of box-office, were recognized by a semi-official body as atrocious. What separates Transformers: The Last Knight from the Marvel movies that are deemed near-masterpieces? Is Transformers trying to tell a story people are uninterested in; is it telling the same story badly? What separates the wheat from the chaff?

I’ll be attending Telluride Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival to see what the newest movies are dealing with. Inevitably, some of these movies have massive Oscar buzz surrounding them (3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF and went on to get 7 Oscar nominations with a win for both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell). With these festivals, I also hope to discern the differences in the stories that are compelling to American filmmakers versus filmmakers from different backgrounds. In all of this, I hope to get a sense for how storytelling affects the public and what signals we’re sending regarding the stories that we like, whether these signals are sent with our wallets or through the recognition of an Oscar, a Razzie, or a berth in a prestigious film festival.


  1. coolrob831 says:

    This is a very interesting project! I’ve always wondered what exactly the difference between critically-acclaimed, award-winning movies and the highest-grossing movies (often not the same films) could be. In the present cinema climate, it seems as if everyone awaits the continuation of a major series that sees a new installment once-a-year, while all the other movies take a sort of “excitement backseat”. However, these films are often the ones that receive the Oscar nominations and high critical praise! And also, how can some of these big films, made with what seems to be a similar formulaic process, bomb at the box office and with the critics. What process do you plan on using to attempt to determine these differences? I can’t wait to see what you find!