Top 5 Tuesday – Top 5 Lowest Grossing Best Picture Winners

Top 5 Tuesday – Top 5 Lowest Grossing Best Picture Winners

Oscar Statues

Everyone loves lists.  Top Tens, Billboard Top 200, Bottom Ten, Top 100, etc.  It is inherent and ingrained in our human nature to take the chaos around us and put it in some sort of orderly fashion.  Every Tuesday, Josh lists his Top 5 movies based on an actor, genre, director, theme, holiday, sandwich or general whimsy and posts it for your consumption and discussion.  If you want to submit your own list you can email Josh at with the subject line, “RWT Top 5 Tuesday”, give a short 50-100 word description of the theme and your choices, you could end up seeing your list right here!



It’s the most wonderful movie time of the year!  Forget all those federally recognized holidays (aka days off from work) and presents and food.  For the next two months we’re running on popcorn, Pepsi, and a heaping helping of awards season releases!  Over 50% of the best picture winners since 1978 have released during the months of November and December, so statistically speaking, if you go to a movie during these two months you have a good chance of seeing the movie that will win Best Picture at the Oscars.  Most of these movies are epics classics that left an indelible mark on the culture.  They star big actors, have big budgets (because of those big actors) and start getting buzz for best picture long before they come out.

However, there a group of Best Picture Winners that were not as sensational as some of their peers in this category.  There are about 15 of the last 36 Oscar winners that did not make over $100 million dollars.  Some of them barely even made their budgets and could be seen by some as being commercial failures.  Amazingly, Schindler’s List, Braveheart, and Chariots of Fire made less than $100 million, as well as last year’s winner, 12 Years A Slave, which made $56,671,993 million while in the theaters.  However, there is a group of 8 films that made less than 12 Years a Slave, and only five of them could be on the distinguished list of Top 5 lowest grossing Best Picture Oscar winners.

*As a quick note, I am using the list by Box Office Mojo that lists winners and their box office from 1978 on.  Therefore, movies before that are not a part of this list.  You can find Box Office Mojo’s list HERE.

Honorable Mentions aka Close Calls

Ghandi (1982) – Box Office Gross: $52,767,889 – Powerful movie I remember seeing in high school.  Although, the sequel was quite good, as well.

Crash (2005) – Box Office Gross: $54,580,300 – Never seen it.  It’s on my list, I promise.

Ordinary People (1980) – Box Office Gross: $54,766,923 – Never seen this one either.  I had not even heard of this movie but the cast looks amazing and now I know why Donald Sutherland is such a big deal.


Amadeus (1984) – Box Office Gross: $51,564,280 – 

I first saw Amadeus my Freshman year of High School in my Freshman Social Studies class.  I remember it vividly because our teacher got the addition that put in a bunch of deleted footage, include a bit of nudity, and he jumped up and waved his hands in front of the projector screen when he realized what was on the screen.  Probably a major “Doh” moment for him, but hilarious for a room full of 14-year olds.  However, I have now seen this movie a couple times and this is truly an amazing film.  It has deep pathos and incredibly thought-provoking themes of faith, legalism, and art.  Crazily enough, it is one of three movies on this list that never made it into the weekend box office Top 5 when it came out.  And one of the movies on this list was before they started tracking that statistic in 1982.

Any who, go see this movie.  F. Murray Abraham’s performance as Salieri is brilliant and Tom Hulce (who lost to Abraham for the Best Actor Oscar) is frenetic and moody as Mozart.  Tim Keller also really likes to use this movie in his illustrations because of the strong faith and works themes found in this movie.  It’s a really deep thinker of a movie, which we love here!

The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter (1978) – Box Office Gross: $48,979,328 – The aforementioned movie that did not make that list is this one, directed by Michael Cimino and starring Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage as three Russian American steelworkers from Pittsburgh and their travails when sent to SE Asia for the Vietnam War.  This movie is famous for the Russian roulette scenes played amongst the main characters and soldiers of the Viet Cong.  Mainly, this movie is extremely well acted, but it was a deeply disturbing movie, even 35 years later.  It’s understandable this one did not gross a lot of money, however it is a cinema classic and should make any Top 100 list of best movies ever.

The Artist

The Artist (2011) – Box Office Gross: $44,671,682 – Not many people know about this movie.  That’s not inherently a reason why it is on this list and is the third lowest grossing Best Picture winner.  However, the movie does not have any big name actors in the starring roles.  The closest we get is John Goodman as the third billed actor.  Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo were not household names at the time and really aren’t in 2014, although Dujardin has gone on to have roles in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Monuments Men. It makes a ton of sense why this movie was another movie that never made it into a weekend Box Office Top 5.

The movie is incredibly brilliant and seemed fresh and innovative by using the old style of black-and-white silent films and giving gravity and weight to the performances and music.  It was an incredibly bold move and it blew all convention out of the water by going retro, which is what makes it feel so new and different.  It’s romantic, funny, inspiring, and majestic.  Also, it did not play well with the mass consuming audiences and it was a French film, so it did not make that much money.  I’m sure that is okay, because the movie is stellar and beautiful, which is what French films are going for, anyway.

The Last Emperor

The Last Emperor (1987) – Box Office Gross: $43,984,230 – The story of The Last Emperor is a really fascinating one.  It entered the Box Office not even in the Top 10, and finally cracked the weekend box office Top 5 in its 22nd weekend after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture.  It narrowly avoided making this list a clean sweep of movies that never made it into a Top 5.  The movie was almost completely financed independently by producer Jeremy Thomas, a British film producer from Recorded Picture Company, before it was finally picked up by Columbia pictures with much anxiety and reluctance.  The movie is about what the title says it is, the last emperor in China before the Communist regime took over in 1950. The movie won real accolades for its authenticity to the locations used, the authentic costumes, and stunning style and imagery.  However, since it was independently funded, for the most part, and reluctantly released to wide audiences, it was not a big money grabber at the box office.  Definitely a movie you should see, if you can.

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker (2009) – Box Office Gross: $17,017,811 – The runaway winner of the lowest grossing Best Picture winner is the 2009 Kathryn Bigelow film, The Hurt Locker.  Casting a relatively unknown cast at the time (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty), the movie rode the back of critical acclaim and the film festival circuit to the Academy Awards where it won 9 Academy Awards.  The movie actually came out in 2008, but was not picked up for distribution in the United States until 2009.  The movie hadn’t even made its budget before the Oscars and made a whopping $17 million, only $2 million over the budget for the film.  An absolutely stunning story and an even more stunning film that is action-packed and absolutely breathless from start to finish.  Roger Ebert gave it the distinction of being the second best film of the decade (2000-2009) behind Synedoche, New York.  Do this movie a favor and make it some more money by renting it or, even better, buying it.  Renner is spectacular and Mackie is equally good, and now they are both Marvel Superheroes, so they must have done something right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *