Now, with both films on the short list for best picture honors--historically the most lucrative of Oscar connections they are the source of a deafening buzz throughout the industry.
Each has made the leap from urban art houses to suburban multiplexes. The Crying Game's box office take surged some 700% in the first weekend after Oscar nominations as it pulled in $5.2 million and moved to No. 4 from No. 15 on the Hollywood Reporter box office tally. Howards End took in $751,945 and surged to No. 18 from No. 38. (The other best picture nominees, major studio releases Scent of a Woman, A Few Good Men and Unforgiven, also had big jumps.)
But if the sudden popularity of two decidedly non-mainstream films has you looking for insights into a new consumer psyche, consider some of the early feedback Ed Mintz is getting.
Mintz heads Las Vegas-based CinemaScore, a company that analyzes movie audiences. Each week, he takes the pulse of the public by catching viewers as they leave the theater--the moment when their reaction is probably the purest.
"The results don't look good," he says. "The Crying Game and Howards End are getting grades of B at best. And those who went to the theater because of the nominations really didn't like the films; they're giving both films grades in the C range."
By comparison, Mintz adds, audiences usually give A's and high B's to best picture candidates. "If it was up to the public, Mintz says, "A Few Good Men would win hands down."
Says one top film consultant, "What just about everyone forgets is that the Academy doesn't reflect anybody's sense of what's good in movies. It doesn't reflect the critics' views, and it certainly has nothing to do with popular culture. The Academy tends to function like an Upper East Side cocktail party. It's a very, very exclusive fraternity."
The Academy is also in a state of transition, and those who lobby for films are acutely aware of this fact. Take the campaign that helped Michelle Pfeiffer to a best actress nomination for her role in the box-office laggard Love Field. To reach many of the 1,300 Academy members who vote in that category, a sizable number of videocassettes of the film were sent to the Motion Picture Country Home, a retirement home for aging movie stars.
"You're caught between older members, who are basically out of the business, and some people who got in in the '80s and were in the business for about 12 minutes," one source says. "To have a shot at a nomination, you have to reach both types."
Sometimes, though, even the best strategies can't sway the 5,000-member Academy. "Warner Bros. was so sensitive to Spike Lee," says one movie executive. "If anything, they went overboard on Malcolm X. I got the cassette and the book." Yet except for a best actor nomination for Denzel Washington and another nomination for costume design, the film and director/writer Spike Lee were passed by.
"A lot of people in this town don't like Spike," says one Hollywood source. The town, the executive says, is tired of Lee's constant harangue.
Sometimes you can take a shot at Hollywood and survive--sort of. The Player, Robert Altman's sardonic exploration of the industry's underbelly, packed local theaters with celebrities and for months was the talk dujour. It received three nominations.
"Seeing The Player in any of L.A.'s A-list theaters was classic one-upmanship," offers one studio executive. "You'd go and it was hard to hear the dialogue over the 'stage whispers.' Everyone wanted to make sure everyone else knew that they knew who was who." Although The Player didn't make the best picture cut, it received nominations in the prestigious categories of best director and best screenplay adaptation.
Among the films that failed to make the Academy's cut were seven of 1992's top grossing films. The fact that those movies--a diverse spread that included A League of Their Own, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Home Alone 2, Basic Instinct and Sister Act--pulled in a combined $1 billion at the box office did nothing to raze Academy members.
Asked to predict which film will take home the best picture Oscar, one Academy member said: "This is the kind of year where it could be decided by a hundred votes." The only thing he would predict is that Academy Awards host Billy Crystal will come out wearing a long, black wig. And if you haven't seen The Crying Game, don't ask why.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)