Published By: Jayati

Revisit these 'massive flops' that won the best picture at the Oscars!

These are stories of artists having the last laugh!

Time and again, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has shown that making a lot of money doesn't necessarily mean a film is cinematically excellent. Despite being hugely popular, numerous high-grossing films have never won the sought-after Best Picture award at the esteemed Academy Awards. While they may secure accolades in categories like costume design, visual effects, makeup, or music, the prestigious Best Picture award typically gravitates towards more intellectually stimulating and profound cinematic works. Consequently, the Academy often favours films that, alongside their critical acclaim, may not have attracted large audiences to theatres.

The English Patient

Despite garnering widespread critical acclaim and securing nine Oscars, including Best Picture, "The English Patient" failed to crack the top-five movie list during its opening weekend. Set against the backdrop of World War II, this film, one of 22 war movies to clinch Best Picture, features Ralph Fiennes portraying a burn victim who reminisces about his passionate love affair with a married woman while under the care of a nurse. Admittedly, "The English Patient" didn't have the kind of gripping plot that usually draws crowds to theatres. It felt more like a sophisticated film better suited for home viewing, aligning with the Academy's tastes rather than the general public's preference for blockbuster entertainment. However, it still pulled in $78.7 million domestically and earned significant revenue internationally, ultimately making almost seven times its production budget.


"Moonlight" stands out as a prime example of how smaller, less mainstream films can capture the attention of Academy voters and secure a place in the Best Picture conversation. Though there was a slight ‘mix-up’ during the ceremony announcement, "Moonlight" ultimately clinched the coveted prize! This touching coming-of-age drama follows a young African American boy navigating his identity. While box office success doesn't always correlate with critical acclaim, "Moonlight" defied expectations. Despite its theatrical audience being limited to $27.9 million domestically, the film's small budget ensured profitability. Critics praised its groundbreaking narrative and nuanced exploration of themes around masculinity and complicated relationships. Moreover, "Moonlight" made history with Mahershala Ali's groundbreaking win as the first Muslim Oscar recipient and Joi McMillon's historic nomination as the first black woman recognized for editing.

The Last Emperor

Even when adjusted for inflation, "The Last Emperor" didn't make a significant impact at the box office, especially considering its sizable production budget. It struggled to even double its production costs. Even with this, Bernardo Bertolucci's epic biographical drama depicting the life of Puyi, the final Emperor of China, achieved an unprecedented sweep at the Academy Awards, winning all nine categories for which it was nominated, including Best Picture. The film's lacklustre box office performance came as a surprise to many, as it took 12 weeks in theatres to break into the top 10. However, following its Oscar success, "The Last Emperor" finally ascended to the fourth position, experiencing a notable boost in box office earnings. Without this late surge, the film would have been deemed an even greater disappointment. It briefly cracked the top five but never reached the number one spot during its theatrical run.


"Birdman" is a film that caters more to artistic sensibilities than mass appeal. Starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor grappling with his past as a superhero icon, the movie explores the themes of identity, ambition, and the nature of fame. Set against the backdrop of a Broadway production, the film unfolds in a slow-paced and surrealistic manner, challenging traditional storytelling conventions. While not a typical crowd-pleaser, "Birdman" managed to secure the Best Picture Oscar despite modest box office earnings of $42.3 million domestically, nearly six times its budget. Critics praised its innovative approach and Keaton's performance, confirming its status as a beloved and thought-provoking cinematic gem.

These Box Office flops go a long way to the Oscar stage to prove that a film's business doesn’t determine its worth. While films are a business, they still predominantly remain a craft.