The Lowest-Grossing Best Picture Oscar Winners (1990-2015)

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What Best Picture Winners Didn't Set the Box Office on Fire?

The Hurt Locker (Jeremy Renner)
Summit Entertainment

While it's a rare occurrence when the biggest blockbuster of the year wins the Academy Award for Best Picture, it has happened on a few occasions. Most often the winner is a movie that is a solid box office performer -- the last twenty-five winners have an average U.S. box office take of $146.8 million. But especially recently, the Academy voters have select winners that most people watching the Oscars broadcasts haven't seen. The last ten winners have averaged $83.5 million, with only four surpassing $100 million -- Argo, The King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Departed.

While one might otherwise assume that the lowest-grossing Best Picture Oscar winners of the last 25 years would mostly be made up of of films from the early 1990s because of inflating ticket prices, the top films on the list are from recent years because of the Academy's recent trend of awarding less popular films the Best Picture Oscar. In fact, three of the top five highest-grossing Best Picture Oscar winners of all time in the U.S. (not adjusting for inflation) came from the 1990s: Dances with Wolves ($184.2 million), Forrest Gump ($329.7 million) and Titanic ($600.8 million).

Here are the lowest-grossing Best Picture winners at the U.S. box office over the past 25 years. While most are considered excellent films, it's not surprising that some of them didn't win over general audiences.

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The English Patient (1996) -- $78.7 million

The English Patient

The romantic drama The English Patient is the type of historical film that is often labeled "Oscar bait." It paid off for the movie, which won nine Oscars. Though The English Patient was only a modest hit in the United States, it grossed twice as much overseas for a worldwide box office total of $232 million.

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Braveheart (1995) -- $75.6 million

Icon Productions

The year before The English Patient, Mel Gibson's Braveheart performed similarly at the U.S. box office. It went on to win five Academy Awards. The overseas box office managed to push the film past $200 million worldwide.

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No Country for Old Men (2007) -- $74.3 million

No Country for Old Men

Joel and Ethan Coen are Oscar favorites -- No Country for Old Men won four Oscars -- but aside from 2010's True Grit (which was nominated for Best Picture) the pair have never had a huge box office hit. The spellbinding No Country for Old Men, like The English Patient and Braveheart before it, was a solid performer at the U.S. box office but not a major hit.

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12 Years a Slave (2013) -- $56.7 million

12 Years a Slave
Fox Searchlight Pictures

12 Years a Slave was considered a very important movie by critics because of its harsh depiction of American slavery, but it didn't even crack the Top 50 on the highest-grossing 2013 films at the U.S. box office list. The film's overseas box office was nearly triple the U.S. box office, with worldwide grosses amounting to $187.7 million.

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Crash (2005) -- $54.58 million


It was considered a shocking upset when Crash won Best Picture because the film was far less popular than Brokeback Mountain. However, many overstate the popularity of Brokeback Mountain. While it did gross more than Crash, it grossed $83 million -- meaning if Brokeback Mountain had won instead of Crash, it would have also been one of the lowest-grossing Best Picture winners anyway. In fact, none of the Best Pictures nominated that year could be considered major box office hits.

Unlike other films on this list, Crash failed to generate much interest overseas and ended up with a worldwide box office of just under $100 million.

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The Artist (2011) -- $44.7 million

The Artist
The Weinstein Company

Considering that The Artist is a black and white silent movie depicting the early days of Hollywood, it's surprising the movie did as well as it did at the U.S. box office. Still, it wasn't a surprise that general audiences hadn't seen the film before it won Best Picture. On the other hand, in part because it is a silent film it performed very well overseas and grossed $133.4 million worldwide.

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Birdman (2014) -- $42.3 million

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Like The Artist before it, Birdman was praised by critics for its technical achievements -- the entire film appears to have been filmed in a single shot -- but to most general audiences it probably seemed a bit too weird to motivate them to go to theaters. Another $60 million from the international box office just managed to push Birdman over $100 million worldwide.

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The Hurt Locker (2009) -- $17 million

The Hurt Locker
Summit Entertainment

Not only is The Hurt Locker the lowest-grossing movie to win Best Picture since 1968's Oliver! (and lowest-grossing ever when adjusted for inflation), but it beat Avatar for Best Picture, which is the highest-grossing movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture. Curiously, the films were directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and James Cameron (Avatar), who were married from 1989-1991. Not only is it unlikely that we'll see such a large gap in U.S. box office gross between nominees, it will be surprising if a movie with such low grosses ever wins Best Picture again.

The Hurt Locker grossed just $49 million worldwide, making it also the lowest-grossing Best Picture at the worldwide box office in the modern era of international distribution.