Read the rest of Slate's coverage of the 82nd Academy Awards here.
Want to win an Oscar for best picture? Easy. Just release an R-rated period musical about a dead military figure that's based on a book and make sure it runs for two hours and 10 minutes.
We've had 82 years of Oscars to look at what movies win best picture and what do not, and, based on the averages, that's what it boils down to. How did I derive proof that Hitler: The MusicalBased on a Novel by Sapphire will be sweeping the 2014 Oscars?
Let's break it down:
From Gone With the Wind to No Country for Old Men, 40 of the 82 best-picture winners are based on books. Second place? Surprisingly, it's original material (22 of the 82 winners), with plays coming in third, although that's trending downward, with only three winning movies based on plays since 1968: Amadeus, Driving Miss Daisy, and Chicago. * In last place? Only two winners, Marty and The Departed, have been based on other movies.
War movies are on top, accounting for 21 of the best-picture winners. Fun fact: The greatest concentration of best-picture-winning war movies were in the 1990s when America wasn't fighting any big-time wars. The next most popular genre is biography, with 14 winners based on the lives of real people, from Shakespeare in Love all the way back to The Great Ziegfeld in 1936. Third place? Nine best-picture winners were musicals. In addition, 39 of the 82 best-picture winners were period films.
Looking at the box office (adjusted for inflation, of course) reveals that we didn't watch Oscar winners, then we watched them a lot, then we stopped watching them. In the 28 years from 1927, when the first Oscar ceremony was held, until 1955, only three movies made it into the all-time box-office top 100: Gone With the Wind, The Best Years of Our Lives,and The Greatest Show on Earth. And in the 31 years since 1978, only three movies made it into the top 100: Forrest Gump, Titanic, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. But in the 22 years between 1956 and '78, 11 movies made it into the top 100. Movies like The Sound of Music, Ben Hur, The Godfather, Rocky, and The Sting cleaned up at the awards and cleaned up at the box office, too.
The MPAA started rating movies in 1968, and since then, best-picture winners have been overwhelmingly R-rated. Twenty R-rated films have brought home the gold since '68 while only 12 PG movies have. PG-13 is responsible for seven, and if you're rated G you may as well be rated X: Oliver!and Midnight Cowboy are the only two movies at either extreme of the ratings system to win.