‘Moonlight’ Is Among the Lowest-Grossing Oscar Best Picture Winners Ever

89th Academy Awards - Oscars Awards Show
Writer and Director Barry Jenkins of "Moonlight" holds up the Best Picture Oscar in front of host Jimmy Kimmel (rear) as he stands with Producer Adele Romanski (R) at the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood.
© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

The Academy Awards proved yet again last night that box-office success doesn’t always translate into Oscar glory.

Moonlight won the top prize at Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony—after some initial envelope confusion created a bizarre scene—and, despite the fact that the independent drama never made much of a splash at the box office. The movie, about a young, gay black man growing up in an impoverished Miami neighborhood, has only made a little more than $22.2 million in domestic movie ticket sales so far, according to Box Office Mojo. That made Moonlight the lowest-grossing Best Picture nominee at this year’s Academy Awards—and among the lowest ever for a Best Picture winner—even after generating months of Oscars buzz.

Moonlight never received a wide theatrical release after hitting theaters in October, topping out at around 1,100 theaters in the U.S. last month. But the film’s big win last night could result in a renewed box-office push from distributor A24 to capitalize on the so-called “Oscar bump” in ticket sales.

In contrast to Moonlight, this year’s top-grossing Best Picture nominees were Hidden Figures ($152 million in domestic ticket sales) topping out at more than 3,400 theaters nationwide and La La Land ($140 million) in more than 3,200 theaters, according to Box Office Mojo.

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Out of this year’s Oscars Best Picture crop, the only film that has come close to Moonlight‘s low-grossing numbers is the Texas-set crime drama Hell or High Water, with $27 million in ticket sales. Considering the added exposure that Moonlight will get after last night’s eventful Oscar win, the film directed by Barry Jenkins could soon see a boost in ticket sales (the aforementioned “Oscar bump”) that might push it past Hell or High Water‘s box office totals. Deadline noted that Moonlight could be on track to gross roughly $40 million worldwide when all is said and done, with the film only recently seeing wide international release.


Of course, grossing $40 million would actually mean a pretty solid profit for the independent studio A24, as Moonlight reportedly cost as little as $1.5 million to make. While that figure does not include marketing for the film, Moonlight‘s producers are clearly seeing a solid return on their investment, as the Oscar winner is certainly one of the cheapest films to ever win the Best Picture Oscar. (In comparison, La La Land cost a reported $30 million to make while Hidden Figures cost $25 million.)

Still, without a major box-office bump, Moonlight is likely to go down as one of the lowest-grossing Best Pictures ever. Two years ago, the Academy Awards anointed Best Picture winner Birdman (starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up action film star), which grossed roughly $42 million domestically, though the movie added another $60 million overseas. The lowest-grossing film to ever win the Best Picture Oscar (accounting for inflation) is the 2009 Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker, which made only $17 million domestically (or, around $19.4 million in today’s dollars).

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