Will ‘Gravity’ break Oscar curse against Best Picture nominees starring women?

Gravity” may be one of the frontrunners to win Best Picture Sunday night (along with “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle“), but many pundits are downplaying — or simply forgetting? — the fact that this Sandra Bullock sci-fi movie faces one of the greatest Oscar injustices of all time:

It stars a woman.

It’s no secret that Hollywood is dominated by men across nearly all aspects of filmmaking. Adding insult to injury for women, the vast majority of Oscar voters are also older males. That’s why so many Best Pictures over the 85-year history of the Academy Award have gone to male-centric films, with history unlikely to change this year.

Time to come back down to Earth, “Gravity” fans!

Looking over the list of Best Picture winners from the past couple decades, an interesting pattern emerges with many film titles containing masculine words or male characters’ names: “The King‘s Speech” (2010), “No Country for Old Men” (2007), “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003), “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), “Forrest Gump” (1994).

Going a step further, there are a host of Best Picture winners that are titled after their central males’ occupations or lives: The male artist in “The Artist” (2011), the male slumdog in “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), the male mind in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), the male gladiator in “Gladiator” (200), the male patient in “The English Patient” (1996).

In the past two decades, I found only two Best Picture titles containing feminine terms: “Million Dollar Baby” (2004) and “American Beauty” (1999). However, it’s interesting to note that male stars still received top billing on those films’ marquees — Clint Eastwood for “Baby” and Kevin Spacey for “Beauty.”

Speaking of top billing, can you believe that only two* of the past 20 Best Picture winners had a female cast member billed first? “Chicago” (2002) showcased Renee Zellweger while “Shakespeare in Love” fronted Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow. But, get this: Paltrow played a woman pretending to be a man!

*The cast members of 2004 winner “Crash” were listed alphabetically as it was an ensemble piece, and Bullock was given default top billing there.

When Kathryn Bigelow became the first-ever female Best Director winner for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009, it’s not a coincidence her film was about war and filled to the brim with a plethora of young, male stars. No female director has been nominated since, not even Bigelow herself who had another war movie up for Best Picture three years later in the form of “Zero Dark Thirty.” Of course, since this film starred a woman in the lead role (Jessica Chastain), it never really stood a chance of winning.

Female-driven films still do win Oscars… just rarely in the coveted Best Picture race. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, “Gravity” and “Philomena“!

This year, Gold Derby’s Experts, Editors and Users expect sister-driven “Frozen” to win two Oscars (Best Animated Feature and Best Song), while “Blue Jasmine” should claim Best Actress for its stand-out leading lady Cate Blanchett.

Last year, “Anna Karenina” scored Best Costume Design and “Brave” took home Best Animated Feature. And in 2011, “The Iron Lady” earned Best Actress for Meryl Streep and Best Makeup, while “The Help” swept up Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.

Some final questions to ponder: If “The King’s Speech” was instead about a “Queen‘s Speech,” would it still have won Best Picture? What about “No Country for Old Women“? “The Lady of the Rings”? “The English Nurse“? “Arga“?

Who do you think is going to win Best Picture? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. Come back and change your predictions as often as you like till Oscar night, March 2. 

11 thoughts on “Will ‘Gravity’ break Oscar curse against Best Picture nominees starring women?

  1. wow, this has to be a spoof. lol
    “The Queen’s Speech” must’ve swept every awards, as long the queen was played by a stammering Helen Mirren

  2. I actually thought this was really interesting. I’ve always noticed that most of the winners, not only had male lead characters, but many of them had next to none female characters. While these films are still great, I’d love to see more female representation.

  3. As long as the film is good, it shouldn’t matter the gender of the top billing star. The backlash for awarding the wrong movie Best Picture just for gender reasons (or for any reason, such has “just to reward the genre”) would be bad after years passed. I can’t imagine a world where Cabaret won over The Godfather, Ben-Hur losing to The Diary of Anne Frank or Schindler’s List losing to The Piano (tough call). It’s hard enough How Green Was My Valley won over Citizen Kane, Rocky over Taxi Driver or Network and Going My Way over Double Indenmity.

  4. Makes sense, but Gravity doesn’t have a formidable challenger in this regard. No film with a black character (man or woman) in the central role ever won BP. Or a film with a black cast as its central characters. So maybe Hustle will sneak through? Or in a fight between a black and a woman, the black will win. Case in point, Obama vs. H. Clinton. 🙂

  5. Seriously though. Even though Bullock is the main character, it’s not really a female-driven film by any stretch of the imagination. So I don’t think this would hurt Gravity. It being short, a sci-fi, and lacking a large cast are its biggert hurdles.

  6. This article didn’t make sense. The title of “A Beautiful Mind” was in no way masculine, nor is the word “Baby” any more feminine. According to this logic, shouldn’t Captain Phillips win Best Picture?

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