|Infinity War is emblematic of a trend|
in which mediocre movies with big
budgets get a lot of attention from
Hugo nominators. Please don't include
it on your ballot.
(Image via DigitalSpy.com)
We have started to think of the last decade as the “Marvel-movie era” of science fiction filmmaking, partly because the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form shortlist has shown a significant bias towards high-budget, effects-driven productions… aka blockbusters.
Over the past ten years or so, the average budget of a movie that makes the Hugo shortlist is in excess of $140 million — and during that time, only three movies with budgets smaller than $20 million have been on the Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form ballot.1
Coming in with a relatively minuscule budget of $4.5 million, Get Out is the cheapest Hugo-shortlisted film since before the Dramatic Presentation category was split into short-form and long-form. It would be hard, however, to describe Get Out as anything other than a blockbuster, as it was produced by Universal Studios, was released on 2,713 screens, and grossed of more than $175 million.
Year over year, the average budget of Hugo-shortlisted movies has been trending upwards, outpacing inflation by about 10 per cent over the past decade. That may have to do in part with the blockbusterization of movies in general, but it might also indicate that when it comes to the Dramatic Presentation - Long Form category, Hugo voters are trend followers not trend leaders.
The Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form ballot in 2014 is a case in point, with the average production cost amongst the finalists at $107 million. This may be the lowest-average of the decade, but the smallest-budgeted movie to make the shortlist was the winning movie Looper, a $30-million film starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.
That same year, the $180-million budget The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — which Slate
|Would you like an insufferable|
number of dwarves? The Hobbit:
An Unexpected Journey will give
(Image via DenOfGeek.com)
Over the past decade, there have of course been many excellent big-budget blockbuster movies that have been included on the ballot — Fury Road and Interstellar come to mind. But in general, it seems that there is a overly strong correlation between the size of a marketing campaign and a presence on the Hugo ballot.
This bias towards the big-budget wide releases is understandable — these are the movies that are most accessible to the average Hugo Award voter. Robot and Frank was released in 2012, but unless you attended a festival screening or an arthouse cinema, you wouldn’t have been able to see it until the middle of 2013 when it became available for digital download. In short, the movie became easily available to Hugo nominators after the deadline to nominate had passed.
But despite accessibility obstacles, I would argue that we (as Hugo nominators) should attempt to explore genre movies more widely than simply what is being advertised at the multiplex. Last night, a few members of this book club watched the new independent horror-fantasy movie Mandy, and while it is unlikely to make our 2019 ballots, it was worth the effort. Thanks to the Internet, it is actually easier than ever before to watch smaller-budget movies with more diverse voices.
Those who attend the Hugo Awards ceremonies will know that the award for Best Dramatic
|The team from Edge of Tomorrow were|
at the 2015 Hugo Awards, and they were
(Image via Olav Rokne)
We would argue that the three most deserving Hugo Award winners in this category during the Marvel-movie era have been the ones with the smallest budgets — Looper, Moon, Ex Machina and Arrival. These are the ‘real’ science fiction movies, made for people who think about, love, and appreciate the genre.
The tendency of Hugo Award nominators to seemingly shortlist works because they are already financially successful might be an unfortunate reality for a passive society of consumers, but we like to think that Hugo members can do better. Get Out there and find innovative, interesting science fiction cinema.
Next week, we’ll share our thoughts about some of the sci-fi cinema gems we’d love to see on the Hugo ballot in 2019.
- This calculation does not include METAtropolis, since it is not a movie. Likewise, the calculation does not include any TV series.