When we try to define a “dollar movie” (or explain it to an outsider), we often have to stress that these aren’t “bad movies” or B-movies, they’re simply fun-oriented or entertainment-oriented flicks that are not worth full price. (See our “About” page for more information, as well as our first episode.)
Because dollar movies aren’t self-conscious crap, sometimes the high-falutin’ critics and members of the Academy will be willing to admit how good a role or movie was, aligning them (for once) with mainstream audiences. Let’s take a look at some of the few times that major Oscars have been handed out to dollar movies.
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive (1993)
Big-budget action flick based on a 1960’s TV series….generally not Oscar bait, but this movie is so good that it got seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture!) and a win for Al Gore’s Yale roommate. We can talk about Harrison Ford as a compelling protagonist, but let’s face it, Jones’ U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard STEALS this movie as one of cinema’s greatest (and most begrudgingly lovable) badass authority figures–he’s so good they wrote a sequel for just his character! Perhaps early 90’s slackers found him appealing because their life ethos matched up with his greatest line: “I don’t care!”
(Honorable mention: Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008))
Best Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei, My Cousin Vinny (1992)
The only Oscar winner Tom has ever personally shoved out of the way, Tomei somehow won this Oscar as Guidette automobile expert Mona Lisa Vito opposite Joe Pesci’s titular Vinny. After this breakout role, Tomei went on to have a…checkered career, although we loved her as an aging stripper in The Wrestler and as Matty M’s ex-wife in the underrated The Lincoln Lawyer.
Best Actor: Paul Newman, The Color of Money (1986)
The rare sequel that improves on the original (and rarer still that it comes 25 years after!). It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a dollar movie, but at the time it was seen as Scorsese’s first sell-out into slick Hollywood-type movies, and (perhaps because of that) Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs DOWN. The presence of Iggy Pop, plus all those shots of Tom Cruise dancing around like a moron, make me lean toward calling this a dollar flick. Newman shines as the most normal person in the whole movie.
Best Actress: Kathy Bates, Misery (1990)
Misery is the only Stephen King adaptation to win an Oscar. Sorry, Kubrick, The Shining should have had James Caan getting his ankle broken. At the time, “superfan torturing her favorite artist” seemed like great dollar trash, although after seeing Darrell Abbott get shot onstage by a deranged Pantera fan, maybe this isn’t all that wacko a psychological-thriller premise! Director Rob “Meathead” Reiner cut most of the gross-out shit from the novel, which probably made this dollar movie seem tame enough to the Academy to give Bates the Oscar her role deserved.
Best Picture: Gladiator (2000)
Again, not quite an obvious dollar movie but certainly full of dollar elements (it is a bid-budget costume drama after all). Chief among them is Joaquin Phoenix’s over-the-top performance as the antagonist and CROOKED EMPEROR Commodus, for which we will forever have the immortal dollar-movie line: “They ravaged her again, and again…AND AGAIN.” Crowe later starred in another Ridley Scott historical drama, Robin Hood, that NO one would deny is a dollar movie (no Oscar wins for that one, but it WAS nominated for a Teen Choice Award). The dollar movies we see in this life echo in eternity…
So, that covers the Oscar success of dollar movies! Are there any that we missed? Tell us in the comments!