Where Oscar Leads: Gwyneth Paltrow

By Daron Aldridge

April 6, 2009

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Every year there is a debate about who was shafted out of a nomination or the injustice of who took home the Academy Award. Just as predictably, there is the time-honored tradition of studios, agents and performers assuming that Oscar gold translates to future box office gold or that a supporting acting award automatically makes the winner a bankable lead. Winners come from two different schools – already proven box office draws, like Tom Hanks, and those of untested box office mettle, like Adrien Brody. Regardless, both types head home from their big night looking toward their future like a wide-eyed college graduate.

Where Oscar Leads takes a look at exactly that - "where Oscar leads" the winners and whether the audience rewards the award winner by following them.

It was March 21, 1999, and the pinnacle of award ceremonies was winding down as Saving Private Ryan was cheated out of its Best Picture award by the Miramax machine's anointed favorite, Shakespeare in Love. On a night when Shakespeare in Love walked away with seven awards and the ire of disgusted Spielberg fans, the honors that Judi Dench and Gwyneth Paltrow received for supporting and lead performances didn't exactly make jaws drop in surprise. Spielberg probably wasn't too bitter, since Paltrow is his goddaughter, after all, and she played Tinkerbell in Hook.

So on the morning of March 22nd, Gwyneth Paltrow could be marketed as Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow. Arm-in-arm with her new best friend, Oscar, let's see where the little gold man has taken Ms. Paltrow over the last decade.


Paltrow seemed to be trying to compete with the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson in 1998 as she appeared in five films during the course of the year as an above-the-title star. In addition to Shakespeare in Love, she had the contemporary-retelling of Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke, the mother-in-law from hell drama Hush, the indie Sliding Doors and the Hitchcock remake A Perfect Murder with Michael Douglas and Viggo Mortensen.

In order of box office tallies from least to most for her other 1998 films, Sliding Doors earned $11.9 million, Hush earned $13.6 million, Great Expectations got $26.3 million and A Perfect Murder came out on top with $67.7 million. It's clear that the films that rested primarily upon Paltrow's shoulders (Sliding Doors and Hush) were non-factors at the box office.

Following her Oscar victory lap in the fictionalized story of William Shakespeare, Paltrow's box office status could only improve.

For her encore to a Miramax-backed prestige and critically acclaimed film, Paltrow didn't stray from the formula, and that put her on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, by appearing in another Miramax-backed prestige and critically acclaimed film. She co-starred with Matt Damon (another Miramax golden child), Jude Law and Cate Blanchett (her Oscar competition the year before) in The Talented Mr. Ripley. While she wasn't the lead character, this was a shrewd move indeed to making wise, career-building choices. Paltrow and her people obviously understood her lack of box office clout and exercised discretion in script selection. After raking up five Oscar nominations, The Talented Mr. Ripley pulled home $81.3 million, which couldn't be attributed to Paltrow per se but helped further her reputation as a deserving Best Actress winner.

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