The Oscar bait, a well-known term by the film community, is what we call a movie that appears to have been produced only for the sole purpose of being nominated for an Academy Award (commonly known as an “Oscar”).
When a film wins an Oscar, the profit made is beyond imaginable. According to IBISWorld the best picture for the last 5 years has had an average budget of $17 million, and a profit of $82.5 million at the box-office.
These numbers could easily influence producers on creating something that is believed to have a higher chance of earning a nomination.
Let's take the example of Damien Chazelle, the young film director from LA. Damien had written La La Land previous to Whiplash, however, he knew that a musical like that would only ever see the light of day with a bigger budget. With that being, he wrote Whiplash that, not surprisingly, ended up being nominated for best picture in 2015, which gave him the exposure and funds to finally start producing his dream musical, La La Land.
It is possible that Damien knew Whiplash would be nominated because of the Oscars' genre bias. When asked if the best movies win, Thelma Adams, a film critic, laughs and says "God, no, that's the simple answer. American critics are biased, they are majority white and are looking at movies through a highly educated, professional class, white male lens." Movies like Whiplash, serious dramas with weighty inspirational themes are the ones that are most likely to win, even though real-life inspired events and blockbusters also have a very high chance of being nominated. On the other hand, the least likely to be nominated for best picture are foreign-language films, only having 3 nominations since 1973 which are Life Is Beautiful (1997, Italian), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Taiwan), and Amour (2012, French.)
It is more than clear that the best films don't win the Oscars, but how far will the Academy go?
In the last 13 years, 62% of the nominations were dramas, from which 61 ended up winning. Every best picture winner since 2010 has fallen into one of two camps: they have either been a real-life story about characters who battled some sort of adversity or injustice (Spotlight, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The King's Speech), or else they've been the
film industry (Birdman, The Artist, Argo again).
Whoever wins the awards, there is one thing we can be sure of - the Oscar brand is real. Movie directors and producers that know how to get to the 500$ golden statue will profit from it, a lot.