In 1981, two films were released that captured the hearts of movie goers: Chariots of Fire and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Chariots of Fire won four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Score, and Best Costume Design. Raiders of the Lost Ark also won four Oscars including Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, and Best Art Direction. There is no doubt in my mind that these were the best two films of that year; However, I disagree with the "Best Picture" choice. Had I the power of deciding winners, the Best Picture Oscar would have gone to Raiders of the Lost Ark. This seems so blatantly obvious to me that I have to wonder if the Academy's choices are based on how the audiences will truly react to a film or if the Academy is just using these awards to promote a good film that isn't received as well as they think it should be. After looking at many years of Academy Award decisions, I tend to believe that the latter is truer—that the Oscars are generally just a promotional campaign to let the public know what they "should" be watching and what they "should" be liking, and not really taking into account what they "really" watch and what they "really" enjoy. For myself, this could not be more true, as I have often indulged in films that are never even nominated while only watching some films that I never knew of just because they were either nominated or won an award. I don't think I'm alone in this perception or behavior.
With this being said, it's easier to understand why the Academy chose Chariots of Fire over Raiders of the Lost Ark as Best Picture. Everybody knows that the population went crazy for Steven Spielberg's fun adventure classic. It was the rave and everyone was talking about it and going to see it. Most movie collectors have the trilogy in their possession or on the list to obtain it. We still love Harrison Ford and no matter how many serious roles he's played, he will remain in our hearts as THE Indiana Jones. The film defies all genre because it combined so many elements so well, such as Action, Adventure, Suspense, Horror, Comedy, and even Romance. It's the kind of movie that you can watch 100 times and still enjoy it. We don't watch it to analyze the direction or the screenplay writing. We don't watch it because there is some gigantic moral to the story or some significant political agenda behind the plot. We watch it because it's fun and we want to be part of that fun. We watch it because it's truly entertaining and it takes us away from our boring, mundane lives and brings us somewhere completely different and new and exciting. That's what we love and that's why this film was an automatic classic and still beloved by movie watchers.
For Raiders of the Lost Ark to have lost Best Picture to Chariots of Fire was one of the Academy's most ridiculous calls. There is no doubt in my mind that the musical score for Chariots of Fire deserved that award. I still can hear and hum the music, and it was definitely impactful. But just because a movie has a serious message and good music, that doesn't mean it will last in the hearts of the general public in the way the Spielberg's Indiana Jones series has. The Academy was probably just trying to get more people to see Chariots of Fire and that's why it won. Raiders of the Lost Ark was already a sensation and didn't need more promoting because the American public was already in love. It's a shame that the box office sales have nothing to do with the awards. I believe they are a strong indicator of what the public thinks is great. They may not always run to see the best art direction or the film with the best editing...but you better believe that they will run to the theaters to catch a story that inspires them or truly entertains them.