Awards shows are a subliminal message for people to go see a particular film, industry players say. When famous people come out to introduce a nominee, "that's a super great trailer being played in everyone's home across their TV screens," said Keith Simanton, managing editor of IMDB.
"The awards were invented to promote movies, and these are idiosyncratic films that could use the revenue boost," he said, speaking of the best picture nominees.
Read More Oscars still top draw for advertisers despite fickle ratings
The awards may have been created to promote sales, but according to a recent study, demand was reflected in the global black market, too. Oscar-nominated films saw a 385 percent spike in global piracy since the announcements were made on Jan. 15, according to Irdeto, an anti-piracy group.
The nominees weren't the biggest blockbusters of the year, but Simanton said he doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
The Academy Awards may have started out as just a mechanism for promotion, but its "mandate has transformed over the years to find the best movies of the year, promote films and promote excellence...box office be dammed," Simanton said.
He said the categories would look a lot different if the Academy chased blockbusters with the intention to promote ratings of the telecast.
"If were going off of box office sales, then we'd have an entirely different landscape" of nominations, Simanton said, adding that the Academy would focus more on films like "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Transformers" and less on "extremely independent films" such as "Whiplash" and "Boyhood."
Still, Hollywood watchers note that 2014's best picture nominees were the lowest grossers since 2010, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the category rules to include more nominees and allow more flexibility.
Tim Dirks of American Movie Classics' FlimSite.org, said the low gross wasn't surprising, since the Academy often nominates "serious films" to which the general population of moviegoers aren't drawn.
"There were a lot of other films that did really well at the box office, but they weren't what the Academy considers as respectable entertainment," Dirks said. The movie arbiters generally steers away from popular genres, including action adventures, family films and suspense thrillers.