Oscar box office hits are shrinking
Michelle Yeoh in Everything, Everywhere at Once.
The best picture winner at Sunday’s Oscars may not get a box office hit for taking home the biggest prize of the night.
It’s part of Hollywood’s evolution. The Covid pandemic and the rise of streaming have fundamentally changed the industry. The result was a smaller increase in box office at the time of nominations and a significant increase in demand for streaming.
From late January nominations through Wednesday, this year’s 10 Best Picture nominees brought in $82 million in domestic box office revenue, of which $71 million came from Avatar: The Way of Water. (“The Way of Water” has grossed more than $670 million in North America.)
For comparison, in 2020, the nominees made about $201 million at the domestic box office after being nominated in mid-January, Comscore data shows. The Oscars were awarded on February 9th this year, weeks before Covid was declared a pandemic and the shutdowns began.
“Many of this year’s contenders are from earlier in the release calendar and have therefore been ‘played off’ in terms of their ability to generate Oscar bonus dollars in theaters,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
In the past, films like 1917, Hidden Figures, and Silver Linings Playbook — which were nominated solely for the award — made 50% or more of their domestic box office gross after receiving a nod, according to data from Comscore. For 2014’s “American Sniper,” 99% of box office sales came after its nomination, a whopping $346 million.
That year, all Best Picture nominees saw less than 13% of the box office receipts after nomination, with one exception. “Women Talking,” one of the smaller films nominated for top honors, generated 77% of its post-nominations earnings, or approximately $3.9 million, according to Comscore data.
“The Oscar boom is not a new phenomenon,” said Brandon Katz, industry strategist at Parrot Analytics. “For decades we have seen contenders pick up additional ticket sales at the box office as soon as picture nominations are announced. But what has changed recently, especially as the Oscars have been a month later than usual in recent years and that they have also been affected by Covid, is a streaming bump.
Parrot Analytics found that the 10 Best Picture nominees experienced an average viewer demand of 21% in the week after receiving the coveted nomination. This demand metric is calculated by looking at consumption, including piracy, social media posts and interactions, social video views, and online research on sites like IMDb and Wikipedia.
Much of that demand likely manifested itself in streaming. Only six of the 10 Best Picture nominees released comparable box office data in the week following the nominations’ release.
The Banshees of Inisherin saw the largest percentage increase between the week before the nominations and the weeks after, with ticket sales soaring 381%. However, that means a jump from $73,000 in box office receipts to $352,000.
This weekend, fellow nominees “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Fabelmans,” “Tar,” “Triangle of Sadness,” and “Women Talking” each generated under $1 million in ticket sales, despite receiving a substantial increase in the number of tickets sold recorded public traffic.
Only “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which saw ticket sales fall 21% over the weekend following the nominations, grossed more than $1 million — with $15.9 million in domestic revenue.
The amazing difference has a lot to do with when these movies were released, how they are available on streaming platforms, and what genres the movies are.
The blockbuster The Way of Water was in its sixth week in theaters and caused a stir at the box office, while Everything Everywhere All at Once has just returned to the big screen after a nearly six-month hiatus.
By the time the nominations were announced, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” had been in the public zeitgeist for almost a year. The film was released in late March 2022.
Movies are now everywhere at once
Traditionally, Oscar-baiting films are released in the last quarter of the year, with most hitting theaters in November and December. Of this year’s nominees, only three made their debuts in the last two months of last year.
Historically, the Oscars have been held in February, so even films released in October might still have been exclusively in theaters if the pandemic hadn’t pushed the event to March.
This year, however, at the time of the nominations in late January, eight of the ten Best Picture nominees were available to stream. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Katz said.
“In recent years everyone has said: cinema versus streaming. I never saw it that way,” Katz said. “I don’t necessarily think the data supports that. I actually think these two mediums can be additive and complementary and not opposites.”
Katz noted that some films receive box office gains from being nominated, but the availability of streaming titles can add excitement and momentum in the later part of the voting period.
“Obviously, it’s difficult to make a case with the dollar sign and the box office numbers,” said Wade Payson-Denney, an analyst at Parrot Analytics. “But that’s only part of the equation these days. Streaming plays such a big role.”
All Quiet on the Western Front generated the largest increase in demand, up 59% in the week following its Best Picture nomination. The film ran in theaters for a limited time, just long enough to stir up Oscar competition before crossing over to its homeland Netflix. The fact that the film was only available via streaming is probably the reason for the biggest jump in demand.
This also explains why there are no box office results for the film.
At the other end of the spectrum, the biggest blockbusters of 2022, Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick, saw demand drop.
The drop in demand for “Maverick” is likely because the film has been public since May and has been available to stream since late December. The Way of Water is still in theaters and won’t be available to stream until later this month. Those who wanted to see these films either had plenty of time to do so or had seen them so recently that they didn’t feel the need to watch them again or steal them.
“Sunday’s telecast will serve as a more than three-hour infomercial showcasing the year’s most notable films and performances,” said Dergarabedian. “This should result in an increased desire from viewers to seek these films at home.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed “1917” and “The Fablemans”.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to show that the 2020 nominees earned approximately $201 million at the domestic box office after being nominated in mid-January.