It’s been proven time and time again that the attention given to the Oscars has nothing to do with box office glory. Just look at recent winners like “Moonlight,” “The Hurt Locker,” or “CODA,” the first streaming movie to win the Oscar’s top prize, all of which were more loved than seen, at least by the mainstream. audience.
But in a year in which several commercial films, including “Top Gun: Maverick” ($1.44 billion worldwide and more), “Elvis” ($284 million worldwide), ” Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (scheduled for November 11) and “Avatar: The Way of Water” (scheduled for December 16) are looking to find themselves in the awards race, film industry analysts believe the box office can play a part in keeping big studio movies in the conversation.
Another Oscar hopeful that has been well received by audiences is Sony’s historical action epic “The female king“, which opened on weekends at $19 million. The studio is looking at its commercial prospects before emphasizing its awards season bonafide, marketing the film more as a girlish “Braveheart” than an artsy war drama. But “The Woman King,” starring Viola Davis and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, is the kind of contender who can only benefit from outsized ticket sales — especially if the well-reviewed film manages to continue drawing moviegoers in the weeks coming.
“It’s a great script for ‘The Woman King’ because it boosts the visibility of the film,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said of its better-than-expected debut. “It’s harder to get that kind of attention for a movie that comes and goes on opening weekend and isn’t talked about after that. Longevity is better for awards season.
For independent films with smaller budgets, there are fewer expectations regarding box office results, as these films are often not marketed to mainstream audiences. But when all-audience tent poles succeed in movie theaters, it elevates the stature of film in a wide open field. Alternatively, lackluster ticket sales can dominate the narrative around a film in a way that overshadows its artistic achievements, as was the case with Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake, “In the Heights.” “Blade Runner 2049” and another Davis-directed film, “Widows.”
This is the first time in two years that the box office has even been mentioned in the same conversation as the Oscars. During the pandemic, older audiences — those who reliably lean towards the arthouse fare that dominates during awards season — were the most reluctant to go to the theater. At the same time, capacity restrictions at theaters and creeping strains of COVID-19 meant contestants like 2020’s “Nomadland” and 2021’s “Licorice Pizza” had lackluster ticket sales. Unlike the pre-pandemic era, there wasn’t really an option for commercial success to enter the Oscar race at that time.
“It was a chaotic time for the film industry, and it carries over into awards season,” says Jeff Bock, box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “You had movies that nobody knew where to see or when they were available.”
But with coronavirus cases receding and adult crowds returning to movies like “The Woman King” and “Elvis,” that could have a ripple effect on specialty films. Director Martin McDonagh’s black comedy ‘Banshees of Inisherin’, Todd Fields’ classical music drama ‘Tár’ and Sarah Polley’s ‘Women Talking’ – to name a few vying after enthusiastic festival premieres — could also get a box office boost, albeit one that may be more modest, from awards attention.
It could be mutually beneficial for the Oscars to name movies that people have actually watched. Whether the lack of populist films actually has an impact on Oscar ratings is up for debate, but analysts say there’s no downside to highlighting films that have been widely viewed.
“It would do wonders for Oscar viewing. [telecast]”, says Bock. “It definitely needs a boost, and the box office is always going to help.”
The producers behind the Oscars telecast don’t need all of the programming to be filled with commercial triumphs — although a few won’t hurt the show’s ratings. After all, the best picture race stretched to 10 nominees in hopes that quirky Irish dramedies and nearly three-hour explorations of cancel culture might share the love with pilot enthusiasts. heroic hunts and impressive female warriors. There’s enough room at the box office – and on the Oscar stage.