The Oscar box office bump is shrinking
Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
The winner of the best picture award at Sunday’s Oscars may not get a box office bump for taking home the night’s biggest prize.
It’s part of Hollywood’s evolution. The Covid pandemic and the rise of streaming have fundamentally altered the industry. The result has been a smaller bump in box office at the time of nominations and a significant surge in streaming demand.
From the nominations in late January through Wednesday, this year’s 10 best picture nominees added $82 million in domestic box office sales, $71 million of which came from “Avatar: The Way of Water.” (“The Way of Water” has grossed more than $670 million total in North America.)
For comparison, in 2020, the nominees generated around $201 million at the domestic box office after being nominated in mid-January, Comscore data shows. The Oscars were awarded Feb. 9 that year, weeks before Covid was declared a pandemic and shutdowns began.
“Many of this year’s contenders sprang from earlier on the release calendar and thus were ‘played out’ in terms of their ability to generate Oscar bonus dollars in cinemas,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
In the past, films like “1917,” “Hidden Figures” and “Silver Linings Playbook” – which were merely nominated for the award – generated 50% or more of their domestic box office revenue after scoring a nod, according to data from Comscore. For 2014’s “American Sniper,” 99% of its box office ticket sales came after its nomination, a whopping $346 million.
This year, all of the best picture nominees saw less than 13% of revenue from post-nomination box office except for one. “Women Talking,” one of the smaller films up for the top award, generated 77% of its revenue after the nominations, or around $3.9 million, according to Comscore data.
“The Oscars bump is not a new phenomenon,” said Brandon Katz, an industry strategist at Parrot Analytics. “For decades, we’ve seen contenders pick up extra box office ticket sales once the picture nominations were announced. But what has changed more recently, particularly as the Oscars have taken place a month later than usual in recent years and they’ve been impacted by Covid, is a streaming bump.”
Parrot Analytics determined that the 10 best picture nominees saw an average audience demand increase 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 in streaming. Only six of the 10 best picture nominees posted comparable box office data in the week after the nominations were posted.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” saw the biggest percentage bump between the week before nominations and the weeks after, with ticket sales jumping 381%. However, that represents a jump from $73,000 in box office receipts to $352,000.
During that 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 significant bumps in audience traffic.
Only “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which saw ticket sales decline 21% during the weekend after the nominations, generated more than $1 million – tallying $15.9 million in domestic receipts.
The staggering difference has a lot to do with when these films were released, their availability on streaming platforms and the genres of the films.
The blockbuster “The Way of Water” was in its sixth week in theaters and carried momentum at the box office, while “Everything Everywhere All at Once” only just returned to the big screen after a nearly sixth-month hiatus from cinemas.
Notably, by the time nominations were revealed “Everything Everywhere All at Once” had already been in the public zeitgeist for almost a full year. The film was released in late March 2022.
Movies are now everywhere all at once
Traditionally, Oscar bait films are released in the last quarter of the year, with the majority hitting cinemas in November and December. For this year’s nominees, only three debuted during the last two months of last year.
In the past, the Academy Awards ceremony has been hosted in February, so even those films released in October may have still been playing exclusively in theaters had the pandemic not pushed the event into March.
However, this year, at the time of nominations in late January, eight of the 10 films nominated for best picture were available on streaming. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Katz.
“In the last couple of years everyone has said: movie theaters versus streaming. I never viewed it like that,” Katz said. “I don’t necessarily think the data supports that. I actually think those two mediums can be additive and complimentary and not oppositional.”
Katz noted that some films get a box office increase from the nomination, but the availability of titles on streaming can build buzz and momentum during the later portion of the voting period.
“Obviously, it’s hard to argue with the dollar sign and box office figures,” said Wade Payson-Denney, an analyst at Parrot Analytics. “But that’s just one part of the equation nowadays. Streaming plays such a big role.”
“All Quiet on the Western Front” generated the biggest bump in demand, up 59% in the week after its best picture nomination. The film ran for a limited time in theaters, just long enough to drum up Oscar contention, before transitioning to its home on Netflix. The fact that the film was only available on streaming is likely why it saw the biggest jump in demand.
This also explains why there is no box office data for the film.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” the biggest box office smashes of 2022, saw demand drop.
For “Maverick,” the fall in demand is likely because the film has been out in public since May and been available to stream since late December. “The Way of Water” is still in theaters and won’t be available to stream until the end of this month. Those that wanted to see these films have had ample time to do so or had so recently seen them, they didn’t feel the need to watch them again or pirate them.
“Sunday’s telecast will serve as a three-hour plus infomercial showcasing the films and performances that are the most notable of the year,” Dergarabedian said. “This should translate to an increased desire for viewers to seek out 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 in 2020, the nominees generated around $201 million at the domestic box office after being nominated in mid-January.