It’s been proven time and time again that Academy Award attention has little to do with box office glory. Just look at recent winners such as ‘Moonlight’, ‘The Hurt Locker’ or ‘CODA’, the first streaming film to take home the top prize of the Oscar, all of which were more loved than seen, at least by the general public.
But during 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 Dec. 16), looking for the awards ceremony, film industry analysts believe the box office can play a role in keeping movies from major studios in the conversation.
Another Oscar hopeful that has been well received by the public is Sony’s landmark action epic “The Woman King,” which opened this weekend for a strong $19 million. The studio leans on its commercial prospects before emphasizing its bona fide pricing season, marketing the film more as a female “Braveheart” than an artsy war drama. But “The Woman King,” starring Viola Davis and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, is the kind of contender that can only take advantage of excessive ticket sales — especially if the well-reviewed film manages to keep drawing moviegoers for weeks to come.
“This is a great screenplay for ‘The Woman King’ because it raises the profile of the film,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, of his better-than-expected debut. “It’s a tougher lift to get that kind of attention for a movie that comes and goes on opening weekend and then it’s never talked about again. The longevity is better for the prize season.”
For indie films with smaller budgets, there are fewer expectations around box office results, because those films are often not marketed to the general public. But when tent poles succeed in theaters in front of the entire audience, it will elevate the film’s status in a wide-open field. Alternatively, lackluster ticket sales can dominate a movie’s narrative in a way that overshadows its artistic achievements, as was the case with Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” adaptation, “In the Heights,” “Blade Runner 2049” and a another Davis-led movie, “Widows.”
It’s the first time in two years that the box office is even mentioned in the same conversation as the Oscars. During the pandemic, the older crowd — those who reliably come out for the arthouse fare that dominates during the award season — were the most reluctant to go to theaters. At the same time, capacity constraints in theaters and rampant COVID-19 variants meant that contenders such as 2020’s “Nomadland” and “Licorice Pizza” in 2021 had mediocre ticket sales. Unlike in pre-pandemic times, there wasn’t much chance for commercial hits to enter the Oscar race at that time.
“It’s been a chaotic time for the movie industry and it’s trickling down to awards season,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with 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,” it could have a spillover effect on specialty films. Director Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy “Banshees of Inisherin”, Todd Fields’ classical music drama “Tár” and Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” – just to name a few after its enthusiastic festival premieres – could also get a box office boost. , albeit one that may be more modest, of awards attention.
It can be mutually beneficial for the Oscars to nominate films that people have actually seen. It’s up for debate whether a lack of populist movies actually impacts Academy Awards ratings, but analysts believe there’s no downside to spotlighting high-profile movies.
“It would do wonders for watching the Oscars [telecast]’ says Bok. “It definitely needs a boost, and the checkout will always help.”
The producers behind the Academy Awards broadcast don’t need the entire lineup to be filled with commercial triumphs — though a few wouldn’t hurt the show’s ratings. After all, the race for best photos expanded to 10 nominees in the hopes that quirky Irish dramas and nearly three-hour explorations of cancellation culture could share the love with crowd-pleasers about heroic fighter pilots and awe-inspiring female warriors. There’s plenty of room at the box office – and on the Oscar stage.