'12 Years a Slave’ vs. ‘Gravity’ – Who Filled the Seats at the Academy?

'12 Years a Slave' vs. 'Gravity' – Who Filled the Seats at the Academy?

Sunday's AMPAS screening of Steve McQueen's slavery drama was well received, but attendance couldn't match ‘Gravity’

It's too early to tell if Academy voters will like “12 Years a Slave” as much or more than they liked “Gravity,” but it's clear that they were more anxious to see imperiled astronauts.

A week after every seat in the 1,000-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater was filled for the official AMPAS screening of Alfonso Cuaron's space movie, only about half as many members showed up for a Sunday night screening of Steve McQueen's harrowing “12 Years.”

And that screening had the added lure of featuring a post-screening Q&A with McQueen, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o and Alfre Woodard, cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and composer Hans Zimmer. (The “Gravity” screening did not include a Q&A, which normally increases attendance.)

Also read: '12 Years a Slave’ Review: A Captivating, Harrowing Historical Horror Show

Maybe Academy members were home watching the Red Sox/Tigers game, or the Cowboys/Redskins battle. Maybe they were in other theaters seeing “Gravity” or “Captain Phillips.”

Maybe they just didn't feel as excited about a brutally powerful slavery drama as they had about a whiz-bang zero-gravity adventure.

Or maybe voters pay some attention to critical favorites from the festival circuit (a crowd of 500 is still a substantial Sunday-night turnout), but far more attention to box-office hits and pop-culture phenomena.

After all, “Gravity” is a tough yardstick by which to measure other movies, even if it and “12 Years” have been painted as rivals ever since both took the fall festivals by storm.

Whatever the reason, several members who attended the screening immediately mentioned the size of the crowd, which was not only smaller than the “Gravity” screening but also smaller than the recent audiences for “Captain Phillips.”

And while members reported that the applause was robust for the film, particularly for McQueen and its principal actors, the film's relentless violence also left some voters visibly disturbed.

(Of course, given the film's subject matter, that's sort of the point.)

The word powerful was used by most of those TheWrap spoke to, but it's also fair to say that the screening was another sign that, a few early predictions to the contrary, the Best Picture race is far from over.

Also read: 5 Reasons '12 Years a Slave’ Is No Oscar Lock: Backlash, the Unseen and McQueen

Said one voter the morning after the screening, “I really don't know what wins now.”

And with few major contenders on the AMPAS schedule for the rest of October, the race may get more confusing — and hey, more fun — before it gets any clearer.

  • Nikki Newman

    Ehh, '12 Years a Slave’ is still easily the frontrunner. This isn't a film that has to be seen on a big screen or IMAX or 3D.

  • Stuart W

    Ampas audiences as most, attend to be entertained. Film titles tell all!

    What better choice for an evening than the 3D “Gravity” or “12 Years a Slave.”

    Appears no-contest. As to projecting Oscar chances at this point? Be serious!

    • fred

      Yeah but that doesn't guarantee “Gravity's” chances of winning best picture is a lock by any means just because it's a box office smash. You should know better than that, “Star Wars” loses to “Annie Hall”, “Empire Strikes Back” loses “Ordinary People”, “Raiders Of The lost Ark” loses to “Chariots Of Fire”, “ET” loses to “Ghandi”, “Saving Private Ryan” loses to “Shakespeare In Love” & “Avatar” loses to “The Hurt Locker”. Now there have been exceptions like “Titanic” & “Return Of The King” as examples of big box office smashes winning best picture. All i'm saying is hold off on that trophy for “Gravity” my friend, at the moment it's all about that film but that won't be the case in a few weeks with fellow potential Oscar contenders like “12 Years a Slave” as well as even bigger box office hits on the horizon. It's slow right now with a weak October, come November it's going to be a different story and instead of just being THAT film “Gravity” will be one of a few highlighted films talked about. I'm not even a fan of the Oscars but even I know momentum changes on films form month to month. You get all these different awards shows like LA Film critics, NY Film critics, AFI, National Board Of Review, Golden Globes, etc, and you just don't know what they'll choose. If the Oscars we're given out today “Gravity” would probably win, but this is October not February. LOL no contest and it's only October, man you a funny dude.

  • Dee

    Both good films but different animals. Both should be given their due for what they represent. I have heard nothing but high praise for C. Ejiofor's portrayal of a character who must hide who he is in order to survive, and McQueen's amazing directing. It becomes a conversation piece way after the movie rolls credits and the theater empties. With Gravity, people are entertained, leave the venue, and that's that. We all love Sandra Bullock.

  • Talsy

    But it is a film that will have to be seen, if it want's to be taken seriously. And it doesn't seem like many industry insiders are willing to jump on Hollywoods latest racism and slavery bandwagon. That's the point.

    The only way 12 Years a Slave will win Best Picture is if the film is about Solomon's life, and not slavery. Like one academy member said: If slavery and brutality is the only thing 12Years has to offer, than they'll pass, because they already had Django Unchained and The Butler.

  • PearlDuncan1

    More reviews need to focus on what the film is about.

    The dialog and discussion need to continue about the theme of the film, because this is one fabulous piece of art. I saw the movie at the preview at the New York Film Festival, and wrote a review of the book and movie, and another article about the era, about the kidnapping of free, skilled people during this era. I don't know who can say he or she knows all about this era and the range of characters, events and experiences, because so little is known about what really happened.

    The performances in this movie are outstanding and the directing brilliant.
    I think reviewers need to refrain from using the word brutal and view the film
    in terms of the heroes’ and heroines’ instincts to escape and to discuss freedom
    and liberty. The 1863 memoir is eloquent on this theme, as is the movie. One
    of the problems we now have is the avenues open for reviews are more open to
    those who see the portrayals as brutal than those who see the timeliness of
    portraying these events with stories that have powerful heroes and heroines and
    dramatic, believable villains.

    Having read dozens of slave journals, and having discovered ancestors who
    were Maroons, who fought to escape, I wrote about the film from the perspective
    of escape and survival. My editor expected the word brutal, instead of the
    words I used — survival, escape, freedom, liberty, and the strength of the
    human spirit, so my review is not out as yet.

  • Guest

    i prefer Gravity than 12 years of slave. it something original

  • Josh Sensei

    i prefer Gravity