Oscar Box Office Bust: Best Picture Contenders Grossed a Total of $10 Million Since Nominations

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Between streaming availability and lack of mainstream interest in most titles, the 2022 Oscars brought nearly nothing in terms of theatrical revenue

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Clockwise from top left: "The Power of the Dog" (Netflix), "West Side Story" (20th Century), "CODA" (Apple), "King Richard" (Warner Bros.)

After Academy Awards nominations were announced last month, all signs pointed to the usual box office bump from moviegoers heading back to theaters to check out the Best Picture nominees, especially since audiences had been largely absent this year. But on Oscar Sunday, that omen turned out to be accurate.

According to data from Comscore, the seven Best Picture contenders that got a full theatrical release have grossed a combined total of $10.1 million in the seven weeks since the nomination list was released on Feb. 8. That’s roughly the same amount as the $10.2 million that 2020 Best Picture winner “Parasite” alone earned in just four weeks between nomination day and Oscar Sunday, a total that was followed by a $6.6 million boost the weekend after its historic victory.

The factors behind this crash are numerous. For one, most of the films in this year’s field had already finished most if not all of their theatrical runs by the time they were nominated. The one exception was MGM’s “Licorice Pizza,” which made the most post-nomination money with $4.3 million grossed after expanding its theater count from 786 to just under 2,000 after getting a Best Picture nod.

On the other end, Warner Bros.’ “Dune,” by far the top-grossing Best Picture nominee with $400 million grossed worldwide, made just $500,000 from a brief re-release in February before returning to streaming on HBO Max on June 10. Before and during the run-up to Oscar Sunday, other nominees made similar moves to streaming as “Nightmare Alley” hit Hulu and HBO Max on Feb. 1, “West Side Story” hit Disney+ on March 2, and “King Richard” returned to HBO Max this past weekend.

Then, of course, there are the three films from streaming companies that only stayed in theaters for a couple of weeks last fall: Apple’s “CODA” and Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” and “Don’t Look Up.” Two of those three films — “Power” and “CODA” — are considered the most likely to win Best Picture on Sunday, meaning that what would have already been a very small post-win theatrical bump will become nonexistent as any curious viewers will see the victor from the comfort of their living rooms.

And there’s simply a lack of awareness about many of the nominees — whether or not streaming is to blame. According to a Screen Engine/ASI poll first published by the Los Angeles Times, only four films had an awareness level above 40% among those surveyed, with “West Side Story” being the only one that a narrow majority was aware of with 55%.

When those surveys were asked if they had seen each Best Picture nominee, the numbers were even worse. While it’s important to note that the survey was conducted in early March, no nominee had been seen by more than 20% of those polled, with “Don’t Look Up” having the highest number of viewers (19%), while “CODA,” “The Power of the Dog,” “Belfast,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley” and “Drive My Car” all fell under 10%.

Amid declining ratings and intense backlash from its members for punting eight categories to a pre-show taping, the Oscars find themselves at a crossroads both as a Hollywood institution and as an asset to a film industry that historically has used it as a tool to draw attention to more mature fare beyond the usual blockbusters that have taken up more and more market share at the box office with each passing year.

There are still too many extraordinary factors to determine whether the Oscar bump is in serious long-term decline. Not only were this year’s nominees unable to draw out older moviegoers that would usually be interested in what they offer because of the Omicron variant surge this winter, but the absence of the Golden Globes thanks to the HFPA scandal took away a major date on the awards season calendar that guides how studios release their contenders.

With the future of both the pandemic and Hollywood’s awards season still up in the air, it is anyone’s guess what sort of theatrical climate the contenders for the 2023 Oscars will come out in. But in a world where films recognized by the Academy for their excellence now face more competition both in the film space and in the overall entertainment ecosystem than ever, the financial and cultural relevance of the Academy Awards is under more question than ever.