‘Little Women’ Could Help the Oscars Break a Box Office Drought

For the first time since 2014, four or more Best Picture nominees could gross over $100 million in North America

Fresh off a Best Picture Oscar nomination — but also back in the conversation due to Greta Gerwig’s Best Director snub — Sony’s “Little Women” is hoping that renewed interest from Monday’s awards recognition will push the period drama closer to $100 million in domestic grosses. If and when that happens, the 2020 Best Picture list will break an Oscar box office drought that has lasted for several years.

Four times in the 2010s, the Best Picture nominee field had at least four nominees with a North American total of more than $100 million. But since 2015, there’s never been more than three in a single year. This year’s field already has three: “Ford v Ferrari” ($111 million), “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” ($141 million), and far and away the top grosser of the bunch, “Joker” ($334 million).

That count could grow to five if “Little Women” and Universal’s “1917” hit the $100 million domestic mark. “Little Women,” which was released wide on Christmas Day, will hit that mark first with $74 million grossed so far. “1917,” which opened wide to $37 million last weekend after a two week limited run and has a running total of $48 million.

In general, the past decade of the Oscars has featured Best Picture races with one or two populist contenders that a large number of moviegoers have seen going against five or six arthouse contenders that spent their theatrical runs in limited release. While “Joker” certainly stands out as the biggest box office hit, this year’s field holds far more films that general audiences nationwide are more likely to have seen.

The only two bonafide arthouse films in the race this year are Fox Searchlight’s “Jojo Rabbit,” which grossed $22 million from a run that peaked at 787 screens, and NEON’s Korean import “Parasite,” which crossed $25 million this past weekend and will see its current screen count of 345 grow again as NEON tries to take advantage of renewed interest in Bong Joon-ho’s thriller.

The wild card, of course, is Netflix. This year they have not one but two Best Picture contenders in “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” both of which had an extremely limited and truncated theatrical run before heading off early to streaming. As usual, Netflix has not divulged the box office numbers for either of those films, but even without it there are some signs that both films have gained a noticeable following. Nielsen reported that 13.2 million viewers saw “The Irishman” in its first five days of streaming, while “Marriage Story” went trending worldwide on Twitter the day of its streaming release and launched an internet meme from the film’s climactic fight between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

Removing the outlier in “Joker,” the six nominees with registered box office numbers have an average domestic gross of $69.6 million. By comparison, the nine films nominated for Best Picture two years ago, which included “Get Out” and “Dunkirk,” had an average of $63.4 million on the day nominations were released. Altogether, the $751 million combined North American gross of this year’s nominees on nomination day is is the highest since 2012 with the exception of last year, which had the $700 million hit “Black Panther” among its ranks.

While the lack of a diverse nominee list has frustrated many both inside and outside the industry, the fact that so many contenders are widely known must certainly be a relief for ABC, which will be relying on the appeal of the films and stars in the race to draw viewer interest and keep ratings for the host-less Oscars from dropping yet again.

Jeremy Fuster

Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • jeremy.fuster@thewrap.com


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