Oscar Sunday has arrived, ending what has been a quieter-than-usual awards box office season. The two Best Picture nominees with the biggest mainstream success, “Get Out” and “Dunkirk,” had already completed their theatrical runs long before the other films were released. Their combined $364 million comprises 52 percent of the $694 million in domestic revenue made by this year’s Best Picture field, up 5.7 percent from what last year’s field made prior to Oscar Sunday.
But while those two films have boosted the total revenue, the combined box office total made by this year’s field from nomination day to Oscar Sunday is only $126.5 million, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s down 27 percent from last year and the lowest for the period since the 2012 Oscars, when “The Help” was the only film to gross more than $100 million domestically.
As TheWrap noted last month, there are two major factors at play: one is that this year’s batch of awards season offerings doesn’t have anything as intriguing for mainstream moviegoers as Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a romantic musical, a biopic about black female scientists, or Leonardo DiCaprio eating an animal’s liver. The other factor is that they have spent the last three weeks going up against one of the biggest domestic releases of all-time, “Black Panther,” a superhero blockbuster that has dominated the cultural conversation and has taken away screen space at movie theaters across the nation.
But while awards season hasn’t set cinema cash registers ablaze, their studios still have reason to smile. The performance of many of these films is still consistent with recent Best Picture winners, which have ranged from $27.5 million domestic by last year’s winner “Moonlight” to $57 million by 2013 winner “12 Years a Slave.” Fox Searchlight’s two contenders have hit the upper end of that range as “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” have domestic grosses of $57 million and $52 million respectively.
In the case of “Shape of Water,” grosses before and after nomination day have been nearly 50-50, with $26 million since Jan. 23. This is because while younger audiences who saw the film when it was first released have flocked to see “Black Panther,” older audiences who tend to go to Oscar films after they’re nominated to catch up on the contenders took their place.
According to data provided to TheWrap by movie analytics group Movio, the proportion of moviegoers over the age of 50 going to see “Shape of Water” increased by 23 percent, with fellow contenders “Call Me by Your Name” and “I, Tonya” also enjoying big bumps from older audiences. Movio estimates that this equates to a box office increase of 5-10 percent for those films. Overall, attendance from 50+ audiences for Oscar films has increased 81 percent compared to last year.
So even though awards box office season hit a six-year low, baby boomers and seniors are still providing studios with a good source of revenue, enough that future contenders will likely continue to be marketed and distributed even as major blockbusters like “The New Mutants” and the inevitable “Black Panther” sequel take up space on the Q1 release slate.
“Yes, the window of time in which Oscar films are the main offering at theaters isn’t as big as it used to be,” an anonymous distribution chief told TheWrap last month. “But if your movie gets nominated you still have to strike when the opportunity comes. Besides, the main demographic that goes to see, say ‘The Post,’ probably isn’t going to go see a superhero movie, but there’s always the chance that a person that goes to see a blockbuster might end up getting interested when they see the awards films on the marquee.”