The Short Oscar Season Was Tough for Hollywood, but Good for Box Office

Best Picture favorites “1917” and “Parasite” were able to take advantage of the faster countdown to Oscar Sunday

With the historic victory of “Parasite” at the Oscars on Sunday, the book has been closed on the most compressed awards season ever. But while it is unlikely that the Academy will have the Oscars this early again, several films took advantage of the shortened run to Hollywood’s biggest night and, as a result, find box office success.

Fears about moving up the 2020 Oscars to the week after the Super Bowl were allayed when several films altered the calendar to their advantage thanks to a mix of smart marketing and release strategy, combined with buzzy word-of-mouth.

The prime example was Universal’s war film “1917.” While the studio failed to capture a second straight Best Picture victory, the studio gave the Sam Mendes film a flawless release strategy. As a result, it will cross $300 million at the global box office in the coming week. The World War I-set “1917” grossed $92 million in North America between nomination day and now, higher than the $84 million that 2017 contender “Hidden Figures” made in its Oscar season period, which was a week longer. “1917” is also on pace to approach that film’s $169 million domestic total despite its R rating.

For Best Picture nominees that are released in December or have a wide release in January, the period between nomination announcements and Oscar Sunday is a critical one for their box office goals, as they hope to bring in moviegoers that gain interest from their newfound awards status. Smaller art-house films also try to take advantage of this important time, as distributors return them to hundreds of theaters even if they were released in October rather than the holidays.

The shorter season also didn’t stop the art-house contenders from getting a good box office bump. “Parasite” has helped put its growing American distributor, Neon, on the map with a domestic total of $35.5 million, a new record for the 3-year-old company and among the best ever for a non-English film in America. Just over $10 million of that total came since the film’s nomination, after which Neon expanded the film to just over 1,000 screens. By comparison, 2017 Best Picture winner “Moonlight,” which like “Parasite” was released in mid-October, grossed $6.3 million between its nomination and victory.

“It’s always going to be difficult to make direct comparisons to different Oscar films in different years because the subject matter and box office competition are always different,” Comscore media analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “But the changes in the Oscar calendar didn’t have any negative impact on the nominees still in theaters, and ‘1917’ was probably best able to take advantage of being expanded right as it was winning all these awards.”

As TheWrap’s Steve Pond noted, this new calendar was very unpopular with nominees and their handlers, who had to deal with a much more hectic travel schedule because of the truncated awards season. Some of the awards shows, such as the Writers Guild Awards, also had few nominees turn up because they had to compete directly against other awards like the BAFTAs booked on the same weekend.

For those reasons, it’s likely that the Oscars will return to the old schedule for the foreseeable future: nominations in mid-to-late January for a late February show. Obviously, we won’t know until around the end of 2020 exactly how many nominees will have serious theatrical viability when nominations are announced. But those potential contenders will be competing a much stiffer February slate than this year, specifically in the form of the Marvel Studios film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” set for release on Feb. 12, 2021.

Jeremy Fuster

Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter •


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