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More than two decades ago, Hollywood’s most coveted contest — the Oscar for best picture — became dominated by specialized, indie fare that didn’t always resonate with the general public. When ratings for the Academy Awards telecast began dropping year after year, the Oscar best picture category was expanded in 2009 from five to 10 movies in an attempt to allow for more commercial titles to compete.
There was some progress in terms of some box office behemoths being included. The eight films nominated for best picture in January 2019 had grossed a collective $1.26 billion at the domestic box office at the time noms were announced, led by Black Panther with $700.1 million. Two contenders, Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born, had already earned just north of $200 million.
Tuesday’s Oscar nominations could be viewed as a setback for the effort to align the Oscars more with consumer choice. The 10 films up for best picture have earned $191.2 million domestically to date, according to Comscore. The pandemic is a major factor, no doubt, but it didn’t help that James Bond pic No Time to Die and and House of Gucci — starring the ever-popular Lady Gaga — failed to make the best picture cut. There was even speculation that Spider-Man: No Way Home might be nominated after it zoomed to the top of the all-time box office chart despite COVID-19.
Warner Bros. and Legendary’s Dune is the top earner among the 10 films nominated for best picture ($107.7 million domestically), and is the only one to have cleared $100 million. King Richard, another Warners entry, has earned just $14.9 million in North America. Both films debuted simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max in the U.S., likely diminishing their box office prospects.
Speaking of streaming, two best picture contenders, The Power of the Dog and Don’t Look Up, are from Netflix. The company played both films in select theaters but, as a standing policy, doesn’t report grosses. Nor did Apple Original Films report grosses for its limited theatrical run of CODA.
Among other top nominees revealed Tuesday, Searchlight’s Nightmare Alley has grossed $10.8 million to date, followed by Focus Features’ Belfast at $7.5 million and Sideshow/Janus Films’ acclaimed Japanese indie Drive My Car, which so far has earned $944,796 from a smattering of theaters.
All three films hope to partake in the lucrative box office bump that can result from a best picture nomination.
Nightmare Alley and Belfast are both available in the home, which poses challenges.
The film that may be in the best position to benefit at the box office is Licorice Pizza, which has held back from expanding nationwide until now. The dramedy has earned $12.7 million so far, a solid number for a specialized title.
Licorice Pizza is available only in theaters; ditto for 20th Century and Disney’s West Side Story, which opened over the year-end holidays and has grossed a disappointing $36.7 million to date. The hope now is that the Steven Spielberg-directed musical can enjoy renewed life in theaters in the wake of the nomination and a lessening of the omicron surge (adult-skewing titles such as West Side Story have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic).
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