Thursday, May 23, 2024

Did The Oscar Box Office Boost Come Back In 2024?

“It’s all about the Hamiltons, baby!” as Chris Parnell famously once declared. The same motivation the “Saturday Night Live” veteran had on a “Lazy Sunday” also dictates why studios love the Oscars. Recognition at this award show can considerably bolster a movie’s box office reputation. This is especially true when it comes to box office boosts right after Oscar nominations are announced. People want to catch up on the latest Best Picture and/or acting Oscar nominees. This gives a fresh, must-see factor to certain titles that lead them to new levels of financial prosperity. Movies like “Million Dollar Baby” or “1917” even timed their expansions into wide release, playing in 600+ theaters, to just before or after the Oscar nominations to juice grosses.

Like many theatrical marketplace elements post-March 2020, the Oscar box office boost has struggled to return in recent years. In 2022 and 2023 (the last two years, theaters were regularly open domestically during award season), major Best Picture contenders barely received any noticeable box office boosts. With the 2023-2024 award season in the rearview, it’s time to look back at this era’s box office run. Did Best Picture contenders such as “Poor Things” and “Anatomy of a Fall” get discernible box office amplifications? Or is the Oscar box office boost still as dead as can be? 

Before we look at 2024, we need to temporarily step into the past. Let’s go back to a bygone era…or, at least, before Amazon/IMDB Pro redesigned Box Office Mojo for the worse. Box Office Mojo’s “The Oscar Boost chart examines Best Picture nominees’ financial boost from 1982 to 2017. Several trends stand out when looking at this graph – namely, three of the only six ceremonies (recorded on this list) had post-nomination grosses in the 30%+ range. Those nomination boosts occurred in 2005, 2013, and 2015. They came about thanks to mega-hit movies (“Million Dollar Baby,” Zero Dark Thirty, and “American Sniper, respectively). All of those titles went into wide release right after the nominations were announced.

When those nominations were revealed, most general moviegoers hadn’t seen the movies yet because they previously played in only a handful of locations. These were fresh quantities that probably would’ve made a pretty penny as just standard new wide releases. Now, though, moviegoers had extra incentive to check them out on their wide-release opening weekends. This trio of ceremonies reflects how lucrative a Best Picture nomination can be.Anatomy Of A FallOf the 35 post-nomination box office hauls recorded by Box Office Mojo, 15 crop of Best Picture nominees scored $100+ million total in the wake of their Oscar nods. The 92nd Academy Awards would boost that number to 16 since “1917” alone took home a little more than $116 million post-nominations. Recognizing these historical numbers isn’t just fun for the sake of random movie trivia; it also reflects how much work was needed to get the Oscar nomination box office boost back to “normal.”

As late as 2018, Best Picture nominees were still taking in more than $127.3 million domestically. Compare that to the first crop of Best Picture nominees dropped into theaters in the wake of March 2020. The eventual Best Picture winner “Nomadland” made a robust $35 million overseas, but it only grossed $3.7 million here in the U.S. That meager sum dwarfed the box office hauls of other Best Picture contenders that year, like “Minari” and “The Father.”

Things didn’t get immediately better in 2022 and 2023. You can chalk that up to studios still being in the honeymoon love phase with streaming. Titles like “King Richard” and “Nightmare Alley” were rushed to streaming. This practice undercuts the whole point of post-Oscar nomination box office boosts. These films are meant to be theatrical exclusive events. This way, they’d play for weeks and weeks as folks catch up on Best Picture contenders. Putting them on streaming right away diluted that specialness. Other post-March 2020 Best Picture contenders had their potential Oscar boosts undercut by strange theatrical release decisions. Neon, for instance, failed to bring “Triangle of Sadness” back into hundreds of theaters right away after its Oscar nominations.

Considering all of that, it’s time to answer the most important question: did this year’s Best Picture contenders receive discernible post-nomination box office boosts? Surprisingly, yes. The 96th Academy Awards were announced on January 23, 2024. After that development, several newly crowned Best Picture nominees saw their box office prospects greatly improve. One thing that helped this year was a very simple fact: release dates. In 2022, five of the seven theatrical Best Picture nominees debuted at Thanksgiving or earlier. In 2023, that number was seven out of nine theatrical nominees. 2024, on the surface, didn’t seem to be too different, with six Best Picture contenders opening at Thanksgiving or earlier.

The difference this time, though, was that major titles like “Poor Things,” “American Fiction, and “The Zone of Interest had never entered wide release before the nominations announcement. Just a year earlier, “The Banshees of Inisherin was put on Hulu a month before Oscar nominations were announced. This year, a film like “American Fiction was kept exclusive to theaters until the Oscar ceremony came and went. This allowed it to gross another $13 million after Oscar nominations were announced. That post-nominations run alone more than doubled TÁR’s lifetime box office haul. “Poor Things amassed a similarly robust $13.5 million. That Yorgos Lanthimos title impressively managed to outgross the pre-COVID Lanthimos title “The Favourite domestically. That’s a great sign that things are improving for the theatrical arthouse sector.Even some of the smaller overall grosses were impressive. “Anatomy of a Fall” only took in $1.1 million domestically after its Oscar nominations, but it had only grossed $3.9 million up to that point. A little more than 22% of its domestic run came in the wake of its Oscar nominations. Fellow 96th Academy Awards foreign-language Best Picture nominee “The Zone of Interest” also significantly benefited from Oscar nominations. Making $1.6 million before the Oscar nominations announcement from just 82 theaters, “The Zone of Interest” quickly expanded its theater count. Playing in hundreds of locations, it proceeded to make an additional $7 million over the following weeks. Despite being such a challenging and avant-garde movie, “The Zone of Interest briefly cracked the top 25 highest-grossing A24 movies ever in North America.

Two titles that didn’t get any kind of Best Picture boost? “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie.” That’s no surprise, as both titles had already made so much money in their iconic summer 2023 theatrical runs. It’s doubtful there were many people still needing to see them theatrically once January 2024 rolled around. “Oppenheimer,” for its part, only made $2.8 million in the wake of its Oscar nominations. Currently, it appears there was a projected total of $39 million amassed by this year’s Best Picture nominees. Returning to that Box Office Mojo chart, that sum is still one of the lower-grossing post-Oscar nomination boosts in history. It’s roughly on par with the gross of the 1984 Best Picture nominees, and that’s without taking inflation into account. However, the 2024 Best Picture nominees featured films that were more difficult to sell to the general public compared to, say, the 1984 Best Picture nominees.

More importantly, many of the Best Picture nominees had post-nomination box office performances reminiscent of vintage Oscar heavyweights. Even “Oppenheimer” making only an additional $2.8 million after its Oscar nods, has historical precedent. That haul is similar to “The Departed,” scoring $11 million after it secured a bevy of nominations. Some stability is returning to the theatrical arthouse marketplace. Can this box office rebound get even better in the years to come? That will depend on the scheduling and releasing methods of major studios, as they’ll need to refrain from being too trigger-happy to rush arthouse titles to Max/Hulu/Peacock/etc. These post-2020 movies can play in theaters for weeks and weeks. Just look at “Anatomy of a Fall,” delivering steady weekend hauls for a little more than four consecutive months. Studios need to give movies breathing room between their theatrical and streaming releases.

Arthouse and major studios don’t announce release dates for potential award-season players years in advance. This makes it difficult to ascertain if the next crop of potential Best Picture nominees will also thrive financially. It’s hard to know if those titles will get the kind of optimal release dates and long-term theatrical release commitments they need in order to flourish. For now, though, there is certainty in other matters. Specifically, the box office performances of “Poor Things,” “American Fiction, and “The Zone of Interest suggest something definitive. They make it clear that Oscar nominations can still bolster a movie’s financial reputation. Perhaps we’ll never fully get back to the days of the 2002/2003 Oscar-enhanced box office. However, these signs of continuous post-March 2020 box office improvements for arthouse titles provide hope.
One cheat code for studios looking to automatically amp up the next crop of Best Picture performers is to drop a massive crowd-pleaser contender (like “1917,” “Million Dollar Baby,” or “American Sniper”) just before or after the nominations are announced. Historically, a single “American Sniper” can drive the biggest crop of post-nomination “Oscar boosts.” It’s a risky move, considering that said title might not get nominated. But, if it does, well, history has proven that’s an easy way to rack up a lot of money.

Do you think the Oscars can still give a box office boost to nominees? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

You can follow Lisa and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars & Film on her portfolio here

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