Thursday, June 13, 2024

What Will Be Warner Bros. Biggest 2024 Oscar Contender?

Midway through the Cannes Film Festival, it looked like the biggest winner in a post-Cannes Oscar landscape would be Warner Brothers. With seemingly no Oscar-ready films screening during the first half of Cannes, with “Dune: Part Two” still the only likely Best Picture nominee from the first half of 2024, with “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” releasing to positive reviews, and with “Joker: Folie à Deux” likely looming ahead at Venice, Warner Bros. was in a prime position to perhaps salvage a very sparse Best Picture field.

That could still be the case, depending on how the fall festivals turn out and how “Joker: Folie à Deux” is received (if it actually screens in Venice). But after the second half of Cannes unveiled films like “Anora,” “The Seed of the Sacred Fig,” “All We Imagine as Light,” “Emilia Perez” and more, and after “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” received much harsher box office headlines than reviews, perhaps Warner Bros. doesn’t need to be this Oscar season’s only savior. Nevertheless, the studio’s current and future lineup will shape how the Best Picture field goes in one way or another.

Unlike in 2023, when six Best Picture nominees first screened before the fall fests and four nominees screened before fall 2022, the pre-fall 2024 Oscar season field still looks slim. Despite the late-breaking Cannes films, “Dune: Part Two” remains the only 2024 movie considered a virtual lock to get in Best Picture, if only because it remains the biggest hit of the year and its predecessor got in three years ago.

Anora” may now be the second closest thing to a lock after its Palme d’Or win, yet there’s still a sliver more doubt on how regular audiences and voters will receive it and whether it is a Best Picture level kind of accessible for them – unlike Sean Baker’s past films like “The Florida Project” and “Red Rocket.” International voters may also push “The Seed of the Sacred Fig” and “All We Imagine as Light,” while Netflix now has “Emilia Perez” to put its resources behind. However, their fates could depend on how crowded the international field is, and Netflix’s fall lineup and acquisitions become.

The outlook for the 2024 awards season would have been much more ominous without these films closing out Cannes. Since there’s no “Barbenheimer” or even “Top Gun: Maverick” expected from the rest of summer’s would-be blockbusters, and since A24’s “Sing Sing” may have the best if not only chance to be a summer indie hit turned awards season factor, we may go into Venice, Toronto, Telluride and the New York Film Festival with anywhere from one to three likely pre-fall Best Picture nominees at best. From there, Warner Bros. could have been a big help if “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” had been delivered at the box office.FuriosaIf Cannes didn’t have numerous late-breaking winners, and if “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” had made just $10-15 million more on Memorial Day weekend, then it at least would have stayed in consideration for Best Picture recognition. While it didn’t have the universal acclaim or Film Twitter mania that “Mad Max: Fury Road” did, its reviews were not a massive downgrade. Its score of 79 on Metacritic is the exact same as the presumed Best Picture nominee lock, “Dune: Part Two,” and is actually above the 78 that “Top Gun: Maverick” has. Though, of course, both “Dune: Part Two” and “Top Gun: Maverick” get extra credit for having significantly higher scores than their predecessors, whereas “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” has too big a bar from its own to overcome.

But in the best-case scenario, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” could stay in the Best Picture nomination conversation just until the fall festivals start. At the minimum, its bad box office headlines have cleared the runaway a bit more for “Joker: Folie à Deux” to be Warner Bros.’ second Best Picture nominee – if there is one.

Now that there are a couple more pre-fall festival Oscar contenders besides “Dune: Part Two” and “Sing Sing,” maybe there isn’t as much urgency for one or two more Warner Bros. blockbusters to bolster the field. Nonetheless, with Variety all but confirming “Joker: Folie à Deux” as a “competition shoo-in” for Venice, all eyes should be on it in late August to do what “Joker” did in 2019 and launch a significant box office and awards season blitz there, whether or not it wins the Golden Lion like “Joker” did.

Even with Joaquin Phoenix back, with Lady Gaga by his side now, and with hints that “Joker: Folie à Deux” is one big fantasy musical, it’s still 50-50 that this sequel takes as much of a critical leap forward over “Joker” as Warner Bros.’ spring blockbuster sequel did over “Dune: Part One.” But if the rest of the lineup at Venice and the other fall festivals don’t live up to the hype either, then maybe it won’t need most critics to fall in line behind it, much like its predecessor didn’t. In that case, it might not need to match or come close to matching “Joker’s” billion-dollar box office either.

The ugly box office obituaries for “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” would undoubtedly make any struggles for “Joker: Folie à Deux” look better by comparison. Still, since the former was one of the biggest financial letdowns in recent Memorial Day weekend history, and since the latter is only opening on the first weekend of October, the extra pressure of a holiday weekend won’t apply next time out. And in a year where Hollywood may be lucky to just get one billion-dollar film out in 2024 before October, even a mere $700-800M worldwide gross for a “Joker” sequel might not look so bad this year. Depending on how “Wicked” and “Gladiator 2” do in November, it could be only the second Oscar-contending blockbuster in the race – with both from Warner Bros.In that regard, “Joker: Folie à Deux” doesn’t need to do that much to give Warner Bros. a second contender. Yet, on the other hand, it’s now the non-“Dune: Part Two” contender Warner Bros. has left, now that “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” needs dozens of breaks just to get pushed back in the race. This also assumes that the animated “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” is only a Best Animated Feature play and that the studio’s other big 2024 movies, like the first two parts of “Horizon: An American Saga,” “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice,” and the co-Universal production “Twisters,” are only box office plays.

Technically, Warner Bros. can do just fine with having one Oscar film since it worked out with “Barbie” last year – and it didn’t hesitate to abandon “The Color Purple” after its disappointing post-Christmas Day box office. However, the 2024 Oscar Best Picture field and race could be another matter if things don’t pick up by fall.

Even with “Anora” winning Cannes and “Sing Sing” lying ahead this summer, the current prospective Oscar lineup would be much shakier right now without “Dune: Part Two” at the pole position. Suppose projected fall contenders like “Blitz,” “Conclave,” “Queer,” “The Nickel Boys,” “Nightbitch,” “Maria,” and other potential fall festival breakouts fall short. Will the field be in sorrier shape if Warner Bros. doesn’t have another blockbuster contender as a safety net?

For a time halfway through Cannes, it looked like Warner Bros would have to carry a far bigger load this awards season. Hopefully, there won’t be any similar scares in a few months, whether or not Warner Bros. has another “Dune: Part Two” or another “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” still ahead.

What do you think will be Warner Bros. fate at the Oscars this year now that “Dune: Part Two” and “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” have been seen? Do you think “Joker: Folie à Deux” will be their biggest player overall for Best Picture? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account.

You can follow Robert and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Robertdoc1984

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