The 94th Academy Awards takes the stage Sunday, and there’s a fair amount of speculation that this could finally be the year when a streaming service takes home the coveted Best Picture Oscar.
For years, Netflix (NFLX) – Get Netflix, Inc. Report has been in pursuit of this elusive prize. The streaming giant has carved out a huge chunk of the entertainment business for itself, and these days it’s one of the main suppliers of the romantic comedies and mid-scale dramas people used to see in theaters.
But there’s been a bit of stigma in Hollywood from old guard types that quote-unquote real movies are ones released in theaters, not via streaming services (which very often only give the film they produce a nominal run in Los Angeles and New York to qualify for awards).
Steven Spielberg once gave an interview in which he more-or-less said that Netflix features are TV movies, and should not qualify for Oscars. But seeing as how last year he signed a deal to produce multiple new films for the streaming service, he’s apparently changed his mind.
Do Oscars Now Only Matter To Streaming Services?
Netflix really, really wants an Oscar. And to get there it’s come up with a model that so far has gotten it plenty of nominations and the admiration of critics and film connoisseurs, which has been to give blank checks to auteurs to let them make the passion projects that Hollywood studios have given up on.
David Fincher’s biopic “Mank,” Alfonso Cuaron’s roman à clef “Roma,” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” were all nominated for Best Picture, and it’s widely believed Spike Lee’s 2020 film “Da 5 Five Bloods” also deserved that nomination.
All were funded by Netflix, and though some of them had limited theater runs, that’s where they were seen.
In the end, none of them took home the final prize. But Netflix isn’t deterred in its quest for the ultimate prize.
Netflix’s head of global film Scott Stuber recently gave an interview to the BBC in which he remarked “”We all grew up wanting that. We are all going into the room with that hope and dream. Can you make a film that will be considered best in class?”
He added that, “It would be thrilling, it would be exciting, I hope we’ll be the ones who win it. But if not, we’re OK.”
Netflix now has two shots at Oscar glory this weekend, as “The Power of the Dog,” Jane Campion’s treatise on toxic masculinity, and Adam McKay’s satire “Don’t Look Up,” are up for Best Pictures.
But this year it’s got competition in the form of Apple+’s ( (AAPL) – Get Apple Inc. Report) “CODA,” a coming-of-age film about a deaf family raising a child who can hear.
While it’s anyone’s guess who will win the grand prize, both “CODA” and “The Power of the Dog,” have been heavily tipped to win, which would mark a significant breakthrough for the streaming services. But don’t expect traditional movie theaters to be too thrilled if a streaming service takes home the top prize.
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Does The Oscar Bump Drive People To Theaters Anymore?
There was a time when Oscar nominations helped drive ticket sales. Even as recently as a few years ago, Best Picture nominations for the 2018 film “Green Book,” (which won best picture over “Roma) drove 50% of its $85 million domestic box office, according to Business Insider.
Similarly, nominations for the 2015 film “Room,” (for which Brie Larson won Best Actress), accounted for 65% of its box office total.
But it’s hard to say whether Oscar nominations still drive ticket sales, or whether consumers now chose to just watch Oscar nominated films when they hit on streamers.
Two of the nominated films, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” and Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” were box office under-performers (especially compared to the director’s previous work). Even after the nominations, they still only earned $38,445,471 and $11,309,960.
Both were available on HBO Max shortly after the nominations were announced, which was no doubt good news for the streaming service…if not very helpful for theater chains like AMC (AMCX) – Get AMC Networks Inc. Class A Report and Cinemark, which are increasingly struggling to get people to come out to theaters for anything other than superhero movies.
Both “Dune,” and “King Richard,” premiered in theaters and HBO Max at the same time, which makes it difficult to measure how the nominations drove ticket sales.
“Dune” had an impressive box office of $108,240,793, though it’s unclear if the nominations helped that at all, or if audiences were brought in because it’s a prestigious sci-fi adventure film based on a popular novel.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Licorice Pizza” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” are the only two of the nominated films that aren’t on a streaming service, though they are both available to rent via iTunes and Amazon. It’s fair to say the Oscars didn’t exactly supercharge their ticket sales.
“Licorice Pizza” has earned $17 million at the box office, and “Belfast” $9.1 million, but most of that was before nominations were announced in February. (The weekend of the nominations, it earned $959,788 and “Belfast” earned $304,920.)
Streaming services tend to be pretty cagey about how well any particular title does on its platform, so when “Licorice Pizza” and “Belfast” do hit one of the services, it will be unclear how much of an Oscar bump they received, especially if they take home the top prize.
But it might not be fair to say the Oscar bumped has vanished, it just now affects viewership in ways that are tougher to quantify.
Which is not exactly helpful to AMC, which needs to quantify as many tickets these days as it possibly can.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism