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How Oscars Still Matter At The Box Office: Best Picture Noms & Their Boosts – 2020 Report

Oscar nominations continue to make a difference at the box office, and the box office continues to be important to Oscar contenders.

At a time when prestigious, financially risky award bets are often destined to Netflix, nothing beats having that extra exhilaration from great ticket sales, as studios vie to raise the profiles of their nominees in a heated run-off. Exhibition looks forward to this season with major chains hosting annual Oscar Best Picture nominee showcases. And even though it’s a shortened year in the walk-up to the big ceremony, which is on Sunday, Feb. 9 this year, instead of the last Sunday of February or first Sunday in March, four Best Picture nominees are poised to see double-digit percent jumps or more in their domestic box office by Oscar night including Amblin/Universal/New Republic’s 1917 (+192% between last Monday, Oscar nom day and Oscar night), Sony’s Little Women (+33%), NEON’s SAG ensemble foreign language surprise winner Parasite (+26%), and Searchlight’s Jojo Rabbit (+18%).

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1917 George MacKay water scene. (Credit: Andrea Foster/NBCUniversal)
1917 George MacKay water scene. (Credit: Andrea Foster/NBCUniversal)
François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

Talk about amazing timing and fortune for 1917If you were to take bets in the press room on Golden Globes night as to which pic would win Best Picture Drama, we mostly agreed it was Neflix’s The Irishman given its momentum from critics’ orgs. But, no, it was Sam Mendes one-continuous shot WWI thrilling wonder, and Uni had wisely booked 1917‘s wide break after the Globes, which only fueled grosses more, allowing the pic to best its $20M-$25M wide opening projection with a $37M start last weekend. Uni added 178 locations over the MLK weekend to 1917 which filed a $22M 3-day, -41%, and 4-day of $26.8M. By Feb. 9, box office sources believe the movie will easily reach $125M, on its way to a $150M even if it doesn’t take home the big prize.

Timothée Chalamet and Florence Pugh in 'Little Women'
Timothée Chalamet and Florence Pugh in 'Little Women'
Sony Pictures

Greta Gerwig’s cinematic renaissance of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was hot out of the gate over Christmas, with a 5-day opening of $29.2M, and the movie beating the $50M lifetime domestic gross of the Winona Ryder-1994 version in ten days. Scoring a Best Picture nomination only adds more cash to the current reboot, with a destination by Oscar night of $100M per sources. While other Best Picture nominees increased their theater counts this past weekend, Little Women shed 713 sites and it still did great with a 19% dip for a 3-day of $6.3M, 4-day of $8.2M and running total in week 4 of $86.7M. We can’t deny the star power of Harry Potter alum Emma Watson, coupled with sophisticated audience fave Sarorise Ronan (who is nominated for her 4th Oscar, 3rd in the Best Actress slot). Also another discovery here for interested moviegoers is surprise Best Actress Supporting nominee Florence Pugh, who is poised to further break out to the masses this May in Disney/Marvel’s Black Widow. Similar to when then-fresh face Edward Norton blasted off in 1997 in three movies —Everyone Says I Love You, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Primal Fear, getting nominated in the supporting category for the latter, Pugh has a spectacular 2019 showing all sides, not just as the spoiled corseted Amy March in Little Women, but as a wrestler in the Dwayne Johnson production Fighting With My Family and as a distressed teen who morphs into a rising phoenix in Ari Aster’s trippy Swedish genre pic Midsommar.

Song Kang-ho in 'Parasite'
Song Kang-ho in 'Parasite'
Song Kang-ho in ‘Parasite’ NEON

After becoming the first foreign language movie to win SAG’s top prize last night, audiences will be even more curious about foreign language Cannes Palme d’Or winner ParasiteNEON spiked theaters from 345 to 843 this past weekend, with the Bong Joon-ho directed movie making $1.7M in weekend 15, $2.1M over the MLK 4-day for a running total of $28.1M and +36% weekend-to-weekend surge. Distribution sources believe that if NEON continues to shell out money for the pic (why wouldn’t they?) that a $32M gross is foreseeable by Oscar night, with even more in its final gross. There were solid returns this past weekend in such markets as NY, DC, LA, San Francisco and Vancouver, Canada. We already know that Parasite is the highest-grossing South Korean movie of all-time stateside. Parasite is currently the 7th highest grossing foreign language movie in U.S./Canada (not counting Mel Gibson US wide releases Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto) after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ($128m), Life is Beautiful ($57.2M), Hero ($53.7M), Instructions Not Included ($44.4M), Pan’s Labyrinth ($37.6M) and Amelie ($33.2M), and it’s quite conceivable that Parasite will takeover the latter 2001 pic’s slot on that list.

Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in 'Jojo Rabbit'
Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis in 'Jojo Rabbit'
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Fox Searchlight upped Taika Waititi’s WWII comedy Jojo Rabbit by +880 theaters for 1,005 runs over the weekend, with the pic making $1.48M in its 14th weekend, +640% with a 4-day of $1.8M for a $23.8M running total. By Oscar night, Jojo should jump to $26M. The plan for Searchlight is to add more theaters next week in an effort to further cross the arthouse movie over to commercial theaters. In addition to Best Picture, Jojo Rabbit is nominated for Film Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, Waititi’s Adapted Screenplay, and Scarlett Johansson’s supporting turn as sensitive mother, and quiet rebel against the Nazis.

Three of the seven Best Picture nominees in theatrical release are already played out, but that didn’t stop their studios from re-introducing them over the weekend. Disney’s re-release of 20th Century Fox’s James Mangold Best Picture Ford v. Ferrari grew from 567 theaters to 1,080 making $1.08M in weekend 10, +42% with a 4-day of $1.3M for a running total of $113.1M. The pic which counts four Oscar noms should arrive at $117M by Feb. 9.

Two of those three movies, Sony’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Warner Bros./Village Roadshow/Bron Studios’ Jokerare already available on DVD, SVOD and PVOD. Hollywood jumped from 54 sites to 705 theaters, including a 70MM run at the Hollywood Arclight. The Quentin Tarantino movie earned $320K for 3-day, +841%, and $370K for the 4-day for a total in weekend 26 of $141.5MJoker in weekend 16 made around $500K in 854 sites (+769) over 4-days for a running total of $334.6M; the pic’s star Joaquin Phoenix is cleaning up at awards shows with Best Actor wins at the Golden Globes (drama), SAGs, and Critics’ Choice awards.

And what of those Best Picture nominees, not reporting box office? Specifically, Netflix’s The Irishman with ten nominations and Marriage Story with six noms? Natch, Netflix will hope to relish spikes in views from both movies which are available on the streaming service. What we know from the streamer that doesn’t report viewership figures is that Nielsen clocked 17.1M unique views for the Martin Scorsese-directed $180M-$200M three-and-a-half hour production in its first five days. Industry sources tell me that the limited play of the pic earned around $8M, with Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story making an estimated $2M after being boxed out by big circuits due to the streamer sticking with a squashed theatrical window-to-streaming model.

Al Pacino in 'The Irishman'
Al Pacino in 'The Irishman'
Netflix

Did the pics’ inability to play wide hurt their Oscar chances? Not necessarily if you look at their nominations racked up here, but having the extra halo of great box office surely doesn’t hurt, and if anything Netflix could use any kind of lift in the post Oscar nom phase for their contenders. Netflix’s Roma sidestepping a wide release last year saw that Alfonso Cuaron film earn 10 Oscar noms, with 3 wins including director and foreign film. Had Irishman and Marriage Story tanked at the B.O. (and many assumed that The Irishman would given its running time and lofty cost), it would have certainly tarnished their image in a heated awards season (the box office bombing of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs off a $30M production cost and $17.8M domestic B.O. back in 2015 didn’t do it any big favors, just bad headlines). But having the power of box office behind an awards contenders, only makes a movie stand out more. Had Netflix and big exhibition agreed to a 60-day wide window for The Irishman, Two Popes (3 noms) and Marriage Story, industry insiders believe that there’s around $100M (between all three pics) missing from 2019’s $11.4 billion domestic box office.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in 'Marriage Story'
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in 'Marriage Story'
Netflix

Deadline asked Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos at the PGAs on Saturday night (where he was lauded with their Milestone Award) if exhibition will ultimately budge down the road and agree to a shortened theatrical window.

“I think that we have to keep making the films that are undeniable, and if that’s the case, I think the exhibitors will change their ways, and guilds and awards and all those things all follow,” said the Netflix boss. “The key is we just have got to make great films that are undeniable, and that’s all we’ve been focused on.”

Traditional distributors aren’t so optimistic about the big chain theaters agreeing to anything less than the 90-day window that’s in place, especially in the wake of Cineworld’s takeover of Canadian exhibition giant Cineplex Odeon, a circuit that was trying to make waves in shrinking theatrical windows.

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