Oscar voters stuck to the arthouse and steered clear of the multiplexes this year.
Siding with art over commerce makes 2014’s slate of best picture nominees the weakest crop of contenders from a box office perspective in recent history.
This is the first time since 2007 that no film up for the top prize has collected $100 million domestically by the time nominations were announced. Only one film, “American Sniper,” looks positioned to ever hit that benchmark.
As it stands, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the highest-grossing contender, having made $59.1 million Stateside.
“I don’t know if less people are going to watch [the Oscars], but it does mean that less people will be invested in the telecast,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “It’s simply a numbers thing.”
Among the eight films up for best picture, the average gross before nominations were announced was $25.4 million. In contrast, 2013’s crop, a group that included box office hits such as “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Gravity,” had an average haul of $72.1 million before nominations, and 2012’s pack, which boasted “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi,” grossed an average of $69.5 million at a similar point in awards season. It doesn’t help that voters nominated only eight films out of a possible 10.
At various points, it appeared that popular hits such as “Unbroken” ($102.9 million, domestic) and “Interstellar” ($185.1 million, domestic) might sneak into the race, but they never enjoyed the groundswell of critical support needed to make them frontrunners. That made for a collection of nominees that was heavy on auteur cred but lacking in mainstream appeal.
“Arthouse-oriented films, when they get nominated — it doesn’t always translate into big box office dollars,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.
It also doesn’t help that two of the leading contenders, “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” have been out of theaters for months and are available on home entertainment platforms. Fox Searchlight, the studio behind “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” will re-release the film in five theaters, while IFC, the studio behind “Boyhood,” is planning a 100-screen revival. Any bump they receive will likely be in DVD or electronic sales, however.
“The impact of Oscar nominations mostly happens in home entertainment markets,” said Tom Adams, a home entertainment analyst. “There’s enough anecdotal information to suggest that it does have a positive impact particularly because a lot of these nominees aren’t huge in theaters. They are able to get a little pop.”
Although ABC, the network that broadcasts the Oscars, is likely disappointed that no blockbusters made the cut, indie veterans are thrilled that voters opted for edgier fare.
“It’s immensely impactful for independent films to have the nominations,” said Celine Rattray, the Oscar-nominated producer of “The Kids Are All Right.” “These indie films are competing with movies that have 10-to-20 times their marketing budgets.”
“These awards give a film a stamp of quality, so people know it’s worth watching,” she added. “For indie films, it allows these titles to cross over to the mainstream.”
There are a few films that stand to capitalize on the awards attention. “American Sniper” is about to expand from four to 3,555 theaters this weekend and is on pace to make more than $40 million this weekend. The Oscar love could pad those numbers slightly, analysts say.
“Selma,” which received a best picture nod but was shut out of most major categories, may also get a boost, as could “The Theory of Everything,” “The Imitation Game,” “Whiplash” and “Birdman,” all of which have been in theaters for weeks, if not months, but are still kicking around.
Such past best-picture nominees as “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Her” and “The Artist” did more than half of their box office revenue after nominations were announced.
“It can entice or excite people that maybe would not have gone to see a film,” said Frank Rodriguez, senior vice president of distribution at Fox Searchlight. “Now it has the Oscar credibility, so they decide to go.”