Magazine article Variety

Best Pics Not Box Office Powerhouses

Magazine article Variety

Best Pics Not Box Office Powerhouses

Article excerpt

WHEN IT COMES TO box office grosses, the Oscars are no popularity contest.

This year's crop of best picture nominees have received critical plaudits and trunkloads of awards. But that has not, for the most part, translated into massive ticket sales. Only "Get Out" and "Dunkirk" have topped $100 million at the domestic box office and could comfortably be labeled blockbusters. As it stands, this is the lowest- grossing crop of best picture contenders since 2011, a fact that should be sending shivers up the spine of ABC executives as they brace for the March 4 telecast.

"The Oscars are rewarding more and more niche films," said JeffBock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. "There's not a lot to talk about in terms of social media buzz or pop culture significance."

To be fair, most of these films were never designed to be commercial juggernauts. Seven of the nine nominees - a group that includes "The Shape of Water," "Darkest Hour" and "Lady Bird" - were platform releases, an industry term for smaller, indie films that open on a modest number of theaters before expanding over weeks and months. It might have been a different story if Academy voters had abandoned their apparent distaste for superhero movies and propelled "Wonder Woman" or "Logan" into contention. Instead, Warner Bros.' Gal Gadot vehicle was shut out completely, and Fox's Wolverine sequel had to settle for a screenplay nomination.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the list of best picture contenders in 2009 from five to a possible 10, the hope was that voters would move outside the art-house bubble. Members had been disappointed that Oscar voters had snubbed "The Dark Knight," and the theory was that by widening the field the organization could make room for films that viewers had actually seen before the envelopes were opened.

But, noted Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, "the 'Dark Knight' effect never really happened." Though "Avatar," "The Martian" and a few other box office winners have sneaked in for subsequent awards shows, no comic-book movie has ever received a best picture nomination. Increasingly, it seems, there's little difference between the Oscars and the Indie Spirit Awards. …

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