Best picture nominees for the 2020 Oscars brought in more than $700 million at the US box office

Key Points
  • Seven of the nine films that were nominated for the best picture Oscar have tallied a combined $747.2 million domestically in ticket sales.
  • Last year, that number was $1.3 billion, thanks to the success of the movie "Black Panther."
  • Leading the pack with the most nominations for 2020 and the highest box office gross was Warner Bros.' "Joker."

The movies that got Oscar nods for best picture this year brought in more than $700 million at the domestic box office leading up to Monday's announcement of Academy Award nominees, an amount that fell short of last year's total.

Seven of the nine films that were nominated for the top prize, which include "Joker" and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," have earned a combined $747.2 million domestically and a total of $1.98 billion globally, according to data from Comscore.

This year's nominees had the fourth-best box office haul in North America in the last decade. It's a decent, but smaller haul than last year's $1.26 billion due to the lack of a big blockbuster feature among the nominees.

This year, Warner Bros.' "Joker" had the largest take of nominated films, garnering $334 million domestically. The next highest grossing film on the list was "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" with $141 million and "Ford v. Ferrari" with $111.4 million.

For comparison, last year's top earner from the Oscar best picture nominees was "Black Panther," which sold $700 million worth of tickets in North America. The next two highest grossing films in the best picture pool were "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "A Star is Born," and each had garnered a little over $200 million.

To be sure, the number of films nominated each year can fluctuate, making a year over year comparison less than perfect. In 2010 and 2011, for example, 10 films were nominated for best picture. In other years only eight were included on the ballot.

The box office totals for 2020 and 2019 include seven films and exclude Netflix movies because the streaming service doesn't release its box office data. For 2020, "Marriage Story" and "The Irishman" weren't include in the Comscore totals, and last year, "Roma" was excluded.  

Historically, "Oscar bait" films that make it into the best picture category are not top-grossing movies. In fact, in the last decade there have been more films nominated for best picture that made less than $100 million than ones that made more than $100 million.

Films in recent years like "The Favourite," "Vice," "Call Me By Your Name," "Moonlight," "Her," "Spotlight," "Room" and "Birdman" were top nominated films and winners at the Academy Awards, but all made under $50 million domestically ahead of their Oscar best picture nominations.

Their box office success is different from more commercial, mainstream movies. Making back the production and marketing budget can be enough for studios to mark an Oscar nominated film as a triumph. In some cases, the prestige of winning the Academy Awards outweighs how much a film garnered during its run in theaters.

Of course, several of the 2020 films were only recently released, so they will continue to collect ticket sales in the coming weeks. Other films, which were released earlier in the year, will see a bump as theaters begin showing them again, or at least, more frequently.

"Earning a best picture nomination is like hitting the box-office lottery with the nomination being a coveted object of desire within the industry since it can often have the power to transform a well-regarded, decently performing, sometimes esoteric movie into a bonafide blockbuster," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, said.

Joaquin Phoenix portrays Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. "Joker."
Warner Bros.

However, several of the nominated movies are already available on-demand, via DVD or BluRay or digitally, so some audiences will opt to watch them from home instead of their local cinema.

That could benefit Netflix. The company is expected to use the opportunity to lure audiences to subscribe to its streaming service in order to view "Marriage Story" and "The Irishman."

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed "1917."

Netflix grabs the most Oscar nominations with 24