Once again, the Oscars and American moviegoers are not on the same page.
The Academy Awards show airs on ABC on Feb. 25, 8 p.m. EST, and more than likely, many of the 40-some million viewers will not have seen the Best Picture nominees.
This year’s elite group grossed a mere $243 million to date in domestic box office receipts, according to cinema statistics Web site Box Office Mojo. Half of that comes from Warner Brother’s "The Departed," no doubt helped by the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.
Fox Searchlight’s “Little Miss Sunshine” comes in a distant second with
$59.6 million, followed by Miramax’s "The Queen" and Paramount Vantage’s “Babel," and Warner Brother’s "Letters From Iwo Jima" with $2.4 million. “Dreamgirls,” which leads the Oscar pack with eight nominations, was shut out of the top category. It has raked in $77.4 million in domestic sales.
“Usually there’s a blockbuster in there, but three years in a row, Hollywood has been nominating unpopular movies for best picture,” said Brandon Gray, founder, president and publisher of Box Office Mojo. Gray defines "blockbuster" as a movie that grosses at least $200 million at the box office.
Last year’s nominees, for instance, had the least attendance ever as a group: “Brokeback Mountain,” “Capote,” “Crash,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” and “Munich.” “Crash” took home the honor.
“This year’s group was a rebound from 2004 and 2005 in regards to box office attendance,” said Gray, who cites various factors for the Oscar disconnect. “The quality of movies is on a continual wane, Hollywood is sick of what’s popular and they’re trying to make a statement, or mostly they just don’t care.”
In comparison, moviegoers shelled out $1.32 billion to watch the top five box office performers in 2006: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest,” “Cars,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Da Vinci Code,” and “Night at the Museum.” None are being considered for top honors, though “Pirates” earned four nods in production categories and “Cars” is nominated in the animated feature and original song categories.
While an Oscar nomination does help the bottom line of a movie, Gray says the impact is overrated. Those movies that truly benefit from a boost are those that were little known in the first place.
“Once the awards are announced, people’s interest drops like a stone,” he said.
As far as the studios go, Sony/Columbia’s success at the box office did not translate to Oscars. The studio was the box office leader in 2006, taking 18.5% of market share with $1.67 billion, mainly from “The Da Vinci Code” and “Casino Royale.” But the studio ranked 9th in Oscar nods, earning only three.
On the flip side, Warner Brothers leads the pack with 18 nominations, but the studio ranks fourth in 2006 box office market share with 11.5%.
Whether it wins an Oscar or not, “Little Miss Sunshine” is already a success story. Fox Searchlight has seen six times its original $10 million investment in the film, after buying it at the Sundance Film Festival last year.
“I didn’t expect the awards, but I’m not surprised by its success,” said indie film broker and Cinetic Media founder John Sloss, who worked on the “Little Miss Sunshine” deal. “It’s a great film and I attribute how good it did to the story and the distributors.”
“There’s no Little Miss Sunshine this year,” said Sloss, who is currently brokering deals at Sundance, which runs through Jan. 28. “But I’m confident about our slate.”