Three weeks and a day before the Oscar ceremony, those supposedly vibrant, film-hungry viewers of the seasonal contenders are still curled up in a ball. By now, they should be pouring into theaters to sample Best Picture nominees that have been primed, promoted, and prepped for the big night—March 4—with an armload of pre-Oscar honors. But the numbers, as of Saturday morning, suggest that several million movie-goers have decided to sit this one out.
Would that it were otherwise. For those whose livelihood depends on the movies, there’s no good in an audience slump—not for filmmakers, nor for promoters, nor for the media who monitor and feed on both. And certainly not for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which needs interest in the films to generate interest in an annual broadcast that pays the interest on several hundred million dollars in bonds that were floated to back a still-under-construction movie museum.
But the figures are dismal. Subtract Dunkirk and Get Out—two pre-season hits that elbowed their way into the awards line-up—and the year’s remaining seven Best Picture nominees have been stuck at an average of about 4.5 million domestic box-office viewers each. That would be about 1.2 percent of the combined population of the United States and Canada, putting the impact of each movie at a little above zero.
To date, The Post, from 20th Century Fox, has been the best performer among the seasonal releases in the Best Picture ranks, with $70.2 million in domestic sales through Friday. But last year, Hidden Figures, a Best Picture nominee also from Fox, had taken in $119.5 million through Feb. 5, three weeks before the Feb. 26 Oscar ceremony. Even allowing for its differing release pattern—The Post has had fewer days in wide release than Hidden Figures had at this point—it isn’t likely to catch up.
The Shape Of Water from Fox Searchlight, a supposed front-runner, had $47.5 million in domestic ticket sales through Friday, according to Boxofficemojo.com. At an average ticket price of $8.97, that translates to about 5.3 million viewers—many of them likely the same faithful film-goers who have showed up for Darkest Hour, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, all of which have landed in the same range. Yet last year’s supposed front-runner, La La Land, had about $118.2 million in sales and about 13.7 million viewers at this point, and with fewer days in release.
The actual 2017 winner, Moonlight, had $19.4 million in ticket sales through the weekend of Feb. 3, three weeks before last year’s ceremony. That isn’t much; but it handily beats the take, so far, for Phantom Thread or Call Me By Your Name.
Granted, those two pre-season releases—Dunkirk with over $188 million in sales, Get Out with more than $176 million—topped all of last year’s Best Picture nominees. But neither approaches The Martian, American Sniper, or Gravity, all of which were nominees, and awards-season releases, in recent years.
For whatever reason, the Oscar audience is napping. And they’ve got just three weeks and a day to wake up.