Darkest hour for Oscar movies as box office viewership seems to be ebbing

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New Delhi, March 25 (IANS) Is there a divergence between a movie winning top awards and its popularity? It would seem so as, in the last few years, blockbusters have been sidelined from top Oscar awards and more esoteric stories and smaller budget movies rule the roost.

This year’s Oscar winners — “The Shape of Water”, “Darkest Hour”, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”, “Phantom Thread” or “Call Me by Your Name” — apart from earning accolades at the Academy Awards ceremony, had one thing in common — their unimpressive box-office stories.

So, are the Oscar juries living in a different world than the movie-goers? Not really, say experts. Movies that get Oscar glory have a niche market, but they are gradually emerging in the must-watch list of a wider clientele.

“The market for Oscar nominated and winning films is growing in numbers, though not at the pace of the regular superhero and franchise film,” Kamal Gianchandani, CEO of PVR Pictures, told IANS.

“In the recent past, small titles such as ‘127 Hours’, ‘The Black Swan’, ‘Birdman’, ‘Spotlight’ and ‘The Revenant’ have benefitted from the nominations and wins. Similarly, this year, films such as ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ were planned for release in India on the back of the awards momentum.”

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The awards increase the awareness of the films, boosting viewership, says Gianchandani.

But there have been screening where only a few turned up.

To this, Alok Tandon, CEO of INOX Leisure Limited (INOX), said: “It is a niche audience. We don’t show Oscar winning or nominated movies in all our screens. We show them in special pockets and people come and watch them.”

This year, INOX had an Oscar festival in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai, along with some tier-II cities.

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” emerged as the big winner with the Best Picture honour at the 90th Oscars, held earlier this month in Los Angeles. It melted hearts with the story of a deaf woman’s love for an aquatic creature, but could not reap in the moolah at the box office.

The case is no different internationally.

If one looks back, the Best Picture winners at the Oscars went on to be hits at the box office. Films like “Titanic”, “Forrest Gump” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” are cases in point.

But things have changed in the last 15 years.

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As per a report in usatoday.com <http://usatoday.com/>, 2009 film “The Hurt Locker” only made $49 million worldwide and ranked 96th in box office results; “The Artist” ranked 60th in worldwide box office in 2011, “Argo” 36th in 2012, “12 Years a Slave” 44th in 2013, “Birdman” 67th in 2014, “Spotlight” 74th in 2015 and “Moonlight” 98th in 2016.

This, however, does not mean the audiences are not watching these films; it’s just the numbers are not the same as blockbusters. Moreover, many of these movies attract a lot of television viewers.

“The theatrical performance of these movies and television viewership of such titles is growing steadily year on year,” said Vivek Srivastava – Executive Vice President and Head Entertainment Cluster, Times Network.

“The growing popularity of Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys and Bafta get tremendous press and social media conversations, coupled with the fact that viewers are seeing more of these titles on television, has definitely helped,” he added.

Srivastava said “audiences are better informed and there is an active consumption of Oscar winners now”.

The Academy mostly honours cinema which has a strong and touching story at its core as opposed to blockbusters or superhero movies, which are a major attraction all over the world. Entertainers like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”, “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Wonder Woman” have packed a punch at the box office without attracting awards.

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Srivastava said: “Although art cinema and documentaries have a limited appeal on television, the objective of honouring such titles is to create more awareness for such movies and ensuring a wider audience worldwide.”

Internationally, Christopher Nolan’s war drama “Dunkirk” — which won sound honours at the Oscars — is 2017’s top-grossing Oscar movie, according to forbes.com <http://forbes.com/>.

“Nolan-directed drama notched $525.6 million worldwide on a $100 million budget — more than double the total of the next highest-grossing nominee ‘Get Out’. ‘Phantom Thread’ managed just $33.3 million worldwide on an estimated $35 million budget.”

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post”, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, raked in $145.8 million, “Darkest Hour” made $135.8 million and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” minted $121.5 million.

“Get Out”, a horror film centred on an inter-racial relationship between a black American man and his white partner, was a big winner in the race at the box office internationally. The Jordan Peele directorial, made on a budget of $4.5 million, grossed $255 million globally till February.

(Sugandha Rawal can be contacted at [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>)

–IANS

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