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Oscar contenders court box-office bounce as drama audiences dwindle


More movie theaters this weekend will be showing “The Fablemans,” “Tar” and “Women Talking,” a move to capitalize on the films’ Oscar nominations at a time when dramas are struggling to draw people to cinemas.

After moviegoing plunged during the pandemic, audiences have returned in droves to action-packed blockbusters such as “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The “Avatar” sequel has raked in more than $2 billion, ranking as the sixth-highest grossing film of all time.

Many of the Hollywood dramas targeted at adult viewers have not fared nearly as well.

Some older moviegoers simply have not returned to the local megaplex, industry executives told Reuters. Others have decided to wait to stream movies that do not have a visual spectacle that pops off a big screen. Studios are now making movies available to watch at home as soon as 17 days after their theatrical debut.

But filmmakers hope the publicity leading up to the Oscars in March will lure some moviegoers back to their neighborhood cinema. Box office receipts can rise as much as 75% in the weeks following a best picture nomination, according to Comscore data.

Best picture nominee “Women Talking,” about a religious colony grappling with a series of rapes, will expand from 153 theaters to more than 700 this weekend, according to a person familiar with the film’s rollout. Its ticket sales so far total less than $1.3 million.

The distributor, United Artists Releasing, planned the release strategy to coincide with this week’s Oscar nominations, with the hope the movie would benefit from a box-office bounce. The move was a gamble, the person said, since nominations are never guaranteed.

“Tar,” a best picture contender starring Cate Blanchett as a manipulative orchestra conductor, will expand to 535 theaters from 100. The movie has collected about $7.2 million at global cinemas to date.

Even legendary director Steven Spielberg has had trouble drawing crowds to best picture nominee “The Fabelmans,” his autobiographical story about family strife and anti-Semitism he faced as a teenager.

Since its release in November, the film has brought in $21.8 million worldwide. “The Fabelmans” will play in 1,800 cinemas this weekend, nearly double the number from a week ago, according to a source familiar with the plans.

Spielberg told Reuters earlier this month that he was concerned about the dwindling turnout for adult dramas.

“But there’s been some bright spots this year, some very, very bright spots where films for older people are actually getting older people out to see those films in motion picture theaters,” he said. “So I’m kind of optimistic about it.”

One drama that has bucked the trend is Sony Corp’s (6758.T) “A Man Called Otto” starring Tom Hanks as a grumpy older man grieving the loss of his wife. The film has pulled in more than $57 million at theaters since its late December debut.

Best picture nominee “Elvis” became a hit last summer by aiming to entertain viewers of all ages, incorporating music from contemporary artists such as Doja Cat and Diplo alongside the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s classic recordings.

“We held very passionately the idea that we had to get volumes of young and old back into the theaters,” director Baz Luhrmann said in an interview.

“Elvis” has collected $287.3 million at theaters. Warner Bros is re-releasing the film in movie houses this weekend after it landed eight Oscar nominations including best picture and best actor.

Comcast Corp’s (CMCSA.O) Universal Pictures made “Tar” and “The Fabelmans” available to rent at home via premium video-on-demand even as they continued to play in theaters. The company has not disclosed revenue from those sales, though its executives have credited this strategy with lifting some films into profitability.

Sarah Polley, the director of “Women Talking,” said that as a moviegoer she enjoys seeing “smaller, more intimate human dramas” in theaters.

“I really love the feeling of sensing an audience, and sensing someone’s breath or emotion, or the beginning of a laugh, or crying,” she said in an interview this month.

“Not being able to be attuned to the others in a room is something that would make me sad if that started to disappear,” she said. “It’s not looking great at the moment.”

Related Galleries:

Director Steven Spielberg and cast member Michelle Williams attend a premiere for the film “The Fabelmans” during the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The cast members and crew of the film “The Fabelmans” pose backstage after receiving the Vanguard Award, at the 34th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards gala in Palm Springs, California, U.S., January 5, 2023. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni 

The 79th Venice Film Festival – Premiere screening of the film “TAR” in competition – Red Carpet Arrivals – Venice, Italy, September 1, 2022. Cast member Cate Blanchett poses. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

The 79th Venice Film Festival – Premiere screening of the film “TAR” in competition – Red Carpet Arrivals – Venice, Italy, September 1, 2022. Cast members Nina Hoss, Noemie Merlant, Cate Blanchett and Sophie Kauer pose. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Cast members Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Ben Whishaw and director and screenwriter Sarah Polley attend the premiere of the movie ‘Women Talking’ during the BFI London Film Festival in London, Britain, October 12, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Director and screenwriter Sarah Polley attends the premiere of the movie ‘Women Talking’ during the BFI London Film Festival in London, Britain, October 12, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville