The Best Picture Oscar Nominees: A Box Office Breakdown

It is one of the biggest days of the year for film lovers of the world as The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has revealed this year's list of Oscar nominees. There were many pleasant surprises and snubs in the bunch but one of the most interesting categories (as it often tends to be) is Best Picture. The night's top prize will see 10 of last year's best movies going head-to-head for one of the highest honors in the land but, much like "Highlander," there can only be one.

It is no secret that the pandemic has altered the landscape of moviegoing quite a bit and that is extremely evident when looking at this year's field of nominees. Most of them hardly made anything at the box office and much of the awareness has been bolstered by the fact that the titles were available to stream from the comfort of home. So, we're going to go over the nominees by the numbers and see what we might be able to glean from the information. Let's dig in.

The Nominees By the Numbers

Before going over the numbers as they stand, we have a few quick notes. First off, some of the Best Picture nominees were released by major streaming services this year. That means even though they were given awards-qualifying runs in theaters, the box office grosses were not reported so we don't have that data. Aside from that, the numbers (and we're using global box office not just domestic) come from Box Office Mojo and are as of this writing. With the nominations out, we'd expect some re-releases and renewed interest in some of these titles, meaning the numbers can (and likely will) go up between now and the big night.

All of that having been said, let's see what we've got.

"Belfast" – $21.3 million

"CODA" – Apple TV+/NA

"Don't Look Up" – Netflix/NA

"Drive My Car" – $3.1 million

"Dune" – $399 million

"King Richard" – $32.1 million

"Licorice Pizza" – $21.2 million

"Nightmare Alley" – $29.8 million

"The Power of the Dog" – Netflix/NA

"West Side Story" – $64 million

What The Numbers Tell Us

The first and most obvious thing that stands out is the only movie that actually made a sizable amount at the box office is "Dune." I talked about this previously but a big potential issue heading into this awards season was that many of the expected nominees had not made much of a dent in the box office. The numbers laid out like this absolutely confirm that to be the case. Does box office have any bearing on a movie's quality? Absolutely not. "West Side Story" is considered to be some of Steven Spielberg's best work in years and the fact that Guillermo del Toro's "Nightmare Alley" didn't make more is a tragedy.

What it does signal, however, is that there are only a few movies here that the general public might actually care about, with "Dune" being one of them. The others were streaming releases such as "Don't Look Up," which managed to shatter Netflix viewing records upon its debut last year. The theatrical run was purely ceremonial so that the company could find itself in the position it's in right now — with not one but two Best Picture nominations with "The Power of the Dog" up for the top prize as well. Netflix now arguably has its best chance ever to take home Best Picture.

An important takeaway here is that even many of these movies that got theatrical releases are being bolstered by streaming. "Dune" and "King Richard" were released on HBO Max in the U.S. on the same day they hit theaters, which means an awful lot of people watched those movies from the comfort of home, much like Netflix's nominees or Apple's "CODA." Come time for Oscars, the same might be true of "Nightmare Alley" as well, which is currently streaming on both HBO Max and Hulu, offering people the chance to catch it before the telecast.

The only caveat I will make about that potentially increased audience is that streaming tends to be a bit more of a passive experience. People don't tend to engage with a streaming release the same way they do when a movie becomes a must-see box office hit. Just look at the endless discussion about "Spider-Man: No Way Home" or even "Dune" when it was originally released. While it remains to be seen I expect that viewership for this year's telecast might reflect that people are less likely to tune in if there aren't big, buzzy, box office hits in the mix.

Will Viewership Impact The Winner?

The big, lingering question is whether or not the overall viewership/box office has any bearing on the winner. History would tell you it probably does not, as the biggest movie rarely takes home Best Picture even if it does happen on occasion. It is ultimately the membership that makes up The Academy that decides the winner and not the moviegoing public. And that membership has been given a makeover in recent years with lots of new, more diverse members added. That has made for some big shake-ups, such as "Parasite" winning Best Picture over "1917."

I'm not necessarily here to make a prediction but if I were pressed I would say it's a two (technically three) horse race between Spielberg and Netflix. That, in itself, makes for an interesting battle as Spielberg has been very outspoken in the past about streaming's place in the Oscar race in addition to being a huge defender of the theatrical experience.

The Oscars telecast airs on ABC on March 27, 2022.