It was either Oscar Wilde or Graham Chapman who said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Movie awards season puts that witticism to the test. Between the Toronto Film Festival and the Academy Awards ceremony and in the weeks following, it’s all about being part of the conversation. Films deemed Oscar-worthy, films that garner major Oscar nominations, and films that ultimately win in the top categories benefit from what analysts call the Oscar bump.
Last weekend was the first since the Academy Awards were handed out the previous Sunday. The Best Picture winner, “Spotlight,” enjoyed the biggest Oscar bump. The number of screen showing the film more than doubled and it took in almost $2 million, an increase of 140 percent. “The Revenant,” which took home Oscars for Best Director and Best Actor, finished in the top 10, impressive for a film that opened last December 25. Even “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which took home a slew of technical awards, was afforded a limited theatrical re-release despite being available on home video.
So, yes, the Oscar bump is a thing. But what about the films that were snubbed for Oscar consideration? Is there such a thing as an Oscar snub bump that would benefit a
neglected film such as “Love & Mercy,” which featured two highly touted performances by Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks?
“I think it’s a legitimate idea,” offers Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst for Rentrak. “Oscar nominations help movies like ‘Room’ or some of the smaller movies that otherwise might not get attention because people are talking about them. But (an Oscar snub) brings awareness to those films and performances people think should have been nominated, and there is value in that. It’s almost like an underdog story, (with people saying), ‘I want to support these movies, filmmakers and actors by going out to see these movies.”
An Oscar bump is easy to quantify; the proof is at the box office. Trying to determine an Oscar snub bump is more anecdotal. Timing complicates the issue. “Love & Mercy” has been available on home video since last September and “Ex Machina,” starring Alicia Vikander, who is nominated for her performance in “The Danish Girl,” was released last July.
“We have a Best of 2015 section and (both films) have been renting well,” said Angela Matano, manager at Santa Monica-based Vidiots. “I can’t say they’ve rented more because of the snubs. We’re featuring them anyway. ‘Ex Machina’ is probably renting a little more because Alicia is getting more attention. I’ve been trying to push ‘Testament of Youth’ because of her.”
Likewise, “Sicario,” which garnered Oscar buzz for stars Emily Blunt and Benecio Del Toro, came up empty on Jan. 14, the day the Academy Award nominations were announced. It was released on home video on Jan. 5 and topped Rentrak’s Top 20 Digital Movie Purchases and Rentals chart for the week of Jan. 10. “Everyone was renting ‘Sicario” regardless,” Matano said, “because it had just came out.”
At Vulcan Video in Austin, TX, clerk Jazmyne Moreno cited demand for the martial arts film, “The Assassin,” which was released on home video Jan. 26. “It didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, which was a big shock considering it won big at Cannes,” she said. “We got a ton of calls on that one.”
At the Video Room in New York, manager and buyer Howard Salen credits the controversial snub of “Straight Outta Compton” for Best Picture for an uptick in rentals. The Video Room’s older, wealthy Upper East Side clientele are not ones for rap films, Salen noted. “If there had not been so much publicity (about the Best Picture snub) it would have been a so-so item. But when it came out (on home video), my customers said, ‘Yeah, I want to see it.’”
The Oscar imprimatur affords films a longer shelf life up to the ceremony and beyond, according to Dergarabedian. “The snub bump window is more limited because studios doesn’t expand screens for a film that did not receive a nomination. It’s a more passive situation. You’re counting on people seeing commentary about a snub and taking the action to actually try and see it whether by renting it or downloading it or buying it on demand.”
It is likely in the immediate aftermath of the Oscars, moviegoers or home viewers will be catching up on the winning films they missed rather than the Oscar-buzzed films that ultimately didn’t make the final cut. Depending on how big the snub was, “People lose sight of these things,” Bock notes. “That’s the problem with the snub bump. Awareness doesn’t always translate to must-see-it-right-now action, but there’s no question once films become a part of the (Oscar) conversation whether it be because of nominations or a lack thereof, it certainly puts the movie front and center with a lot of audiences who didn’t see the movie in the first place. There was a lot of talk about ‘Concussion’ and ‘Creed’ that might compel people to want to check them out, so a positive can come out of a negative.”