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2023 Oscar Best Picture Nominees Are History’s Top-Grossing Class  

For years, many have bemoaned the lack of commercial box office hits vying for the Oscar for best picture, saying it alienates the average consumer who might otherwise tune into the Academy Awards telecast, which has seen its ratings plummet. Tuesday’s 2023 Oscar nominations are a key test of whether awards voters are truly ready to crown a blockbuster rather than the sort of specialty title that has come to dominate Hollywood’s favorite annual battle.

As a class, the 2023 best picture contenders have collectively grossed more at the domestic box office than any previous group in history at the time of nominations, not adjusted for inflation. Needless to say, Top Gun: Maverick ($718.7 million) and Avatar: The Way of Water ($598.4 million) lead the way. Elvis is also no slouch ($151 million). At the other end, there are no box office grosses for Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front since it is a streaming title, while Triangle of Sadness earned just $4.2 million in its nationwide run at the domestic box office.

All told, however, the 10 best picture nominees have grossed a collective $1.574 billion in domestic ticket sales, ahead of the $1.519 billion grossed by the class of 2010 (yes, that group included none other than 2009’s Avatar), according to Comscore. It remains to be seen whether this year’s class can keep the record and match the $1.716 billion ultimately earned by the 2010 best-picture nominees (a new record would have been guaranteed had Black Panther: Wakanda Forever been nominated for best picture).

“This year’s potential mega-blockbuster lineup of best picture nominees could perfectly reflect the intended inclusion of more populist style films into the list of Oscar contenders since the change to allow up to 10 rather than five best picture nominees back in 2010,” said Comscore box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “The reasoning behind the expansion was to broaden the appeal of the Oscars beyond just the esoteric and presumably increase the number of movie fans who have a vested interest in the presentation and outcome of the awards.”

Other box office standouts among the best picture noms revealed Tuesday: A24’s specialty blockbuster Everything Everywhere All at Once has earned $70 million domestically, an enormous sum for an indie film.

The box office profile for the remaining best picture contenders is decidedly more muted, and, in some cases, disappointing. There are certainly mitigating factors: All are traditional specialty or arthouse movies relying on adult moviegoers, an endangered demo in the pandemic era.

Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans, his most personal film to date, has grossed $15 million domestically, followed by Searchlight’s Banshees of Inisherin with $9 million and Focus Features’ Tár with $5.6 million. MGM’s Women Talking, which is still in its limited run, has earned $1.1 million so far.

Another mitigating favor this year: Adult titles struggling at the box office are going into the home much more quickly now, whether on a premium VOD, like Tár and The Fablemans, or streaming. Studios, however, don’t release sales figures.

Avatar: The of Water is still a formidable player at the box office and could see added attention as a result of top Oscar noms, both in North America and overseas. On the global front, the Disney and 20th Century sequel has cleared the $2 billion mark, becoming only the sixth film in history to do so. Fillmmaker Joseph Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick , which has earned $1.49 billion worldwide, a Tom Cruise best, is long gone from theaters, although Paramount could stage a rerelease. The other film poised to exploit the top nom is MGM’s Women Talking, since it has yet to expand nationwide.

When James Cameron’s Titanic won the Academy Award for best picture in 1998, more than 55.3 million viewers tuned in to the Oscar telecast. Other box office hits vying for the honor that year included As Good as It Gets, which earned more than $148 million domestically, and Good Will Hunting, with $138.4 million.

A year later, Oscar ratings began a decades-long precipitous decline as smaller, adult-skewing fare from specialty distributors began dominating the best picture contest. In mid-2009 — the final straw was The Dark Knight being snubbed — Academy members were so concerned that then-president Sid Ganis expanded the category to as many as 10 films in hopes of including studio event pics that are actually being seen by tens of millions of moviegoers.

But despite the expansion, The Hurt Locker — the lowest-grossing best picture winner in modern times — beat Cameron’s Avatar in a historic upset in March 2010. (Avatar remains the top-grossing movie in history, earning north of $2.9 billion worldwide and $785.1 million domestically, including rereleases.) Other populist studio releases competing that year included The Blind Side, but Academy voters stuck to their indie inclinations.

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