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Studios Need to Stop Hoarding Their Awards Contenders Until The Holidays

Thanksgiving weekend is one of my favorite weekends of the year. In addition to all the food, family, time off work, seeing old friends, football, and Black Friday mumbo jumbo it’s also a great opportunity to head to the theater and catch up on what we’ve missed. The end of the year is a very busy time for movie theaters with a heavy combination of blockbusters looking to capitalize on long weekends and awards contenders sneaking into theaters looking to latch on to some recency bias when voters submit their ballots for various award groups. However, there’s a serious problem with this dynamic. 1. That’s a lot of movies to watch (good problem to have) 2. That’s a lot of movies to have to pay to watch (not as good a problem) and 3. TV and streaming services are providing equal and more accessible competition.

At the theater down the street from my house tonight there are showings for Black Adam, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Bones and All, Devotion, Glass Onion, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, She Said, Spirited, Strange World, The Fabelmans, The Menu, and the somehow still in theaters Ticket to Paradise. That’s A LOT of good content and it doesn’t even cover everything that’s still in theaters right now! There’s Banshees of Inisherin, Terrorizer 2, The Inspection, Aftersun, not to mention the fact that half of these films are gonna get wiped out of theaters in a few weeks when Avatar: The Way of Water starts occupying every screen possible. For us normals who aren’t paid to watch films full time and like to maintain some sense of social life it’s frankly too much for me. I’m sure I’ll see most of these at some point, I’ve already seen a handful of them, but it’s silly to drop some of these in theaters when streaming will do just fine.

Now I’m pro-theater in most cases but for films like Glass Onion and Spirited, films that are or will be streaming in the near future, I’m probably just going to stick at home for those. But for awards contenders like She Said, The Inspection, and Aftersun I don’t know why streaming services wouldn’t be the way to go. I get that historically from September onward is considered Oscar season in terms of what gets released. And it makes sense, Academy voters are more likely to vote for a film that’s fresher in their mind than something they saw nine months ago. Last year, Academy ballots for nominations were due on February 1st so I totally understand how something they may have seen a year prior could slip their mind when trying to think of the five best of any given category. Granted these people are also sent screener DVD’s to their homes so they don’t have to deal with the time and financial commitment needed to go see each and every one of these films in a theater.

But it’s 2022 and there’s no great reason to continue this trend of releasing everything everywhere all at once (yup). For starters, this ‘recency bias’ campaign tactic doesn’t seem to be working. Take a look at the last few Best Picture winners:

YearFilmRelease DatesMedium
2019ParasiteMay 21 (festival release)
October 11 (mainstream North American release)
Theaters
2020NomadlandSeptember 11 (festival release)
February 19 (mainstream release)
Hulu
2021CODAJanuary 28 (festival release)
August 13 (mainstream release)
Apple TV+

If CODA wasn’t accessible to everyone the way it was do you think there’s any chance it competed the way it did? No chance. That film was so reliant on word of mouth that putting it somewhere where anyone could stream it was the right move. And with Nomadland, COVID year aside would that movie have even made a million dollars at the box office? I doubt it. Obviously there’s more than just Best Picture to consider but by my count in the last two years films that premiered on streaming services independently or concurrently with their theatrical run have won at least 10 Oscars, including each of the last two Best Picture and Best Director winners. Sure, COVID had something to do with that, but it’s one of those things that should make voters and studios say “Hmm, maybe we don’t need to jam pack everything good we have into one medium over a three-year window.”

Plus there’s always the old tried and true thinking that if a movie is good enough, people will go see it and they’ll remember it. Look at Everything Everywhere All At Once: that film made over $100 million domestically, is a legitimate front-runner in most prominent Oscar races, including Best Picture, and it premiered in March! Other contenders this year include spring/summer hits like Elvis, Top Gun: Maverick, and The Batman which all released, made a lot of buzz, and then released on streaming services so that they’re still just as prominent for voters needing a reminder just how good they are.

Trust me, if it didn’t cost me $30 and two-plus hours to go see each and every one of these films in theaters I would. But with all the different streaming services we have out there now why are we not making these smaller ‘contenders’ more accessible to the masses? Sure, there’s plenty of people who will choose to see them in theaters. But you’re telling me that Bones and All wouldn’t be more relevant if they just threw it on Netflix? I know there’s more to the economic side of things that I’m not considering but come on people.

Rant over. Happy Thanksgiving and don’t be an idiot on the roads.

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