Oscar contenders not drawing crowds to movie theaters

Oscar contenders not drawing crowds to movie theaters

February 25th, 2012 by Adam Poulisse in News

Mark Sanders, right, and Ashley Miller, center, watch the Oscar-nominated "The Descendants" Thursday night at Rave Motion Pictures in Chattanooga. Miller said she came to see the movie because she wanted to watch all of the nominated films before the Oscars air on television.

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.


Check out LIFE to find out look at where to watch Oscar-nominated films.


• What: The 84th Academy Awards

• When: 7 p.m. Sunday

• Where: ABC

Sean Walsh has heard a lot about the recent film "Hugo."

After all, it's nominated for 11 Oscars, including best picture. It also was named best picture of 2011 by the National Board of Review, and the director, Martin Scorcese, won best director at last month's Golden Globes.

Walsh and his Huntsville, Ala., friend Susan Coleman met this week to see "Hugo" at Rave Motion Pictures in East Ridge. Although both agreed they're a tad behind on seeing this year's Oscar contenders, they both said "Hugo" is the one to beat at the Academy Awards ceremony, set for Sunday night in Hollywood.

"It was an amazing movie," Walsh said after watching the movie.

"I can't think of what nominated movie would be better than that one," Coleman added.

"Amazing movie" or not, this year's Oscar-nominated films aren't drawing the crowds generated in previous years' so-called "Oscar bumps" - when Academy Award-nominated films see a sharp spike in attendance after being nominated, Rave general manager Alan Northrop said.

Nominated for 10 Oscars, the black-and-white silent film "The Artist" is thought by some to be a shoo-in to win best picture, though its performance at the Rave wouldn't indicate such high hopes. In fact, "The Artist" arrived at the Rave on Christmas week and was gone about three weeks later, Northrop said.

"It played well, but people watched it once and didn't want to watch it again," Northrop said. "I think a lot of the crowd was put off by the fact that it was a silent film. It just didn't have the legs to last here for too long."

"The Artist" will be playing this weekend at Carmike Majestic 12 in downtown Chattanooga.

Studio executives also are not seeing a huge draw in their Oscar films, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"We don't even see a big bump anymore when a best picture winner hits home video," an unnamed studio marketer told the newspaper. "The Oscars are about ego and recognition. The spending just doesn't stand up to any rational analysis. The culture has changed. The era when an elite institutional award could have a lot of sway with the public is pretty much at an end."

Roy Roberts, of Soddy-Daisy, is a member of the selection committee for films that play the Independent Film Series at Carmike Cinemas nationwide, giving him a vested interest in independent films, the kind of movies that the Oscar season gravitates toward. He said he makes it a point to see every film nominated each year.

"This year's [best picture] nominees are just as eclectic and diverse as any other year since the Academy made it possible for up to 10 nominees" in 2009, he said. "But I think a lot of the films played themselves out by the time the nominations came out."

Even "Hugo" performed poorly when it was first released at Thanksgiving. The Rave dropped it before bringing it back a few weeks later in light of all of its accolades.

"It grossed more the second time around than it did the first time," Northrop said. "People see movies on the ballot that they didn't even know existed, so they want to check them out after they've been nominated."

A good example of an Oscar bump was last year's best picture winner "The King's Speech." According to the website Box Office Mojo, the film had made more than $100 million at the U.S. box office by this time last year - more than "Hugo" and "The Artist" combined.

Competition from this year's more mainstream films has hurt this year's Oscar nominees, which may be one reason for the lack of an Oscar bump, Northrop said.

"'The King's Speech' didn't have the competition that this year's movies do," he said. "In some cases, 'The King's Speech' was actually beating the bigger blockbusters. It was a monster of a movie because of word-of-mouth. And in my personal opinion, nothing this year approached the quality of 'The King's Speech' or 'Black Swan.'"

Of the recently released Oscar contenders, Northrop said George Clooney's "The Descendants" has performed best at the Rave, even though it also hasn't approached the money made by "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan."

"Movies like 'The Descendants,' R-rated arthouse films, tend to do the best here," Northrop said. "They play well to our upper-middle class matinee crowds. R-rated movies tend to be more honest. 'The Descendants' was intelligent and very well-written."

Although Roberts has a small connection with Clooney - he was an extra in his 2008 comedy "Leatherheads" - he prefers "The Artist" and "Hugo" over "The Descendants."

Of the nine best picture nominees, "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" are the only two still in their theatrical run, and neither are playing in the Chattanooga area.

"'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' was a big surprise when it got nominated," Roberts said. "I think it deserved it to a point, but there were other films that should have taken that spot."

Bryan Varnell, a movie buff from Ooltewah, said he enjoys anything from Oscar nominees to summer blockbusters. This year, he said he's pulling for "War Horse."

"I liked it a lot; it was a good movie about history," he said.

The rest of the nominees, "The Help," "Midnight in Paris," "Tree of Life" and "Moneyball," are available on home video.

But despite less-than-desirable box office numbers, Oscar-nominated films always will have an audience, Roberts said.

"These movies are for the lovers of film, and they'll keep going as long as they keep making films that are artful and educational," he said.