Oscar: Best Month to Release Potential Oscar Films


Quick question: What do “The Silence of the Lamb”  “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” and “Crash” have in common?


Answer: They belong to a small minority of Oscar-winning films that had been theatrically released in the winter or spring of their respective year. “The Silence of the Lamb” opened in February, and “Braveheart,” “Gladiator,” and “Crash,” had all bowed in May.


However, these pictures were the exception, representing less than 10 percent of the 80 Oscar-winning film between 1929, when the Oscar was first given (for achievements in 1927/8), to the present.  The vast majority of Oscar winners have been released in two months, November and especially December.


This year is no exception.  As of today, only two films that have a shot at being nominated for Best pictures have opened theatrically, both in November: Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and Gus Van Sant’s “Milk.” If my reading is right, the other frontrunners will bow throughout December, and some around Christmas.  They include: “Frost/Nixon,” “Doubt,” “revolutionary Road,” and “The Reader.”


As I have pointed out in my book, All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, the Oscars have dominated Hollywood from the very beginning, changing the entire operation of the film industry through they pervasive influence on each and every element: the studios and production companies, the film artists vying for Oscars, distributors and exhibitors, moviegoers, and even film critics.


The big (and smaller) studios tend to release their most prestigious and “important” pictures in late fall and early winter, particularly in the month of December.  The thinking principle that has guided this practice is that these movies will be fresher and register stronger impact on the minds and memories of the 6,000 (or so) Academy voters by the time they receive their nomination ballots, in late January.


Thus, other things being equal, films that are theatrically released in December stand a better chance to get a more serious consideration and be nominated than those released in any other month of the year.


Let me use several examples.


The 1980s


Of the 50 movies nominated for Best Picture in the 1980s, no less than 18 (40 percent) were released in December, and 34 films bowed between September and December. 


By contrast, only 6 of the 50 films bowed during the first quarter of the year: “Missing,” “Witness,” and “Hannah and Her Sisters” were released in February, and “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Tender Mercies,” and “A Room with a View” in March.  An argument could be made that these six movies were released in the winter, because, initially, their producers did not consider then to be “Oscar stuff” or Oscar caliber” works.  In other words, they didn’t qualify as serious contenders for the kinds of movies that the Academy favors and votes for.


The effect of the Oscars on the release dates, distribution and marketing patterns are good examples to what social and culture studies scholars have described as latent or consequences of a social institution.


What’s Your Opinion?


 What should be done and what could be done for the Academy voters
to pay closer attention to movies released before the late fall and the beginning of the holiday season? Is there any way to persuade the studios to distribute their prestige, more serious films (including “Oscar-stuff” pictures) more evenly, throughout the year?


We will all benefit from such a change as moviegoers? Or is it simply too late?