Oscars 2021: Invisible, Obscure Films–Spectators Unaware of This Year’s Best Picture Nominees 

Oscars 2021: Invisible, Obscure Films–Spectators Unaware of This Year’s Best Picture Nominees

Illustration: Variety; Stills: Courtesy Images

Although the pandemic has left households getting more streaming services than ever, the majority of the best picture nominees at the Oscars are unknown to entertainment consumers.

Over the years, this has been a recurring problem for the Oscars, which is one reason why, in 2010, the Academy expanded the best picture race to up to 10 nominees to allow for more populist titles to enter the mix. But this year’s lack of awareness comes with a perplexing twist. Since the pandemic has shut down most movie theaters, the majority of the best picture Oscar contenders — including “Sound of Metal,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Minari” — are currently available to rent or stream on Netflix, Amazon and other platforms.

Most of the general public has steered cleared of these films, even though people are spending more time at home than ever and starved for new content. After the best picture nominees were announced, industry researcher Guts + Data surveyed 1,500 active entertainment consumers — moviegoers, transactional home entertainment consumers and streaming consumers — to gauge their awareness of the films, using the title, stars and poster as prompts. More specifically, “awareness” was gauged by a binary “heard of”–“not heard of” option when presented with basic marquee facts, such as “The Father,” starring Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman and Mark Gatiss.

According to the survey, the most known best picture nominee was “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the HBO Max drama about Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, with just over 46% awareness.

Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” was second with 39% awareness, followed by Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” with 35% awareness.

Mank–Most Obscure Nominee?

Less than a quarter of those surveyed were familiar with Amazon Studios’ “The Sound of Metal” (23% awareness) and the Hollywood valentine “Mank” (18%), also on Netflix.

The disconnect could spell trouble for ABC, which is broadcasting the Oscar ceremony on April 25. In modern times, Oscar ratings have been bigger when the movies in contention are well-known.

In 1998, a whopping 57 million viewers tuned in to watch “Titanic” sweep the show, picking up 11 statuettes — with director James Cameron declaring himself the “king of the world.” But the 2020 ceremony, which awarded “Parasite” the top prize, dipped to an all-time-low viewership of 23.6 million viewers. That was at least better than this year’s Golden Globes, which netted a dismal 6.9 million viewers, down sharply from 18.3 million viewers in 2020.

Other films released during quarantine fared slightly better due to name recognition on their opening weekend, such as the sequel “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (50% awareness), the “X-Men” spinoff “The New Mutants” (43% awareness) and Christopher Nolan’s big budget “Tenet” (46% awareness).

Greg Durkin, the founder and CEO of Guts + Data and former Warner Bros. senior VP of marketing analytics, also broke down the broader discrepancy between theatrical releases and SVOD-only titles in 2021. The average wide theatrical release this year (with 1,200-plus locations upon release) showed an awareness of 44% in the week immediately after release among all U.S. entertainment consumers.

Cartoon reboot “Tom & Jerry” had the highest awareness at 88%, while indie drama “Boogie” had the lowest (26%) at one week after release. The average SVOD-only title released this year showed awareness of 32% in the week immediately after release. The Eddie Murphy sequel “Coming 2 America” had the highest awareness at 75%, while the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow HBO docu-series “Allen v. Farrow” had the lowest (13%) at one week after release.

Beyond the lack of consumer awareness, there are other hurdles for the Oscar telecast this year, including a mandate that nominees must show up in person, causing concern among executives, publicists and talent who are still cautious about the pandemic. Despite the challenges, this year’s nominees are the most diverse class ever, with 70 women receiving a total of 76 nominations, and nine of the 20 acting nominations going to people of color.