All of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture were released in October or later, so after all is said and done in this year’s campaign, will we have to wait that long for the next batch of quality movies? (Make your prediction as to what will win this year at the bottom of this post using our easy drag-and-drop menu.)
Studios have been backloading the calender with their Oscar films for years, but I wonder if they really need to. When everyone crowds into October, November, and December, everyone loses.
Audiences who lack a wide variety of quality, grown-up movies for much of the year have to pick and choose between an overwhelming number of options late in the year, so many films inevitably fall through the cracks. The same is true for awards voters, who are inundated with screenings and screeners at the last minute, so they too must choose which worthy films they’ll neglect.
Yes, making a strong last impression on Oscar-voters can be advantageous, but to an extent is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Everyone believes it, so everyone does it, and you repeat the result.
Ultimately, a savvy Oscar campaign matters more than your release date. “Argo” opened in October 2012, right in that academy sweet-spot. It survived the even later releases of films like “Les Miserables,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Did it peak too soon? Clearly not. Maybe the very idea of peaking too soon is mostly the invention of us awards-watchers who talk the contenders to death before the academy has a chance to weigh in.
“The Hurt Locker” certainly didn’t peak too soon either. It opened in June 2009 and made very little money, but it topped fall releases like “Avatar” and “Precious” at the Oscars.
“Gladiator” (2000 and “Crash” (2005) opened even earlier in their respective years: both of these Best Picture champs were May releases.
An early release can even be beneficial, especially for smaller films, which can gather buzz and critical support without being trampled during the fall stampede. That strategy has helped independent films like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (June 2012), “Winter’s Bone” (June 2010), “The Kids are All Right” (July 2010), and “Little Miss Sunshine” (July 2006), which all earned Best Picture bids.
Even early films that aren’t nominated for Best Picture often have enough support to contend in major categories, like the recent screenplay bids by “Moonrise Kingdom” (May 2012), and “Before Midnight” (May 2013), and the Best Actor nomination for Demian Bichir in “A Better Life” (June 2011).
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” opened way back in March but was still nominated for Best Actress (Kate Winslet) and won Best Original Screenplay at the 2004 Oscars.
If voters are inclined to like you, I think they’ll still like you even if you’re released early, as long as you remind them during the fall with ads, promotional events, and screeners – the usual campaign shenanigans that are needed these days to signify a major contender.
Meanwhile, late releases can also backfire. Well-reviewed films like “Quartet,” “A Dangerous Method,” and “Young Adult” came and went in recent years and were barely a blip on the awards radar. Whether they would have fared better with earlier releases is debatable, but being crammed at the end of the calendar year with myriad other contenders didn’t seem to help.
Anyway, my favorite film of any given year is rarely the last one I see, but maybe that’s just me. Is it really helpful to leave the last impression, or would the Oscars and moviegoers as a whole be better served with strong contenders opening throughout the year? Discuss in the comments below: