Nomination of blockbuster sequels could fuel an Oscar telecast resurgence on ABC

You know what they say about the downward viewing trend of the Academy Awards, right? It used to be the same complaint you’d hear about the weather. Everybody bitches about it, but no one can do a thing about it. The blame typically falls on the fact that too many of the highest-profile nominated films are of the more obscure art house variety seen by a comparative few. It’s helped to spell fairly steadily eroding viewership of the ceremony since the turn of the millennium in particular.

In the case of ABC’s Oscar telecast, however, the mainstream popularity of the nominated films could well goose interest and make a sizeable ratings difference this time around. In particular, we’re talking about a good half-dozen high-profile movies and the fact that four of them are enormously popular sequels. The fact that four of them are also nominated for Best Picture seemingly can’t help but help push viewership over the alarmingly paltry audience numbers of the last pair of Oscarcasts.

First, let’s look at the sequels, three of which have racked up spectacular cash numbers:

  • “Avatar: The Way of Water”: A Best Picture nominee that has taken in $628 million domestically and $2.133 billion worldwide.
  • “Top Gun: Maverick”: Another Best Picture nominee that’s generated $718 million at the U.S. box office and $1.488 billion internationally.
  • “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”: It’s taken in $453 million in America and $842 million worldwide.
  • “Glass Onion”: A follow-up to “Knives Out,” it had a decent weeklong theatrical run but really became a hit after dropping on Netflix in December.

Then there is Best Picture frontrunner “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” which rang up $71.6 million in domestic and $105.8 million in international receipts; and “Elvis,” which has accrued more than $150 million in the U.S. and is closing in on $290 million worldwide.

It’s unclear, of course, if all of this familiarity and box office will automatically translate into greater interest on March 12 when the trophies are handed out. But it certainly can’t hurt after the two very down Oscarcast years exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and the flight from movie theaters. The worst came in 2021, when the combination of the coronavirus and a Best Picture winner that generated less than $4 million at theaters in the United States – “Nomadland” – resulted in an abysmal television audience of just 10.4 million.

Having nowhere to go but up, the ratings rebounded nearly 60 percent last year, to 16.6 million sets of eyeballs. This, despite the fact that the Apple TV+ entry “CODA,” a movie that raised less than $2 million at the box office, took the top prize. That Academy Awards telecast found viewership spiking during the 15 minutes when Will Smith famously stormed the stage to slap presenter Chris Rock, and during Smith’s subsequent acceptance speech. This year’s show isn’t expected to have similarly dramatic moments, but you never know.

The audience for the past two Oscar telecasts combined was lower than that of the 2019 show alone, which generated 29.6 million viewers. The first time the television viewership slipped below 40 million was in 2018, when “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture. The biggest tune-in dating back to the 1970s was the 57.25 million who flocked to the show in 1998, the year “Titanic” ran the table, and the 1983 show that attracted 53.2 million to watch “Terms of Endearment” walk off with the biggest prize.

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