Awards Season and the Theatrical Release Schedule

Everyone has experienced that moment where they missed out on a film at the cinema. Whether it was a film that they really wanted to see after watching a trailer or after reading positive reviews online. It can be a hard grind being a film fan, and that is something that can be attributed to a variety of reasons. Is it financially viable to go once, twice, even three times a week? Is the film showing at a time available to you? Life gets in the way. The average person will not have the time or money to see everything. However, occasionally, it is an external factor stopping us from seeing those films. Most notably during awards season.
The frantic releases of award nominated movies come out in a huge cluster. Odds are that over two thirds of the best picture nominated movies will see release between January and February. So with the newest release schedule being as busy as it is, some cinema chains might not even grant certain films a wide release. Smaller cinema companies cannot afford to lend one of their three or four screens to something they feel won’t sell out. All of that contributes to unhappy consumers. Let’s be honest, you cannot please everyone. This is something anyone who has ever watched a film will know. It is why you see a film rated at 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. How does this affect each demographic though?
In the UK, specifically my local cinema, only three of the eight films up for the top award at the Oscars were released before 2015. Those films; Boyhood, The Imitation Game, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The latter being released early to mid 2014, and Boyhood receiving a small release in June and July. The Imitation Game, a British film, is to this date the only film of the eight still seeing constant showing times. Going off of the BFI’s (British Film Institute) statistics for 2014, the highest grossing film of those eight was again, The Imitation Game, grossing 15.9 million in UK pounds. Though the issue arises when you consider that in order to see the comparison, between those films, the US funded films were ineligible at the point of writing those reports.
What of other countries, though? I managed to get some feedback from friends in the United States regarding the schedule for award nominated releases. One said “some of the smaller movies (Birdman and Whiplash) were only available at one theater. I’m also fortunate to have four theaters in a five mile radius.” That is where the advantage of living arrangements comes into play. Not everyone is so lucky however. Another commented “I get very few awards films anywhere near me unless I take a trip to a big city.”
I guess what hits home most when you hear these comments and then hear Neil Patrick Harris’ talk of how much all eight films grossed in total in the United States. They reached a combined total of $600 million, but American Sniper made up $300 million of that. You can read into that as much as you like, because I think general consensus would agree it is the easier sell of all of the films. Wes Anderson for all of his comedic brilliance is a niche market, Birdman is very much an ‘artsy’ movie that has been slowly reaching out to a wider audience, and then you have Boyhood which by all intents and purposes is not the type of film you would expect people to be in the cinema watching on a Friday night.
In fact Boyhood’s final showing times in my local cinema, a relatively small town in the UK, was at 11pm on a week night. This is a film lasting close to three hours. Should they be achieving greater success at the box office? Absolutely. At least, film fans would hope so. Though it becomes hard to side with Jack Black’s comments at the Oscars (however much of a joke they may have been) when he spoke of comic book movies taking over the box office. Yes, they gross more than any other genre or film, but distribution companies and cinema chains have a responsibility to uphold when promoting films that are not exactly block buster material.