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Oscar Ratings Plunge — Blame Un-Fun Movies?

Oscar Ratings Plunge — Blame Un-Fun Movies?

Oscar Ratings Down

The Rundown

Oscar ratings are way down, and some prominent pop culture critics blame un-fun movies. These people are forgetting a kind of big thing that happened in 2020. Also: We’d like to help you make your movie. All in today’s Movie News Rundown.

But First: Master of None is back, with less Aziz Ansari and more cottage core.

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Write That Science Script: The North Fork TV Festival’s inaugural Pitch Forum and sixth annual Independent TV Pilot Competition open today, also via FilmFreeway.  In partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Pitch Forum will select two projects “dedicated to exploring compelling and realistic portrayals of science, math and technology.”

Oscar Viewing Plummets: “The Academy Awards television audience plunged to 9.85 million viewers on ABC, less than half of the Oscars’ previous low and continuing a startling trend of viewer tune out for awards shows,” reports The Associated Press.

May I Editorialize? I agree with people who think Oscar ratings go down when fewer people go to the movies. And I see that total box office was down in 2020 by more than 80 percent… for some mysterious reason.

The Only Possible Explanation: Movies simply aren’t as fun as they used to be.

Is Anyone Really Making That Argument? Yes. The New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd wrote, just before the Oscars, that movies have lost their way. “What Hollywood is forgetting, to its own peril, is that it’s show business, and it needs to find a way to marry its past storytelling chops with the exciting new forces of its future.” She quotes Bill Maher, who asks: “Would it kill you once in a while to make a movie that doesn’t make me want to take a bath with the toaster? … Academy nominations used to say, ‘Look what great movies we make.’ Now they say, ‘Look what good people we are.’”

May I Editorialize? Bill Maher is a dull know-it-all, but he has a point about people confusing good intentions with good art. And while many films and even more TV shows have tiresome virtue-signally agendas, this year’s Best Picture nominees aren’t good examples. Director Chloé Zhao deliberately avoided lectures in Best Picture winner Nomadland, saying, “I don’t make films about politics. I like to present you the reality of the lives people live, and I like for you to take away your own interpretations.” (That frustrated critics of Amazon, but oh well.) Meanwhile, what are the preachy moral agendas of MankMinari? The Father? Sound of Metal? I’ll concede that The Trial of the Chicago 7 wants to teach us lessons. But Judas and the Black Messiah simply presents the facts of what happened to Fred Hampton, and they speak loudly for themselves. And while I’ve heard from men who haven’t seen the great Promising Young Woman that it’s anti-male (it isn’t), I’ve also seen criticism that it does a poor job of advocating for assault survivors. That kind of debate happens when a film defies easy classification. It’s more of a Hitchcockian thriller than a lecture.

The Numbers: People who argue that moviegoing was on the decline even before COVID-19 always seem to forget that 2018 was the biggest year at the box office in modern history, per BoxOfficeMojo, and that 2016 was second, and 2019 was third. Audiences seemed pretty excited by the theatergoing experience before we all just decided to stop going to movies in 2020 for some reason. Movies suddenly became bad, I guess.

But Seriously, Folks: The very obvious reason box office was so far down in 2020 is that studios opted not to theatrically release the kinds of feel-good movies that typically make a lot of money — because theaters were closed. Not much point in releasing a crowd-pleasing blockbuster when there aren’t any crowds, Bill. If not for COVID-19, Chloé Zhao’s big 2020 movie might have been The Eternals, a Marvel superhero film originally scheduled to come out last November.

Comment of the Day: “Tyler Perry’s was the best speech at the Oscars in years, if not decades,” says Tom Peterson, commenting on a speech in which Perry pleaded for people to reject hate and meet in the middle.

Main image: Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, about a sex worker in a power-imbalanced relationship with a Wall Street one percenter, back when Hollywood made fun movies.


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  1. james says:

    It’s frustrating that the Academy continually chooses heavy movies with messages – we are forgetting that the Academy has nominated movies like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark for Best Picture — the Academy needs to get off of it’s high horse and reward great popcorn movies as well and comedies usually get left out as well.

  2. Andres says:

    How come nobody wants to state the obvious:
    People don’t want to be preached to by hypocritical, elitist, out of touch Hollywood people.
    Or politicians.
    Or professional athletes.
    I’m thankful Tyler Perry had the balls to speak sanely.

  3. Max Myers says:

    PC and fear of cancel culture now dictates the content created by many writers, directors and producers. Sucks, but it’s a fact.

  4. Ivan Calhoun says:

    Overall I dig your observations about the Oscars this week and thanks for the link to Maureen Dowd’s article which is fairly spot on as well. I will say that I felt ‘Minari’ and ‘Sound of Metal’ did have moral objectives in them… both mostly about being responsible persons but as a writer(and a guy) I did find ‘Promising Young Woman’ quite anti-male. Emerald Fennell’s screenplay left absolutely no space for anything positive about men, she set up every ‘nice’ guy every time for a fall and though I very much would not have wanted a male hero to fix things for Cassie – every single one of them did not have to have been eviscerated or emasculated. Granted it still meant a compelling story and I enjoyed the film.

  5. John Miller says:

    Movies are conceived well ahead of filming. “Nomadland” was conceived, planned, and shot, before COVID. Filming took place over four months in the fall of 2018. Movies have been downbeat, dark, and even downright depressing ever since 9/11. “Avengers” is mostly downbeat stuff. The new “Star Wars” were depressing, in more ways than one!

  6. B. Reel says:

    Several factors contributed to the lackluster ratings, most obviously we’ve been in the middle of a pandemic and movie theaters have been closed. Although I am a Netflix and Prime subscriber, I seldom watch their movies. For me, it’s just NOT the same experience as going to a theater.
    Another factor is the internet. Watching the Oscars before the internet was an event, now a viewer can watch their favorite presenters and nominees any time they want, no need to sit through award categories they aren’t interested in.

  7. Lori C. says:

    I was with you all the way on this until the last line, about Pretty Woman being an example of when Hollywood made fun movies. I love that movie. But I’ve heard that in the true story on which this was based the Richard Gere character did not return for the prostitute, who then killed herself. Makes me wonder which version would be made today?

  8. Rich M says:

    I accept 2020 may not have felt fun, but why did 2019 not have fun movies either.

  9. Captain Obvious says:

    The reason……NOBODY CARES ABOUT HOLLYWOOD!! Fun, no fun, dramatic, horror, sci- fi……no one cares, and if they did care…they would have watched and they did not. No one watched no one cares.

  10. JVJJ says:

    Oscar ratings are down because of repetition — repetition of the “stars” providing the unsolicited political opinions while on stage. I personally do not care whether I agree with their opinion is or not. I do not care what any “star” thinks about anything. FOCUS ON DOING YOUR JOB. In spite of what you may think, your importance is limited only to how well you produce your movie-product.

  11. Dave F says:

    Hard to discuss box-office numbers with the Oscar ratings. The reality is that the reason for high box office numbers are movies like Avengers, James Bond, and Star Wars. Those are not winning awards (other than special effects). Most people never even heard of the movies nominated and that is a trend for several years. Throw in the preachy politics and you are losing audiences across the board. You can make political jokes, but they need to be funny and not mean spirited…more Johnny Carson, George Carlin, and Jay Leno, who mocked everyone. Not just attacks on the “other guy”

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