For years, the streaming giants have been vying for a Best Picture Oscar, and for years the Academy has been looking the other way. Is this the year Netflix finally comes out on top? We dig into the audience data for all of Netflix's Oscar-nominated films to find out what audiences were really watching.
To no one’s surprise, Netflix was the most nominated company for the third year in a row as the streaming service continues to push the envelope on global content spend. Last year, Netflix had 35 nominations; in 2020, it had 24.
In total, 10 Netflix films received 27 Oscar nominations this year, across categories ranging from the very coveted Best Picture to Best Animated Feature. And, since Netflix has famously yet to win a Best Picture Oscar, we’re asking: will this year be the year? Ted Sarandos certainly has his fingers crossed.
Here's the full list of Netflix's nominated films:
1. The Power of the Dog
2. Don't Look Up
3. Tick, Tick... Boom!
4. The Lost Daughter
5. The Hand of God (international)
6. The Mitchells vs. the Machines (animated)
7. Three Songs for Benazir (short)
8. Lead Me Home (short)
9. Audible (short)
10. Robin Robin (animated short)
Seemingly everyone’s been talking about The Power of the Dog – a Western psychological drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst – which leads with 12 noms, including 4 in the acting categories, plus Best Picture and writing and directing for Jane Campion. But what does the audience data say?
(A note to our readers: this is going to be a US-focused analysis)
To begin the analysis, let's pit The Power of The Dog against Red Notice, Netflix’s biggest global film to date measured by total viewership in the first 28 days (a record previously held by Bird Box, which debuted back in 2018):
Yikes. The Power of the Dog was released on November 11 and captured just 5.68M Unique Viewers (UVs) to Red Notice's 26.73M UVs during its Week 1, and then saw a steady decay, dipping below 1M UVs by Week 4.
These are not the UV numbers that global hits are made of, but then again, movies like Red Notice are akin to shooting stars in Netflix's film library. They come along unexpectedly and suddenly everyone you know is taking time out of their lives to watch, driving up the viewership numbers.
So let's bring our analysis back down to earth: How do Netflix's 5 feature-length film nominees compare against each other?
The clear winner is Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, which debuted on Netflix on December 24, and captured 51.96M UVs in its first 28 days – and almost 100M total hours viewed during that same time period. That's not just outstanding, but good enough to almost beat Red Notice, which had a record-setting 53.86M UVs during its first 28 days.
Don’t Look Up satirizes the politicization of the climate crisis and follows the struggles of two frantic astronomers, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, who embark on a media tour to warn the world that a comet is about to destroy Earth. By sheer viewership numbers, Don’t Look Up is now the third-best performing film on Netflix of all time.
Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Lost Daughter, which stars Olivia Colman as a college professor who becomes obsessed with a young mother and her daughter, came in second on this list. The film had 9.45M UVs and 12M total hours viewed in its first 28 days — slightly more than The Power of the Dog, but nowhere near the "global hit" territory of Don't Look Up.
Now let's widen the scope a little. The 2021 Netflix slate also included a few fantastic films that were iced out entirely by the Academy, including:
– The Harder They Fall: a "new-school Western" directed by Jeymes Samuel and produced by Shawn 'Jay Z' Carter.
– Passing: an indie award-winning film directed by Rebecca Hall and starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga
– Bruised: a film directed by and starring Halle Berry as a disgraced MMA fighter and mother.
So how did these 3 films perform?
Significantly more people watched The Harder They Fall (17.91M UVs) and Bruised (14.48M UVs) during each film's first 28 days than watched The Power of the Dog (8.44M UVs) during the same time period. In fact, Netflix was so pleased with Bruised's viewership numbers that the company decided to sign a multi-picture deal with Berry as a result.
Which raises the question — is it even worth it for Netflix to continue making films like The Power of the Dog, which receive universal acclaim from critics but clearly don't draw streaming audiences in droves? What happens if The Power of the Dog doesn't win Best Picture this year? Is the proverbial juice going to be worth the squeeze?
Next, let's turn our attention to the Best Animated Feature Film category. This year, Netflix has a strong contender in critical darling The Mitchells vs. the Machines, about a dysfunctional family that must fight a robot apocalypse to save humanity. But Walt Disney Pictures’ has an even stronger contender in Encanto, which has been a box office success and whose album has spent weeks atop the Billboard charts.
Since movies for kids are watched differently than content “for adults” – most notably because kids seemingly never get tired of rewatching anything ad nauseam – let’s take a look at how The Mitchells did against 3 other top animated films released on Netflix last year:
From a total hours perspective, The Mitchells is a huge hit for Netflix. The film not only left Wish Dragon and Vivo in its wake during its first 28 days, but it also managed to build and sustain its viewership from its streaming release on April 30 through the summer. At its peak in May, The Mitchells was capturing 13.61% of all Unique Viewers watching films on Netflix.
Finally, to close out this analysis, let's take a look at how the 4 short film nominees stack up against each other:
The clear winner here is Lead Me Home, with 1.68M UVs, and it wasn't even close. The film's viewership does laps around Audible and Three Songs for Benazir.
However, this raises another question: Since none of these short films had massive marketing budgets to work with, what made the difference for Lead Me Home? Was it word of mouth? Press coverage? A social media strategy? Or did the Netflix algorithm simply promote it more often than it did, ie, Audible? If the answer is "the Netflix algorithm," then are we looking a list that shows Netflix moving the needle?
In any case, if you’re wondering who we think is going to win Best Picture this year after Nomadland’s historic triumph last year, we’re throwing our hat in the ring for Don't Look Up. Because sometimes, the Academy does not work in mysterious ways — and the numbers just speak for themselves.
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