The Oscars As Popularity Contest: A JustWatch List

by Alex Kirschenbaum Mar 24, 2022

The Academy Awards are rarely a popularity contest these days. This year, outside of Dune, none of the big-budgeted blockbuster hits of 2021 have been nominated in any major categories. Dune stands as something of an anomaly among the 2021 nominee crop: a $165 million-budgeted epic that grossed $400.6 million worldwide.

Seemingly gone (at least for now) are the days when substantive, adult-oriented fare gets elevated to box office hit status thanks to a slew of Oscar nominations. In previous decades (even of recent vintage), the Academy Awards were a much bigger deal in the public sphere. Given the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, films that skew older may be up against a more at-risk demographic being reticent to return to in-person moviegoing. In general, audiences have not flocked to theaters at a pre-coronavirus level just yet, but the four-quadrant hits have fared better than smaller-scale dramas.

As we have already discussed, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the “Academy” in the Academy Awards, have responded to a massive television ratings slide with some fairly drastic changes to the broadcast.

All that said, it still feels instructive to take stock of which among the nominated films have garnered the most eyeballs as we inch ever closer to the Academy Awards broadcast, this Sunday night, March 27th on ABC. Our friends at JustWatch have cooked up a daily tracker showing which title is the most popular among its followers.

JustWatch’s list tracks the progress, since February 5th, of all nine Best Picture nominees in terms of viewer engagement, as registered by user searches for the titles. One of the more popular movies throughout the past several weeks has been Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, a solid picture beyond some distractingly problematic elements that felt incredibly superfluous. It began February 5th as the most popular among the titles (2,687 searches), and as of this writing remains firmly entrenched in second place (3,993), behind the skyrocketing popularity of Trailers From Hell Guru Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley.

The Dune remake is proving quite popular. Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake has gone through a considerable series of ebbs and flows on JustWatch, peaking with 4,694 searches on March 8th before dipping to its most recent tally of 1,632. Belfast was a hot commodity in mid-February but has since stabilized at a level a bit below 3,000 daily availability searches on the platform. The Power of the Dog and CODA, two of the heavy favorites heading into the ceremony, both enjoyed spikes around the announcement of the awards in mid-February as well, but are now around similar levels of searches, around the 1500 mark.

Here is how the search rankings shake out for the nominees during this final week prior to the broadcast proper:

How will the actual winners on Sunday impact interest on JustWatch? Tune in to JustWatch’s tracker to find out!

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