The Majority of Americans Have Heard of Only Two of the Oscars' 10 Best Picture Nominees

Just 27% of U.S. adults said they saw a movie in a theater last year
A scene from "West Side Story," which was released in December. Sixty-six percent of U.S. adults said they had heard of Steven Spielberg's version of the musical, making it one of the most well-known best picture nominees at Sunday's Academy Awards, according to Morning Consult data. (Courtesy of Walt Disney Co.)
March 22, 2022 at 12:01 am UTC

The Oscars are less than a week away, and once again, Americans are largely unaware of the films competing to win Hollywood’s top prize. 

While two adaptations of well-known intellectual property managed to generate some buzz among U.S. consumers, the latest crop of best picture nominees as a whole fell flat in a year when Americans were still hesitant to return to movie theaters.

Most nominated movies are widely available on streaming platforms but missed out on key opportunities to build awareness by not having theatrical releases or the splashy marketing campaigns that often coincide with them. New Morning Consult data suggests that was a tough obstacle for this year’s best picture field to overcome.

Consumers Only Know 'West Side Story' and 'Dune' Among 10 Best Picture Nominees

Respondents were asked if they had seen, read or heard anything about the following best picture nominees:
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Survey conducted March 15-18, 2022, among a representative sample of 4,419 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/- 1 percentage point.
What the numbers say
  • Of this year’s 10 best picture nominees, Americans were most aware of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake and the new “Dune” film, based on the classic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they had heard of the musical, while 46 percent said the same of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi blockbuster. While it failed to earn a best picture nod, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” by comparison, was known by nearly 4 in 5 adults (78 percent). 
  • Half of the best picture nominees, including “West Side Story,” “Belfast” and “Licorice Pizza,” played exclusively in theaters before moving to streaming platforms, but just 27 percent of consumers said they saw a movie in theaters last year. Only 4 percent of respondents said they have seen all of “Belfast.” 
  • About 3 in 10 (31 percent) adults said they’ve seen the latest “Spider-Man” film, roughly 10 points higher than the 22 percent who saw “Don’t Look Up,” the most-watched title of all the nominees. The Netflix original film logged almost 360 million viewing hours in its first four weeks on the platform, making it the second-most viewed Netflix film of all time. Nineteen percent saw “Dune,” and 16 percent watched “West Side Story.” 
  • In an effort to invigorate the telecast and boost ratings, the Academy and Oscars producers made changes to this year’s ceremony, removing eight categories from the live broadcast and introducing a fan-voted award for favorite movie. Fifty-eight percent of adults supported the addition of the fan-voted award, while 38 percent supported the trimming of televised categories. Roughly one-third of consumers said they don’t care about each of the ceremony changes, indicating that there is still a sense of apathy among viewers.  
The impact

Despite the widespread availability of awards-season contenders on streaming services, consumers are largely unaware of most of the films competing for the top prize at Sunday night’s Oscars. The films they’ve heard the most about have two things in common: They had major theatrical runs and are based on stories with which consumers were likely already familiar. 

Although the box-office haul for “West Side Story” was muted, the trailers celebrating Spielberg’s first musical film were inescapable across U.S. media. WarnerMedia’s “Dune,” which was released in theaters as well as on its HBO Max streaming service, also had a splashy marketing campaign. These examples stand in stark contrast to Netflix films, such as “The Power of the Dog,” which rely on organic discovery within its platform. 

But a theatrical release isn’t necessarily the magic touch in the pandemic era, as consumers still remain hesitant to head to theaters. Things could be better for next year’s Oscar-nominated films, however, as consumer comfort with moviegoing is expected to climb, and studios are responding by committing to more theatrical releases throughout 2022. 

Survey conducted March 15-18, 2022, among a representative sample of 4,419 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.

Sarah Shevenock previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering the business of entertainment.

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