Oscar Nominees vs. Box Office Hits

Lauren Kornick

Analysis, Academy Awards, Consumer Enthusiasm

March 4, 2024

Oscar Nominees vs. Box Office Hits

As we anticipate the Academy Awards Ceremony, we looked back at the 2023 box office hits.

2023 Box Office Hits

2023 saw a new burst of energy in the box office, continuing the trend of theaters bouncing back post-pandemic. Although not yet matching the industry-high of 2018 and 2019, 2023 box office had over a 20% increase from 2022, over a 100% increase from 2021, and over a 300% increase from 2020.

While the increase is influenced by sequels and superhero movies, the highest-grossing domestic movies of the year look slightly different, with half of the top ten involving different intellectual properties such as Barbie or The Super Mario Bros. Movie or non-genre films like Oppenheimer, Sound of Freedom, or Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour. With different types of films and new brands collecting money at the box office, is there a common thread among all of them that explains success? Although there is no one magic solution to a film’s success and the connection it has with audiences, there is one common theme with the winners of the year: enthusiasm.

Trends such as high enthusiasm for Taylor Swift’s concert movie before release, young adults’ interest in Five Nights at Freddie’s, or slight shifts in theatrical viewing intent that cause a photo-finish race for the Thanksgiving weekend are interesting rabbit holes to dive into, but the films that ultimately came out on top (regardless of financial success) all showed one similar trend: high interest specifically in the theatrical release for those most interested in the films.

Highlights of the Year

The graphs below show the interest in viewing films in the theater based on different groups including the general population:

1. Theater Goers (those who have seen at least 1 film in the last 6 months)

2. Heavy Theater Goers (those who have seen 4 or more films in the last 6 months)

3. Enthusiasts (those who said they were definitely going to see said film)

4. Similar Film Theater Goers (those who said they were interested in seeing a similar film specifically in theaters)

5. Similar Film Enthusiasts (those who said they were definitely going to see a similar film)

The films include the number one film for 4th of July weekend (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny), Barbie and Oppenheimer, the number one film for Labor Day weekend (Equalizer 3), the number one film for Halloween (Five Nights at Freddie’s), the number one film for Thanksgiving (The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes), and the number one film for Christmas Day (The Color Purple).

Each film has a different story and context surrounding its winning period, but from the initial look at the data, we can see a lot of interest from all “Enthusiasts” for each movie.


Some additional analysis for each of the films:

Indiana Jones:

  • Despite winning number one for the weekend and for the 4th of July holiday, plus grossing about $175 million domestically, the film was deemed a box-office bomb due to its high production and marketing budget.
  • Although the interest among the enthusiasts did cross the 50% mark, further analysis saw that this enthusiasm was tied to overall likability of star, Harrison Ford, rather than interest in viewing the film in the theater or on streaming itself.
  • Interest in general theater viewing among the backbone of the box office, the heavy theatergoers, was at a year-low at this time compared to the other periods on the graph and compared to other films against Indiana Jones 5 in the same weekend. Also, for this film specifically, heavy theatergoers were not close to the mid-point mark in interest in seeing the film in theaters.

Barbie and Oppenheimer:

  • Despite competing against one another, the two films had nearly identical rates of interest in all six groups despite the drastically different genres and tones.
  • Those who were interested in each film were very interested in each film, specifically when it came to viewing them in theaters, with about three-quarters of each enthusiasts’ group having an interest in viewing the film specifically in theaters, maybe even as a double feature.
  • The enthusiasm levels of both films was unmatched by other films from the rest of the year. Another unconventional box office hit Taylor Swift: Eras Tour, while also touting a high rate of theatrical interest among its enthusiasts, only came in at 61% interest.

Equalizer 3:

  • The Denzel Washington-led film had a quiet but solid victory with the second-best Labor Day weekend opening of all time and matching the previous entry’s worldwide gross of almost $200 million.
  • Despite having the lowest percentage of enthusiasts who wanted to see this specific film in theaters, The Equalizer 3 had a boost from other groups who had equal, if not slightly more, interest in seeing it in theaters.
  • Heavy theatergoers were in high spirits during Labor Day for all the movies, and they had about as much interest in seeing this film as they had back in July for Barbie or Oppenheimer.
  • Rather than the enthusiasts having the highest interest in this film, the group with the highest interest was consumers who were interested in seeing the then-upcoming Expend4bles, another slightly lower budget action film.

Five Nights at Freddie’s:

  • With only a $20 million production budget, the film went on to open at about $80 million for the Halloween weekend, becoming the highest Halloween opening.
  • The general population and regular theatergoers’ interest in viewing this film in theaters was relatively low, but, thanks to the smaller-than-average production budget, the film’s success could rely on fan enthusiasm for horror movies and the original video game.
  • Although not gathering a large group of viewers like Barbie and Oppenheimer, the film gathered a significant and enthusiastic group of millennials and Gen-Z (with 80% of the opening weekend’s audience being under 25) despite having a simultaneous release on Peacock.

The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes:

  • Despite opening a week prior with the lowest opening for the franchise, The Hunger Games retained its first-place position in the box office for the Thanksgiving weekend, beating out the newer releases Napoleon and Wish.
  • Similar to *Five Nights at Freddie’s, the film achieved its first-place spot, and moderate financial success, mostly due to the enthusiasm from the millennial and Gen-Z turnout, with 45% of the opening weekend audience under 25.
  • Although the film’s remarkable second-weekend hold is a positive illustration of word of mouth from an enthusiastic audience, Thanksgiving weekend also had a cautious tale with Wish. Wish's unenthusiastic audience delivered only one group that had over 50% interest in seeing it in theaters (the enthusiastic group at only 53%) and only 33% of heavy theatergoers showing a similar interest in seeing it in theaters, likely due to consumers opting to wait for the film’s release on Disney+.


  • Coincidentally, the last time a Disney-adjacent animated film did not win first place on its opening weekend against a rival studio was almost 10 years ago in 2015, when The Good Dinosaur from Pixar opened in second place against the previous Hunger Games film.

The Color Purple:

  • The Christmas box office was a back-and-forth battle for new releases Wonka, The Color Purple, and Aquaman 2. The Color Purple became the winner of Christmas Day, with Aquaman 2 winning the prior weekend lead-up and Wonka winning the post-Christmas days.
  • Here, the enthusiasm changes among the three films gives insight into the battle among the three films in only a few days’ difference. For instance, on release day before Christmas, December 22nd, Aquaman 2 boasted a highly interested and enthusiastic group, with 77% of enthusiastic fans also interested in seeing the film specifically in theaters and winning the lead-to the weekend. On the same day, only 55% of Wonka fans said the same, while The Color Purple edged over Wonka with 58% saying the same.
  • On Christmas Day, the enthusiasm began its shift, with interest among fans in seeing Aquaman 2 dropping over 10% to tie with Wonka fans, whose interest likewise increased over 10%, while fans of The Color Purple remained solid, consistent, and strong with 59% wanting to see it in theaters and ultimately winning the day.
  • Post Christmas day, the interest percents shifted once again, with interest for Aquaman 2 dropping 10% once again in only one day and interest in The Color Purple also seeing a similar 8% drop. Although Wonka dropped 7% in interest among the fans, it suddenly had the highest percent of interest among its fans to view the film in theaters, at 58%, ultimately winning the day.


Box Office Hitmakers

What it takes to be number one in the box office is not a perfect science. Being a recognizable name during an open holiday weekend like Indiana Jones, riding the waves of impressive marketing trends like Barbie and Oppenheimer, or coming out at the right time of year like Five Nights at Freddie’s surely helps, but these also pair with good budgeting, quality output, and good word-of-mouth for a film’s general success. However, to ensure a good baseline turnout for a film, studios need to recognize, identify, and even sometimes, create, the “Enthusiasts” to make sure a large percent are willing and eager to come to the theater, drum up word of mouth, and make the film a financial success. For larger-budget films, it might be necessary to drive that interest in other potential groups, such as one of the other five shown above, to collect every possible dollar available to cover production costs.

Oscar Nominations

Here’s the line-up for Oscar nominations vs. 2023 box office hits. We’ll be watching the awards ceremony and cheering on the winners!


As for the rest of 2024, we’re hopeful filmmakers and studios will work together to drum up enthusiasm to entice fans back to movie theaters.

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