Here’s Why 2023 Oscars Ratings Will Be Up

With several box office smashes up for best picture and other awards at Sunday night’s Oscars, film industry experts expect ratings for this year’s Academy Awards to rise over last year.

Of course, leftover buzz from one of 2022’s biggest moments, when Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock for making a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith (Smith’s wife,) could help propel ratings even higher, as people want to witness similar moments that go viral on social media.

“Theoretically and logically, you would think the bigger the gross overall box office for the collective grouping of best picture nominees, the greater the interest in seeing the telecast, and I think that’s true,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “This year, you have Avatar: The Way of Water, Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick, three blockbuster movies, in the mix. That’s one of the biggest blockbuster crops ever to be up for best picture, with two films over $500 million domestically.”

Dergarabedian notes that Avatar and Maverick, both sequels to popular films from more than a decade ago, combined to gross over $3.7 billion internationally. Elvis added another $300 million, pushing the three movies to over $4 billion worldwide gross. That means millions of people went to see them in theaters, boding well for ABC, which carries the Oscars broadcast.

The most-watched Academy Awards of all time dovetail with years when blockbuster movies are up for awards. The ceremony pulled some of its best viewership numbers in 1983 (Gandhi), 1998 (Titanic) and 2004 (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). By contrast, years without big hits (including 2021, when Covid all but shut down the box office) tend to post lower Oscars ratings.

Last year’s broadcast averaged 13.7 million total viewers, according to comScore data, the second-lowest since 2017 but up 52% over the previous year’s all-time low of 9 million. Last year CODA, an AppleTV+ movie with a streaming-focused release that grossed just $2 million domestically, won best picture.

Buzz Can Build Ratings, Too

Dergarabedian says social media buzz immediately after the Smith slap likely sparked viewership increases for last year’s program.

“If you go back and look at notable situations, gaffes, inappropriate remarks and shocking occurrences that happen during live TV, that is part and parcel of why people watch the awards. In recent years, viewership has waned a bit, so last year’s events could mark a bit of a comeback for the Oscars, and we can surmise the bigger box office will create even more interest this year,” he says.

A ‘More Broadly Popular Group of Films’

Betsy Walters, a PhD candidate at Boston University in the American and New England Studies Program who has researched film extensively, also thinks Academy Awards ratings could rebound even higher this year.

“Overall, it’s a much more broadly popular group of films than the best picture lineups of the past few years, which is usually a recipe for stronger ratings as more people feel invested in the outcome,” she says.

Walters notes that in addition to the best picture nominations for Maverick, Elvis and Avatar, the acting races have received a lot of attention. Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Michelle Yeoh has a chance to become the first Asian woman ever to win best actress; only one other Asian woman has been nominated in the category. And best supporting actress nominee Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) became the first person in the Marvel universe to earn an acting nomination.

Everything Everywhere All at Once, the likely best picture frontrunner, had a really solid box office total itself, particularly when compared to previous years’ best picture winners like CODA and Nomadland, though, of course, those were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of theaters. And when you have actors contending for acting prizes from popular films, that will also get people interested on behalf of Angela Bassett (Black Panther 2) and Austin Butler (Elvis), for example, not to mention the EEAAO cast,” Walters notes.

She anticipates a big night for Everything. “EEAAO also has a solid chance to take three of the four acting categories (Michelle Yeoh for lead actress, Jamie Lee Curtis for supporting actress, and Ke Huy Quan for supporting actor), and it has been cleaning up in pre-Oscar awards for its writer/directors, so it could be a really big night for the film,” she says. “If any film plays spoiler, it could be All Quiet on the Western Front (which will likely win the international feature award) or Top Gun: Maverick (which Steven Spielberg himself credited with saving the theatrical film industry), so those may have an outside chance if EEAAO proves divisive with certain Academy voters.”