The Movies That Open Against the Oscars

By  · Published on February 25th, 2016

Alice in Wonderland (Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

If you love the movies, you’ll be watching the Academy Awards this weekend. If you simply enjoy watching movies, you might instead choose one of the counter-programming options hitting the multiplex on Friday. Typically, the wide releases opening the same weekend in which the Oscars are held aren’t of interest to the demographic of people viewing the awards ceremony. Not that there’s not time to take in both. There are plenty of hours on Friday, Saturday and some of Sunday before the Academy kicks off its big show. Still, it seems as if many of the movies are meant to be opening against the Oscars.

This year, we have three major Hollywood titles in that position of counter-programming. There’s the heist film Triple 9, which happens to star four Oscar nominees (Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kate Winslet, who is also a winner and is again nominated for an award this weekend), is co-scored by an Oscar winner (Atticus Ross), is edited by a two-time Oscar nominee (Dylan Tichenor) and counts among its producers an Oscar winner (Anthony Katagas) and two past nominees (Steve Golin and Keith Redmon).

Then there’s the mythology-based fantasy film Gods of Egypt, which stars one Oscar winner (Geoffrey Rush), is scored by a two-time nominee (Marco Beltrami) and features a current Oscar nominee (Dan Oliver) as its visual effects supervisor. Finally, there’s Eddie the Eagle, which stars an Oscar winner (Christopher Walken) and a nominee (Hugh Jackman) and is edited by an Oscar winner (Martin Walsh). Despite all the prestigious talent involved with this trio of new releases, it’s highly unlikely that any of these movies will receive Oscar nominees of their own come next year.

While it is rare for a movie opening on Oscar weekend to become nominated itself, there have been exceptions. The last one was Alice in Wonderland, released opposite the 2010 ceremony and then later a winner of two Academy Awards the following year, for its costume design and art direction. The Lewis Carroll adaptation was also nominated for visual effects. You’d think Disney would go ahead and open its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, this weekend rather than on its slated May date. If that one fails to garner any nominations next year, chalk it up (even if untrue) to the change in timing.

Before that, we have to go all the way back to 2004 and The Passion of the Christ. Here’s a movie that was directed by an Oscar winner (Mel Gibson), but that likely had nothing to do with why it opened opposite the awards that year. Instead it fits with an apparent common occurrence of religious or religious-sounding movies opening on Oscar weekend – others include Son of God, Of Gods and Men, Grace Card and Priest (as well as this weekend’s Gods of Egypt). The Passion of the Christ went on to receive nominations in 2005 for cinematography, makeup and original score. None of which it won.

Prior to that, it’s hard to qualify movies opening opposite the Oscars because the Academy held its ceremony on weekdays rather than the now more common Sunday. In 1998, for instance, the awards were on a Monday. Primary Colors, nominated the following year in the supporting actress and adapted screenplay categories, had opened the previous Friday. Similarly, the 1990 and 1994 ceremonies were on Mondays, a few days after the respective releases of Pretty Woman, which went on to see lead actress Julia Roberts nominated, and The Paper, nominated later for its original Randy Newman song, “Make Up Your Mind.”

Earlier ceremonies were even more spread out over the week. In 1974, future Oscar winner (for costume design and song score) The Great Gatsby was a brand new release the Friday ahead of the year’s Wednesday-held Oscars. Three years earlier, the Academy Awards took place on a Thursday, the week that saw release of Summer of ’42, which would go on to win the Oscar for dramatic score while also being nominated for editing, cinematography and original screenplay. Thursday, by the way, was the original day of the week for the event, for the first couple of years and many over the next half-century.

The further we go back in time, the idea of a wide release doesn’t really exist anyway. Eventual best dance direction Oscar nominees All the King’s Horses and Folies Bergère de Paris (which won) opening the week of the Wednesday-set 1935 ceremony wasn’t really the same sort of counter-programming conflict as it could be today. Same goes for 1937’s Lost Horizon, a multiple nominee and winner the following year, which opened in New York City the day before the year’s Thursday-set ceremony. And future nominee The House of the Seven Gables opened the same day as 1940’s Thursday-set Oscars but initially just in Chicago.

Other eventual nominees that hardly presented a problem opening against the Oscars include The Man Who Walked Alone, released the day of the 1945 awards, and Bye Bye Birdie, released just a few days before the Monday-set 1963 ceremony. What would seem a conflict, though, at least for possible attendees of either, is future Best Picture nominee Jezebel (which would also be a nominee and winner in other categories) holding its world premiere in NYC the very same night as the 1938 Oscars were happening on the West Coast. Fortunately, none of the major players of the movie were nominated that year.

Returning to the present era, a more common occurrence is for nominees in the foreign language and animated feature categories to be released the week of the very Oscars they’re a part of. As if to offer more of a last-minute catch-up rather than counter-programming. Last year, for instance, foreign nominee Wild Tales opened in the US on the Friday before the Sunday-set ceremony (where it lost). In 2014, it was the animated film Ernest & Celestine, and in 2010 the animated film The Secret of Kells. In 2008, there was The Counterfeiters, which won the foreign language Oscar, and in 2002 there was foreign nominee The Son of the Bride.

Also, back in 1997, the documentary feature Mandela officially opened opposite its own Oscar ceremony. Meanwhile, another foreign nominee from the 2008 awards took another whole year to open, and it did so opposite the Oscars held in 2009. The only other time a past contender seems to have opened against the ceremony in such a way was the 2002 re-release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, and won four, almost 20 years earlier. But this weekend is another instance, albeit with a much smaller release, seeing the re-issue of Kurosawa’s Ran, which was nominated for four and won one for its costume design back in 1986.

NEXT: The Winners and Losers of the 2016 Oscar Nominations

As for counter-programming, the releases that have opened opposite the ceremony in recent years include a variety of comedies, action movies and horror films, stuff that typically isn’t deemed Oscar-worthy. And in three instances, Tyler Perry movies have come out the Friday ahead of the Academy Awards show, starting with his feature debut, 2005’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and including 2009’s Madea Goes to Jail and 2012’s Good Deeds. And 2006’s Madea’s Family Reunion and 2007’s Daddy’s Little Girls were released a week or two earlier. It’s too bad Perry doesn’t have something new for this weekend, as it’d be a perfect alternative to the controversially too-white Oscars.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.