The San Juan Daily Star
When best picture winners overcome a release early in the year
By Sarah Bahr
When “Everything Everywhere All at Once” made its debut last March at the South by Southwest film festival, followed by a nationwide release the next month, expectations were modest.
Maybe the quirky A24 film about a multiverse-jumping mother striving to finally connect with her daughter — and busting some martial arts moves along the way — would make some money. And then “hot dog fingers” mania happened. Seemingly overnight, TikTokers glommed on to the prompt “If the multiverse is real, I hope there’s one where …” and imagined alternate timelines for their lives. Moviegoers nationwide flocked to see the film once, twice, nine times. But back in spring 2022, no one could have anticipated the movie’s best picture triumph at the Oscars on Sunday night.
Conventional wisdom has it that films released in the fall make stronger contenders. So when “Everything Everywhere” won, it joined a select group of films that were similarly released early — or early-ish — in a previous year, and that went on to capture the most coveted prize in Hollywood.
Here are nine times a release in spring or summer — or, once, even in January — has gone on to win big.
A release early in the year was not viewed as a competitive disadvantage until the early 1990s, when former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s guerilla-style efforts on behalf of smaller indie films such as “The Crying Game” (1992) and “Il Postino” (1995) kicked off the modern era of Oscar campaigning. The World War II-set romantic drama “Casablanca” was actually in good company among the 10 best picture contenders: All but three were released between January and August.
‘The Greatest Show on Earth’
In the 1950s, it was common for best picture winners to also be box office behemoths. “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Cecil B. DeMille’s 152-minute circus extravaganza, became the highest-grossing film of the year in 1952, thanks to its extended stay in theaters.
‘The Sound of Music’
David Lean’s epic romance “Doctor Zhivago,” a December release, was the favorite after he won best director for his previous two movies (“The Bridge on the River Kwai” from 1957 and “Lawrence of Arabia” from 1962). But audiences loved Maria — “The Sound of Music” became the highest-grossing film of 1965 — and the film won five statuettes, including best picture.
The only X-rated film to ever win best picture hit theaters long before the four other best picture contenders. The idea of releasing awards contenders as close as possible to the date of the ceremony — just before the eligibility cutoff at the end of the previous year — so they’d be top of mind for voters was just beginning to take hold and would become common in the 1980s.
Paramount brass locked horns with director Francis Ford Coppola on every major decision, and the studio chief at the time, Robert Evans, fought to push the film’s original Christmas 1971 release to the spring to force Coppola to do another edit. (That made the film, which runs nearly three hours, even longer!) To be fair, “The Godfather” would have been Oscars catnip no matter when it was released.
‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “The Silence of the Lambs” was bolstered by huge word of mouth and strong reviews. The cannibalistic thriller — still the only horror movie to win best picture — topped the box office for five consecutive weeks after it was released in February 1991. Then it hit VHS just before Halloween, vaulting it back onto voters’ radar.
This crowd-pleasing baby boomer tale was up against a stacked lineup of best picture nominees that included “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption.” But moviegoers had embraced the tale of Tom Hanks’ kindhearted Alabamian, and it spent the summer hovering at or near the top of the box office, a run that Oscar voters surely noted.
The divisive, Los Angeles-set race-relations drama pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. The gay western “Brokeback Mountain” was an early front-runner and theories abound about why voters gave its filmmaker, Ang Lee, the best director Oscar but the top prize to Paul Haggis’ urban drama. In hindsight the win wasn’t exactly definitive. In 2012, Film Comment named “Crash” the worst best picture winner of all time.
‘The Hurt Locker’
“The Hurt Locker,” Kathryn Bigelow’s low-budget American war thriller, had a slow rollout in theaters, going from four to 535 by the end of July. But it racked up strong performances at precursor award shows leading into the Oscars.