Napoleon is latest Apple bid for Oscars

Vanessa Kirby and Joaquin Phoenix star in AppleTV+’s “Napoleon,” directed by Ridley Scott.

Apple Original Films

LOS ANGELES – Apple Original Films is a new player on the Academy Award scene, but it’s already left an indelible — and historic — mark.

The studio, which has only been releasing films since 2019, won best picture in 2022 for “CODA,” the first time a streaming service has ever won the top award. In total, Apple has received Oscar 10 nominations in the last three years, winning four.

With acclaimed director Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon” opening just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Apple is making another push for Academy Award glory. The two-hour and 38-minute epic stars Joaquin Phoenix as French leader and military commander Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to prominence during the French Revolution. Sony is distributing the film.

Early reviews indicate that the film is “slyly funny,” striking a balance between playful humor and gruesome battle sequences. However, the dichotomy might be polarizing for some and some critics said the long run-time can make the film feel like a “chore.”

Even with critical praise for Phoenix and Scott, Apple faces steep competition for nominations, as a slew of Oscar contenders flood the market, even from its own studio.

Heading into November, the Academy Awards race appeared to be dominated by Warner Bros.‘ “Barbie” and Universal’s “Oppenheimer.” The combined “Barbenheimer” entered theaters ahead of the writers and actors strikes and captured critical attention as well as record box office receipts.

With actors unable to promote films, many studios opted to postpone theatrical releases until later in the year or even push until 2024. Warner Bros. and Legendary Studio’s “Dune: Part Two” won’t be part of this year’s Oscar race after departing to March of next year.

Now, in the last few weeks of the year, Academy Award hopefuls are arriving en masse.

That includes Apple’s other major Oscar contender is Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a three hour and 26-minute Western crime drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

Potential best picture nominees for 2024 Academy Awards

  • “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
  • “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
  • “American Fiction” (MGM)
  • “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)
  • “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
  • “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
  • “Maestro” (Netflix)
  • “The Zone of Interest” (A24)
  • “Origin” (Neon)
  • “May December” (Netflix)
  • “Napoleon” (Apple Original Films/Sony Pictures)
  • “Ferrari” (Neon)
  • “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)
  • “Air” (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • “Saltburn” (Amazon MGM Studios)
  • “Priscilla” (A24)
  • “Sound of Freedom” (Angel Studios)

“The short list of potential Oscar favorites is filling up fast,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “And with the actor strike settled and stars now able to actively campaign for their films, these latest Thanksgiving entries will benefit not only from the freshness of their release, but also the ability of the talent to become involved in the promotion of their films as worthy and viable Oscar contenders.”

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Phoenix is no stranger to acting nominations at the big ceremony. He won best actor for his role in “Joker” during the 2020 Academy Awards and has previously been nominated for roles in Scott’s best picture winner, “Gladiator,” and later releases “Walk the Line” and “The Master.”

Scott has earned three best director nominations for “Thelma & Louise” in 1992, “Gladiator” in 2001 and “Black Hawk Down” in 2002. His 2015 film “The Martian” was nominated for best picture.

“Napoleon” could also be in contention for best production design, costume design, sound and editing.

Box office analysts are also hopeful that the film will bring out the coveted adult moviegoing audience that has been slower to return to theaters. The film generated $3 million in Tuesday evening showings and is expected to tally around $22 million for the five-day Thanksgiving frame, which runs from Wednesday through Sunday.

“Napoleon is an intriguing position with its marquee cast and director, a well-known historical figure, and a story that’s fit for the cinematic canvas,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst BoxOffice.com. “It arrives as older segments of the adult audience remain part of a challenging equation for Hollywood to solve. Some clear successes have shown that those moviegoers will prioritize theatrical viewings, but it’s more quality-and content-driven than ever before.”

Universal’s “Oppenheimer” is a prime example of a film for mature audiences, based on real events, that was able to capture audience attention. The film generated more than $300 million domestically during its run in theaters and tallied more than $950 million globally.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, the film was billed as a must-see picture on the big screen, driving moviegoers across demographics out to cinemas.

“Napoleon” likely won’t reach the lofty heights of “Oppenheimer,” but it doesn’t have to. In the last decade streamers like Netflix, Apple and Amazon Prime Video have used the prestige associated with Hollywood award nominations and critical acclaim at the box office to encourage subscriber sign-ups or sign top talent.

Industry insiders see Apple, which has long partnered with the biggest names in showbiz, using the prestige of Apple TV+ offerings to sell Apple products — not necessarily to garner hundreds of millions of subscribers.

Though streaming services generally provide limited metrics, Apple has been particularly quiet since it launched its streaming video platform in November 2019. Unlike many others in the space, the company does not disclose data about financial performance, content spending or subscriber numbers for individual shows or the service as a whole. 

“Apple’s ability to draw amazing creative talent is undisputed and given the financial resources and creative freedom that they bestow upon some of the best creatives on the planet, it should come as no surprise the company has become an awards season powerhouse in recent years,” said Dergarabedian.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed “Oppenheimer.”

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