Who would have predicted Apple – not Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or Amazon – would become the first New Hollywood streaming company to win a Best Picture Oscar? Certainly no one who followed the humble launch of the Apple+ streaming service in 2019. But that’s exactly what happened at the 2022 Oscars when Apple TV+ won Best Picture for CODA.
This is a victory for all of New Hollywood, represented by the major streaming companies. Up until 2022, the conversation about the critical success of New Hollywood focused on Netflix. Netflix stockpiled an impressive slew of Oscar nominations year after year, and won a bunch, too.
In 2021, Netflix won seven awards, the most by any studio since Lionsgate won eight in 2017. Big years like those provided prestige to New Hollywood -- a sign that streaming services had arrived.
New Hollywood was always bigger than Netflix. For instance, Amazon Prime Video won three Oscars in 2017. Netflix, however, was the undisputed star, until Apple pulled off Best Picture, an accolade that continues to elude Netflix.
Netflix remains the leader. But Apple reminded everyone that Netflix has plenty of company in New Hollywood including, of course, Disney - the intriguing Old Hollywood company that reinvented itself as a New Hollywood Star; and Amazon - building off its retail roots to create a streaming club for Prime members with Amazon Prime Video.
And this is why Apple's victory matters: Old Hollywood really now has an industry to fear, not just Netflix. It's a wealthy and powerful industry siphoning off talent from Old Hollywood and distributing its own films on its own terms.
Slowly but surely, Apple has been making its mark on the entertainment world notably with the wildly successful Ted Lasso, which put Apple on the map as an entertainment brand. To be sure, Apple did not make CODA – Apple spent $25 million for the distribution rights for the movie. But even still, CODA goes down as a Best Picture win for Apple, and now Fortune is noting that “Apple TV+ is Hollywood’s most intriguing streaming service.” It’s also interesting to note that the commercial run of CODA peaked at about 100 theaters. As Deadline’s Dade Hayes wrote, “With about $1.2 million in box office, it is the clearest statement yet by a streaming entity about theaters being immaterial to Oscar success.”
Apple’s success happens at a time when the Oscars are in transition from the ultimate arbiter of Old Hollywood success to one of many yardsticks by which New Hollywood is critically measured.
TV ratings for the Academy Awards have declined since 2000. Although ratings for the 2022 telecast improved over the all-time low set in 2021, ratings are still far below what they once were. Meanwhile, ticket sales for motion pictures shown in theaters have been on the decline since before Covid-19.
Traditionally, the Oscars have honored movies that are produced and distributed the Old Hollywood way: in theaters. The ceremony itself is a big-tent moment designed to stop everyone in their tracks, gather around a TV screen, and pay homage to the power of Old Hollywood. But audiences and viewing habits have changed. We don’t wait around for big-tent moments. We gobble up content on demand. We don’t plan our evenings around movies scheduled by movie theaters based on their timetables.
We live in the world that New Hollywood has created for us; art and entertainment personalized to our fragmented tastes thanks to a right-brain/left-brain combination of:
We dine on a New Hollywood buffet of movies created by and for streaming platforms, and limited series such as Squid Game, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Mandalorian. And those limited series are blurring the lines between movies and TV with strong production values and sophisticated plots and character development unrestrained by the conventions of network television.
There was a time when Old Hollywood movies bestowed power and cultural importance on “real” stars. Television was considered second-tier. But arguably HBO changed all that by unleashing a remarkable run of prestigious shows such as The Sopranos, which challenged and surpassed motion pictures for artistic merit and popularity. Streaming companies learned from HBO that the small screen could generate great art and popular entertainment – quiet, thoughtful movies such as Roma and dramatic limited series such as The Queen’s Gambit. Anya Taylor-Joy’s acting in The Queen’s Gambit and Olivia Colman’s performance in The Crown were not just “good as far as TV goes” – they were as good or better than anything Old Hollywood could offer on the big screen.
And some of this streaming content isn’t even conventionally passive entertainment as witnessed by the rise of Netflix’s interactive “choose your own adventure” titles (there are 18 available as of this writing).
With Apple’s victory at the 2022 Oscars, Increasingly, New Hollywood has nothing left to prove to Old Hollywood (except to investors). How will the Oscars adapt to New Hollywood’s reign?
Note: I invest in Amazon, Apple, Disney, and Netflix.