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‘Babylon’ Goes Wide: This Is What a Smart Oscar Play Looks Like

When Paramount announced an initial platform release for "Babylon," it followed the standard play. In 2022, going wide is a smart risk.

Brad Pitt plays Jack Conrad in Babylon from Paramount Pictures.

“Babylon”

Paramount Pictures

The last 24 hours saw an extraordinary game of awards movies playing musical chairs. Sony’s “A Man Called Otto” with Tom Hanks exchanged its Christmas wide release plan for a limited one — a dupe of the plan initially embraced by Damian Chazelle’s “Babylon” (Paramount), which was originally intended as a Christmas Day platform release with expansion January 13. Now this starry epic about scandalous old Hollywood is now going wide in over 3,000 theaters starting December 23.

The wide release is not a standard pattern for awards titles, but a lot has changed since the last conventional awards year of 2019. Even the Oscar strategy isn’t immune to the changes in the exhibition landscape.

Previously, a platform release for “Babylon” would have opened on multiple screens at the Arclight Hollywood and The Landmark. Those two Los Angeles theaters had a unique potential to generate massive grosses, giving films an immediate boost.

Other theaters have stepped in to fill the void, led by AMC’s outlets at The Grove and Century City, but over Christmas week they will be otherwise engaged with “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney), not to mention “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” strong holdovers, and other limited titles. The same capacities aren’t there. Similarly in Manhattan, the likely theaters of Lincoln Square and Union Square have less potential to make a big splash.

That said, even with “Avatar” in its second week there is now a wide swath of screen space available across the country. There’s only two other wide releases opening during the holiday, with Sony’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and Universal’s, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” That creates a strong argument for a wide-release, adult-targeted film for the two-week period that draws more older viewers than any other time of the year.

“Little Women”

There are a few precedents for the “Babylon” strategy. The most recent was “Little Women;” others include “Les Miserables” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

As for the last time a major studio film platformed at Christmas, went wide in January, and won Best Picture — that was “A Beautiful Mind,” 21 years ago. Three years ago, “1917” seemed close to a slam dunk with its platform/wide/lots of Oscar nominations, but those best-laid plans were upset by “Parasite.”

The wisdom of the “Babylon” plan will be revealed as the awards race proceeds, but this is a year when a change in strategy looks like a thoughtful risk. The fact that it’s Paramount making the call — which has a stellar 2022 track record for distribution finesse with “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Smile,” only adds to the credibility.

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