Why can’t you stream most Oscar-nominated movies?

(or… “How would I know how many billboards are outside Ebbing, Missouri?”)

With the Oscars coming tomorrow, I’ve kicked Buckler out of his comfy chair and taken over Streaming Saturday. He may come back with an article of his own, we’ll see.

I’ve been hate-watching the Oscars for about 25 years and I’ve seen way too many films win that have practically no mainstream appeal. Now, I don’t think a movie needs to be appealing to everyone in order to win, but it does seem like many of the films that win are appealing to a very small group of people exclusively: Oscar voters. An Oscar-winning film has about a 50/50 chance of being forgotten within a few years by the general populace, and if you don’t believe me, scroll through Wikipedia’s list of Best Picture Winners and tell me how many you actually remember and how many you promised to watch and never did.

The Oscars have had a “relatability problem” for some time now and while that’s probably ok, one way that they could make it easier for people to get excited would be to actually make the films available. Many people don’t live where these movies are screened, but this is 2018— that shouldn’t stop us. Unfortunately most Oscar-nominated films aren’t available for streaming or even rental before the awards come out. There are a few reasons for this, but the big one is…


Here’s the sad fact: many Oscar-nominated films don’t make money. They are not designed to, actually. They’re designed to be intellectual, or thoughtful, or meaningful. They’re not designed to be global sensations or popcorn-fests, which are the sort of films that actually make money. That doesn’t mean they’re better or worse, just different. Last year I enjoyed Wonder Woman (up until the last 15 minutes anyway) which made a ton of money. I also enjoyed Fate of the Furious which had very little to redeem it other than beautifully orchestrated car chases. On the other hand I also enjoyed The Big Sick which was not a real moneymaker. The amount of money a movie makes won’t guarantee I like it and won’t guarantee whether I think it’s a good film. But, it does guarantee where it gets put in the calendar.

You know when the big moneymaking films are going to come out: Summer, around holidays, that sort of thing. When a film is “Oscar-worthy,” meaning it probably won’t sell a lot of tickets, it’s shoved around until the fall, when (conventional wisdom says) that people are too busy harvesting crops to see movies.

Unfortunately this means that you usually can’t stream these films in time for the Oscars in February. We’re still at a point where most films hit the free streaming level about 6-9 months after they come out, and aren’t even available for rental for 3 months after they come out. So, even if you care how many billboards are outside Ebbing, Missouri, you probably can’t find out until after the film has won or lost.

If you have some time today, check out CNN’s list of movies that you actually can stream or rent today.  I promise, there are so few that you can actually see, you’ll be able to get through them before the show starts tomorrow night.

The truth is that Oscar voters…

…just don’t care if you see their films. In fact since a film will make more money if it actually wins, it makes economic sense to hold them back until after the show so demand gets built up. These otherwise invisible little films get a lot of “good PR” from an Oscar win and this translates to higher rental revenue or a better streaming deal. So don’t look to see this change anytime soon.

If you think this is all highly unfair…

…there are other awards shows that are much more focused on people’s actual opinions, instead of a very insular group of industry people. But really, you know that you’re watching not to see who wins or loses but to see the drama. Last year’s show with its surprise twist was probably the most entertaining in years, and I bet ratings will be higher this year because people are hoping for another big slipup.

And just because you read down this far…

I am going to try to give you my list of who I think will win. I wish I could say that I liked enough of these films or performances to recommend them, but I didn’t (and I’ve seen most of these films actually.)

Best Picture: I seriously don’t care.

Lead Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, he’s a national treasure.

Lead Actress: Meryl Streep, of course.

Supporting Actor: Uh….. no one.

Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, she’s awesome and tall.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, for a really weird reason.

Animated Feature: Please, take this category away.

Adapted Screenplay: I just, can’t.

Original Screenplay: “The Big Sick.”

Cinematography: “Blade Runner: 2049” (surprised?)

I could go on to the other categories but I really don’t have a real opinion on most of them.

Now it’s up to you…

Go ahead and tell me I’m wrong if you can. And tell me, if you can, why I should care about those fricken’ billboards.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.