Meryl Streep and the Oscar – By the Numbers

Meryl Streep wins Best Actress at 84th Academy Awards

The Iron Lady loves her Golden Man (Source: Reuters / Mike Blake)

[how do I love thee?]
Okay, time to fess up.

How many of you saw The Iron Lady?  You know, the movie where Meryl Streep plays Margaret Thatcher.  The part that just earned her an Oscar. (Meryl, not Margaret.)

Before you answer, let’s do some math:

At the time of the Oscar broadcast, The Iron Lady made $25.7M domestically.  Average ticket prices for films are presently just under $8.  (This seems a bit low to me because I wish I could find a theater that showed screenings at that price!  But let’s go with the assumption that numbers don’t lie – especially since I’m about to make an argument based on numbers.)

If you divide the average ticket price into the total sales made, you find that… um… carry the 1… hmm… 3.2 million people paid to see The Iron Lady.  This isn’t a movie aimed at teenage boys, so we don’t need to worry about any additional viewers from illegal streaming.  But, just to be generous, let’s also assume that everyone in the Motion Picture Academy – all 6000 of them – also saw the film because they get free movie screeners from the studios.  That’s a grand total of…  3.2 million people who saw Meryl Streep’s performance in The Iron Lady.  And that number is an upper limit estimate because I doubt many who saw the film in a theater only paid $8 for their ticket.

3.2 million people.  Let’s put that number into perspective.  This week 3.5 million people were watching a repeat of an animated series based on the film, Napoleon Dynamite – at the same time that the Oscars were being broadcast.  Last week, the television show, Pan Am, had 3.8 million people watching its finale – and it was a show cancelled because of low viewership. And these numbers are only the “prime demographic” of viewers ages 18-49; we haven’t restricted the demographics that saw The Iron Lady.

If The Iron Lady were a television show, it would have been canceled from lack of audience.

That The Iron Lady didn’t generate much of an audience isn’t surprising.  After all, neither critics nor audiences were impressed with the movie.  Rotten Tomatoes meters as of the Oscar broadcast gave it a 53% on the critics’ meter and a 55% on the audience meter.  These are not good numbers.  That kind of word-of-mouth producers can do without.

So what’s the point of all this higher mathematics?

Last night, both my Facebook and Twitter feeds lit up like proverbial pinball machines (remember those?) on the news Streep won the Oscar for Best Actress.  Today at work everyone is talking about how exciting it is that she won.  And many people are claiming she “deserved” this win.  Now, if I were a member of the Meryl Streep fan club (I’m not – I’m a fan but I have my limits), I might understand all of this.  I’d be surrounded by all things Meryl, after all.  But I’m just an average guy.  So the conclusion is inescapable: Most of the people so excited over Meryl Streep’s winning the Oscar last night didn’t see the performance for which she won.

This is a pretty odd phenomenon when you think about it.

People:  if you really support an artist, go and support their work!  Or as another artist once said:

The only reward one should offer an artist is to buy his work.
~ Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Note:  the Oscars didn’t exist in Renoir’s time.  But the same idea applies.

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