The “Harry Potter” movies have grossed $7.7 billion at the global box office, sold more than 165 million DVDs and have won zero Academy Awards.
Despite being one of the most successful and arguably most influential film series of all time, the first seven “Potter” movies garnered a total of just nine Oscar nominations — all in the craft and technical categories of art direction, cinematography, costumes, music and visual effects.
This year, “Potter” studio Warner Bros. has bigger aspirations. With July’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" earning the franchise’s best reviews and voters cognizant that it’s their last chance to honor a fan favorite, the studio has launched its biggest Oscar campaign ever for the boy wizard. In addition to trade advertisements, Warner produced the season’s first glossy booklet for award voters and even placed several “for your consideration” billboards around Los Angeles.
Warner Bros. film group President Jeff Robinov and worldwide marketing President Sue Kroll spoke to the Envelope about why they think Oscar voters are finally ready to embrace their inner Muggle.
Winning an Oscar isn’t going to sell another ticket or DVD for Harry Potter. So why are you putting so much into this campaign?
JR: The films have been of a really high standard, and a lot of the academy attention has been on the technical side, which overlooks their quality. We believe if you look at what [director] David [Yates] has done with this last film, if you look at the critical reception and pure execution, and if you look at the scale and depth and entertainment value, it’s worthy of academy recognition. It feels to me like if you look at what has been released this year, “Harry Potter” is deserving of consideration as one of the best films and directorial efforts.
Are you really campaigning for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" or did you save your big academy push for this year in hopes of rewarding the series as a whole?
SK: The strategy is not to reward the history of the franchise but to recognize this very singular achievement on behalf of David Yates and all the people in the movie. We didn’t decide to do it until after the film was released.
It got a 97% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an A+ CinemaScore from moviegoers. We devised this campaign very much on the basis of this specific film because we think it is worthy.
What are the challenges in getting voters to agree with you? Obviously this isn’t like selling “The Artist” or “Moneyball.”
SK: It’s true that traditionally big commercial success doesn’t go hand in hand with Oscar material. But we have been here with “Avatar” and “Inception.” I think the challenge is overcoming the bias some people have in how they view these kinds of films.
That’s why we started campaigning early for the movie. We have to remind people of the artistic experience of this film and how well it was received. Once the critics’ lists start coming out, we’ll also be doing screenings and sending out DVDs.
You have a large ensemble cast. How does that influence your campaign for actors?
SK: It’s very tough with an ensemble like this, but there are a few performances people are talking about. Daniel [Radcliffe], of course, and Ralph Fiennes. Also Alan Rickman. His performance was so well received. You’ll see us campaigning broadly with the cast, but I think certain performances will emerge more so than others.
Do you feel like you understand how the best picture nomination process will work this year and how it affects your chances?
JR: It’s always a surprise from my point of view which films the academy chooses to recognize. Some are shoo-ins, I suppose, but there are a fair amount of surprises every year, and this year that will probably be more true than ever since we don’t even know how many nominees there will be.
And while you’re making this big push for “Harry Potter,” you have several other films you hope the academy will pay attention to as well, right?
SK: Yes, we’re pushing “Contagion” for screenplay, Leo [DiCaprio] in “J. Edgar” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” though it’s early on that one.
JR: And, of course, “Harold & Kumar.”
SK: If there were 10 best picture nominees this year, I think that would be a shoo-in.