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41.3 million watch 'Hurt Locker' clobber 'Avatar' at Oscars

This post was updated at 4:13 p.m. ET

"Avatar" was not a big winner at the Oscars -- it was a big winner for the Oscars.

Though James Cameron's box-office behemoth got clobbered by "The Hurt Locker" at the Academy Awards Sunday night, the show registered an average audience of 41.3 million viewers -- its biggest audience in five years.

This year's co-hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, may get some of the credit but, in truth, they're just the latest to discover how great it is to get to host the trophy show when a Cameron flick is in the running -- even when it gets snubbed. Don't forget, Martin also hosted the 2003 Academy Awards and that, until recently, had been the least watched Academy Awards on record with its puny crowd of just 33.04 million viewers. Martin passed on that dubious distinction to Jon Stewart in 2008 when "The Daily Show" star hosted the Oscars and it averaged 32 million viewers - a new low.

Billy Crystal's the lucky guy who hosted in 1998 -- the year Cameron's other box-office blockbuster, "Titanic" was much-nominated at the Oscars, and was named that year's best picture. More than 55 million watched that year -- Oscar's biggest audience ever.

Sunday's Cameron-featured trophy show showing can't compete with his '98 ratings performance, but it's still no slouch, giving the trophy show a major boost compared to last year when only about 36 million had tuned in.

The motion picture academy, which puts on the Oscar ceremony, will argue it boosted the ratings by increasing the number of best-picture noms from 5 to 10 this year.

That came in reaction to last years ceremony, in which box office biggie, "The Dark Knight" had not even been nominated for best picture. Industry navel gazers speculated that omission caused last year's show to attract a mere 4.3 million viewers more than that disastrous 2008 Oscar ceremony, which holds the record for Oscar's smallest audience since at least 1974 and maybe forever. (Nielsen does not have "viewer" levels for the Academy Awards going back earlier than '74). Academy voters pronounced "No Country for Old Men" that year's best film.

Boosting the best-picture noms to 10 virtually guaranteed that "Avatar" would get a best-picture nom, as would other more commercial movies like "The Blind Side," "Up," and "District 9."

Well, it worked. Even though "Avatar" -- which is now the top grossing worldwide release of all time, did not take the trophy for best picture or even best director, settling instead for best visual effects, art direction and cinematography trophies.

"The Hurt Locker" was the big story of the ceremony, which ran a little longer than three hours. The small-budget film was showered with the Oscars for best picture, best director, best original screenplay, edting and two sound awards. According to press reports, "Hurt Locker" has taken in only about $15 million at the box office -- about 2 percent of "Avatar's" haul.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  March 8, 2010; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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Lisa, is it possible for you to dial down the snark? Just a little?

It's unseemly that such a seasoned, mature woman like you writes like some teenage blogger.

Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to pick up the phone once in a while to call a source, rather than regurgitating a network press release or pulling quotes from press conferences...

You are stealing money out there in LA, babe.

Posted by: thediesel | March 8, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

This years Oscars were a disappointment. It is unbelievable that AVATAR did not win Best Picture/Director. I think the Academy has something against James, how could a movie as insignificant as The Hurt Locker beat it (I watched it before the Award Show)? I won't be seeing the Oscars anymore, I'll stick with the Golden Globes. Unless, "AVATAR 2" wins Best Picture in the future... Add "The Hurt Locker" to one of those Best Picture Oscar winner films that no one will remember.

Posted by: Adrian332 | March 8, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

How ironic! Cameron's film undoubtedly brought in the viewers but yet gets slapped in the face by pretty much the same old same old. Actually, the writing was on the wall a long time ago.

And really, having Barbra Streisand giving out the Best Director's award was a dead giveaway for that one. Let's be honest, (and I'm not begrudging her the award)it was more of an anointing of a woman director than actually rewarding her for her work. It was all so pre-planned and contrived.

Don't expect more of the same down the road as far as the ratings are concerned ten nominations or not. It turns out that the only difference between five and ten is 0. It was just pretty much the same old same old. Audiences do learn fast.

Posted by: clydesplace | March 10, 2010 4:00 AM | Report abuse

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