Upstart Neon wins top Oscars prize, Netflix falls short again

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Three-year-old independent film distributor Neon upstaged the traditional Hollywood studios and streaming giant Netflix Inc on Sunday to grab the coveted best picture Oscar for South Korean have-and-have-nots tale “Parasite.”

The movie topped World War One drama “1917” from Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures, gangster epic “The Irishman” from Netflix, and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” from Sony Corp among others at the televised Academy Awards.

Netflix, which had led all distributors going into the ceremony with 24 nominations, missed out on best picture for a second time. Its drama “Roma” was a leading contender last year. This year’s “The Irishman,” featuring an A-list team including director Martin Scorsese and star Robert De Niro, ended the night without any Oscar trophies.

Overall, Netflix scored two golden statuettes. Laura Dern won best supporting actress for divorce drama “Marriage Story” while “American Factory” was named best documentary feature.

But it was Neon, founded in 2017 to produce and distribute independent films, that secured top bragging rights. The company’s previous releases included “Vox Lux” and “I, Tonya,” which won Allison Janney a supporting actress Oscar in 2019.

This year, Neon helped turn “Parasite” into a phenomenon in the United States and Canada, a rarity for a film with English subtitles. The movie tells the story of a poor family in Seoul that schemes its way into working in a wealthy household.

As of Sunday, “Parasite” had collected $35.5 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canadian market, part of its $165.4 million global haul.

Korean company CJ Entertainment released the film in South Korea. Shares in South Korea’s Barunson Entertainment & Arts Corp, the producer of “Parasite,” soared as much as 27% after the Oscars.

In total, “Parasite” won four awards, including best director and best international feature film.

The Oscars recognition should immediately boost interest in “Parasite,” which is playing in 1,000 theaters and is also available on DVD and streaming, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. Comcast owns the home distributing rights in the United States.

“Any self-respecting film buff will be making immediate plans to hit the multiplex this week,” Dergarabedian said. Many fans also will purchase the film “to watch it over and over again to unravel its many mysteries,” he added.

Among other studios, Sony Corp landed four Oscars including best supporting actor for Brad Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Walt Disney Co collected the best animated feature accolade for “Toy Story 4” and three other trophies.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Hayoung Choi in Seoul; Editing by Sandra Maler)