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Six Reasons Why Six Oscar Nominees Delivered Highest Awards Season Grosses in Recent History

Thompson on Hollywood By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 24, 2013 at 6:15AM

Six of the nine Oscar Best Picture nominees have already passed the $100 million mark, the highest level since the number was increased from five in 2009. These are the biggest numbers, even with ticket price adjustments, in recent box-office history. A number of factors contributed to the result-- the quality of the films, with studio-financed budgets requiring films with wide audience appeal, apart from any Oscar bonus--but the most significant was the calendar.
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'Les Miserables'
'Les Miserables'
4. Less competition from other films

Though the two biggest releases late in the year -- "Breaking Dawn 2" and "Skyfall" -- were not among the Best Picture nominees, many of the nominees were among the top films out for the holiday season. With many moviegoers packing in more movies at holiday time than usual, the contenders were among the must-see films and with fewer choices than usual among other fare enhanced the Oscar films' take of the box office.

5. Longer period between nominations and the awards

With the earlier nomination announcement date, this year had an extra week of play, which will likely by itself add another $15-20 million to the grosses for the top nominees.

6. Concentration of acting nominees among Best Picture contenders

14 of the 20 acting nominees, including all the likely winners, come from films that were also up for Best Picture, and all are in first-run release. Last year, most winners and top contenders (including Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Christopher Plummer) were either in films not nominated for Best Picture or had already come out on DVD. For moviegoers wanting to catch up with the those expected to win, this year those films are all in Best Picture nominees that are still in theaters.

So how good a year has it been for the individual films?

Overall, excellent. For the Best Picture nominees, all should (esecially those with even stronger overseas totals) make a profit, sometimes major, for their distributors. Their inclusion in the field also enhances their down-the-road revenues in DVD, cable and other venues.

All of the nominees though, except for two, were guaranteed profit even had they not been nominated. Only the two late wide releases -- "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Silver Linings Playbook" -- took in their needed theatrical revenues after the nominations. But the former, with a marketing campaign emphasizing its military themes, likely would have done close to as well had it been released at another time of the year (and possibly not had as much controversy, which was likely tied into its Oscar chances which elevated its visibility as well as threat to other nominees). "Silver Linings," had it gone wider initially, would almost certainly have grossed a bit less. But since all the extended weeks cost Weinstein much more in regular advertising than a normal more expedited release would have, and with exhibitors, if following the normal pattern, paying less in film rental for later weeks of their engagements in (when the grosses were as good or better than in earlier weeks), the value of their successful release plan has been more aimed at winning awards than maximizing short-term profits.

"Lincoln" was the big story among the nominees in terms of total gross, but also in anticipation that its much-larger than expected take was supposed to be its ace in the hole for winning. If as now expected it doesn't, it won't reach $200 million, but it already has done nearly as much as it would with the win.

The two lagging films in grosses -- "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Amour" -- both are hits on the much-lower scale of specialized film. "Beasts" played off well over the summer with modest advertising investment from Fox Searchlight and no wide release, and clearly has reaped much bigger DVD sales and will have a higher cable value than its initial gross would normally suggest. "Amour," even without any wins other than Foreign Language Film, should reach at least the level of last year's winner "The Separation" ($7 million), and a possible Best Actress triumph would push it considerably higher. At its cost of acquisition and again lower marketing cost (although it has had a not insubstantial awards campaign) it should be at least a modest profit maker.

Among the acting nominees not up for Best Picture, Lionsgate's "The Impossible" has been the big gainer, grossing just under $18 million so far, three quarters since Naomi Watts was nominated for Best Actress. The big loser, alas, is "The Master." After its huge platform opening, Weinstein quickly rushed it into an 864 theater break last September, grossing only $16 million. They promised it would have a much wider release after the nominations. Despite getting three acting nods (but not the hoped for Best Picture), it added only $300,000 more before it comes out on DVD next week.

The chart below lists, for both 2012 and 2011, the films nominated for Best Picture and then those nominated for acting only. The grosses are in millions, and totals do not include those after the awards. For 2012, they include grosses through Feb. 18, 2013. For 2011, they include through the Thursday before the awards.

oscar chart 2012 wide

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Awards, Awards, Oscars


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