In theory, ten best picture Oscar nominations should have spurred business.
Unfortunately, similar to previous summer films that won best picture (Gladiator and Crash), The Hurt Locker ($14.7 million domestic B.O.) won’t benefit from the Oscar halo effect at the box office. Rather it will see a surge in its DVD/download sales which currently stand at 710,000 units sold.
Last year between noms and Oscar night (what distribs call Oscar alley), the five best picture nominees reaped a 95% jump in their domestic totals. Over the same frame this year, the six best picture nominees that were still in release jumped their totals by 16%; with the remaining four having finished their theatrical runs at the onset of Oscar alley.
However, this doesn't mean that Oscar doesn’t impact a contender’s box office anymore. Nor that the Academy’s grand design of ten best picture noms failed as a business model. The opportunity is there and the calendar elements (i.e. Golden Globes, Oscar noms) are in place for a contender to boom its biz during award season.
It simply boils down to timing.
Does a distributor look to gain more from DVD sales or a theatrical release at the time of noms? Should a film wish for a boost at the B.O., its best bet is to bow late in the season, ideally post-November.
And the films which need, and often do reap the spoils of Oscar’s silver lining are niche titles. Blockbuster titles don’t live and die by their noms: both Avatar (current domestic B.O. $720.2 million) and The Blind Side ($250.5 million) were champs at the time of announcements. And Inglourious Basterds ended its domestic run on Dec. 17, prior to its eight noms.
Whether an award contender can survive at all at the multiplex remains a tricky balance between box office and critical reaction. If the critics aren’t on board with the film, as was the case with Nine, ($19.4 million) then the film is bound to whither. However, if the critics back the film and it doesn’t have any legs out of the gate, i.e. Invictus ($37.2 million), that’s not good either. [Ed's note: Warners was disappointed that the film failed to lure African-American audiences.]
A classic Oscar halo example is Slumdog Millionaire, a British production that without Oscars might have been relegated to arthouses. Slumdog saw a 100% -plus jump after its nominations, and another 44% jump in its total after its best picture win finaling a grand domestic total of $141.3 million. Part of Slumdog’s success stems from its early November release during award season.
Out of this year’s crop of best picture contenders, Sony Classics’ An Education adheres to the old school platform model, sidestepping a DVD release during Oscar alley in favor of a peak theatrical run post noms of 761 venues. The result: a 38% gain in its domestic B.O. since being nominated.
Paramount employed a different practice with Up in the Air, keeping its theatrical business alive during the Oscar run and foregoing a DVD date until immediately after the ceremony (title hits stores on Tuesday). While Air saw a 13% gain in its B.O. during Oscar alley, the film collected close to 88% of its total B.O. prior to being nominated; its theater count hit a high the weekend prior to the Martin Luther King Day frame with 2,218 and slowly decreasing thereafter.
While Summit Entertainment made an effort to re-release Hurt Locker in theaters after its noms, grabbing a 17% gain in its total B.O., the question raised is whether the film’s returns would have been bigger if released later in the year. Probably not. The Hurt Locker fit like a peg in a round hole in the summer schedule, facing little competition from indie titles, as well as serving the marketplace’s appetite for a smart nail-biting actioner in a season full of franchises. The timing was perfect to generate pre-Oscar buzz on an Iraq war film.
Had Hurt Locker rolled out extensively in the fall-winter season, it would have faced stiffer competition from the other indies, potentially getting lost in the mix.
Out of all the Oscar nominated titles, Fox Searchlight’s Crazy Heart demonstrated perfect timing for a film looking to cash in on its award recognition. The studio classic label bowed the film in late December and as momentum built around Jeff Bridges, Searchlight gradually platformed the release to its widest point on Oscarcast weekend of 1,274. The result: a more than threefold gain. The distrib is vying to up that count higher this weekend based on Bridges’ win.
The Last Station (Sony Classics), B.O. at noms (weekend ending Jan. 31): $0.3 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $4.6 million. Gain: +1,433%
Crazy Heart (Fox Searchlight), B.O. at noms: $6.7 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $29.6 million. Gain: +342%
A Single Man (Weinstein Co.), B.O. at noms: $5.3 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $8.6 million. Gain: +62%
An Education (Sony Classics), B.O. at noms: $8.8 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $12.1 million. Gain: +38%
The Messenger (Oscilloscope), B.O. at noms: $0.77 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $1 million. Gain: +30%
Avatar (Fox), B.O. at noms: $595.8 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $720.2 million. Gain: +21%
The Hurt Locker (Summit), B.O. at noms: $12.6 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $14.7 million. Gain: +17%
The Lovely Bones (Paramount), B.O. at noms: $38 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $43.8 million. Gain: +15%
Up in the Air (Paramount), B.O. at noms: $73.3 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $83 million. Gain from noms: +13%
The Blind Side (Warner Bros.), B.O. at noms: $237.9 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $250.5 million. Gain from noms: +5%
Precious (Lionsgate), B.O. at noms: $45.4 million. Estimated B.O. on Oscar night: $47.4 million. Gain from noms: +4%