Despite the onslaught of wide-audience rom-coms and horror-thrillers over the next month, winter is prime season for Oscar contenders to make hay at the box office.
“Look at the new releases that are coming out: Few have commercial prospects and that will help the Oscar contenders' playability in the next six weeks,” says one distrib exec. “These films are filling a void in the marketplace.”
This weekend’s estimated results are proof positive: The King’s Speech and 127 Hours saw remarkable surges of 41% and 1,687% respectively. Working off Michelle Williams’ best actress nod alone, Weinstein Co.’s Blue Valentine saw a 33% spike. Already in wide release, True Grit inched up 4% while The Fighter registered a modest dip of 3%. On average since New Year’s Eve, The Social Network (8 noms) has churned out a half-million dollars each weekend from its limited play and is earning double money on DVD with a top sales chart haul of $14.1 million (as of Jan. 16).
As in years past, arthouse selections such as King’s Speech and 127 Hours are seeing the greatest gains as they cross to a mainstream audience. By Oscar night last year, Crazy Heart saw one of the biggest domestic B.O. increases, +342%, vs. Avatar’s +21% uptick.
And Oscar’s afterglow isn’t just radiating at the B.O., but at Walmart and Target where non-Oscar alley contenders are flying off shelves. For the week ending Jan. 16 per the Numbers.com, Inception (eight noms) has sold 4 million DVDs or $67 million. In its 11th week of release, Toy Story 3 (five noms) has grossed $170.8 million on DVD while animated rival How to Train Your Dragon (four noms) has collected $108 million through 14 weeks. Since hitting stores on Oct. 26, Winter's Bone, with four Oscar noms, has earned $2.1 million. The Kids Are All Right has yet to register on the charts.
Here’s a look at the theatrical B.O. bumps that this year’s contenders can expect to achieve when awards are handed out on February 27:
The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co.)
No. of noms: 12
Current B.O. and theater count: $72.2 million, 2,557 theaters.
Estimated bump by Oscar night: +40%-plus
Prognosis: Word-of-mouth is enormous for this film as it continues to steamroll The Social Network as the Oscar frontrunner with both PGA and DGA wins. Among Weinstein Bros.’ British imports at nomination time, Speech has bagged more pounds at the B.O. than such actor-friendly entries as The Queen, The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love. One business practice for the Weinsteins, harking back to their Miramax days, has been maintaining the widest play point for their contenders between noms and Oscar night. A similar plan is in store for King's Speech as it will continue to increase its theater count well beyond this weekend’s 2,557 venues. Harvey says he’ll produce a PG-13 cut of the film in order to reach a more family-friendly audience, but that won’t impact the King’s coffers until it collects its Oscar ducats. A reformed TV campaign focusing on the two protag’s relationship in the film is paying off with a 41% spike in weekend grosses as of Sunday. Even with an R-rated cut, a $100-million domestic haul for King’s Speech by Oscar night is a feasible royal conquest.
True Grit (Paramount)
No of noms: 10
Current B.O. and theater count:: $148.4 million, 3,120 theaters
Estimated bump by Oscar night: +8-24%
Prognosis: It continues to play wide, however, the question is, can True Grit unseat 1990 Best Picture winner Dances With Wolves ($184.2 million) to become the highest-grossing western at the domestic B.O.? It’s already No. 2. Maybe. At bare minimum True Grit will continue to play wide into Oscar night finaling around the $160-million range.
The Fighter (Paramount)
No of noms: 7
Current B.O. and theater count:: $78.4 million, 1,914 theaters
Estimated bump by Oscar night: +8-28%
Prognosis: Paramount recently dropped 361 theaters. However, audiences love this film, giving it a 90% Flixster rating. The Fighter hasn’t yet reached Rocky's $100-million-plus ring prize, particularly with the one-two punch star power of Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. Who knew True Grit would out-gallop The Fighter? Oscar steam could catapult The Fighter past the century mark, but its final cume looks to be around $85 million.
Current B.O. and theater count:: $13.4 million, 916 theaters
No of noms: 6
Estimated bump by Oscar night:+34-49%
Prognosis: Oscar noms should persuade reluctant moviegoers to check out this tough survival story; Fox Searchlight has pushed as cleverly as they could to get past considerable resistance to sitting through this movie, no matter how lauded. On the low end, its domestic gross should match its $18-million budget. Fox Searchlight’s expansion to 916 theaters this weekend was well-timed to 127 Hours' nods for Best Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Original Score. The film delivered its best weekend ever-- $2 million-- since opening November 5. The attention surrounding James Franco’s double-duty as both Oscar host and actor nominee isn’t a sharp stick in the eye either...er, arm.
Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)
No of noms: 5
Current B.O. and theater count:: $90.7 million, 2,315 theaters
Estimated bump by Oscar night:+10-20%
Prognosis: One thing about this ballerina, she’s no Wrestler ($26.2 million), another Searchlight Oscar thesp heavyweight. Like Slumdog Millionaire, Oscar noms will propel Black Swan past $100 million. That’s a record for Searchlight as their previous thesp-lauded nominees grossed far less, i.e. Crazy Heart ($39.5 million) and The Last King of Scotland ($17.6 million). But Black Swan broke out of the arthouse a few weeks ago. The Darren Aronofsky flm won over females, but its cool psycho-suspense also appealed to men. During its play in recent frames, Black Swan’s demo has moved from the under 25 crowd to the 25-34 set.