Los Angeles Better hurry. There are just 30 movie-going days left till the Academy Awards.
Studios behind the five best-picture Oscar nominees announced Tuesday are rushing their films out to more theaters this weekend, counting on the awards attention to pad the box-office haul on some of the movies by tens of millions of dollars.
Four of the top nominees are going into their widest release yet: The Howard Hughes epic "The Aviator" (2,500 theaters), the boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby" (2,010), the buddy comedy "Sideways" (1,694) and the J.M. Barrie tale "Finding Neverland" (1,250).
The fifth nominee, the Ray Charles portrait "Ray," comes out on home video Tuesday but still is expanding to 503 theaters, up from 293 the previous weekend, to capitalize on the Oscar interest.
"Attendance at movies nominated for best picture always goes up the day after or even on the same day the Oscar nominations are announced," said Mike Rudnitsky, head of distribution for Miramax, which released "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland."
Oscar honors for "Ray" are "going to make it a must-see, because a lot of people didn't get the chance to see it when it first opened," said Jamie Foxx, the front-runner to win the best-actor prize for the title role as singer Charles.
Realizing they had potential Oscar gold on their hands, distributors tailored their release patterns to awards season, knowing film fans would want to catch key nominees before the Feb. 27 ceremony.
Universal Pictures counts on "Ray" to add a bit to its $73 million domestic haul and debut strongly on video because of the Oscars.
Miramax hopes theatrical grosses for Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Aviator," now at $60 million, will climb toward $90 million and perhaps beyond if it makes good on its front-runner status and wins best picture.
Fox Searchlight figures "Sideways" could vault from its current $34 million in revenues to $60 million or more. The quirky comic romance was a darling of critics but lacked the sort of action and big-name stars that normally spell box-office success.
"We always knew we had a film that was not a film you could advertise your way to popularity," said Steve Gilula, Fox Searchlight's head of distribution. "With the Oscars, our little movie now is becoming a much bigger movie."
"Finding Neverland," starring Johnny Depp, has taken in about $33 million and stands to reach the $45 million to $50 million range on its Oscar strength, Rudnitsky said.