Los Angeles Spread 10 ways, the phrase “nominated for best picture” hasn’t had much of a box office effect.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doubled the number of nominees this year in hopes of drawing more attention to more movies. But the revenue bump for this year’s crop is less than the one enjoyed by last year’s five best-picture hopefuls.
And of that $135 million, all but about $24 million went to the one film in least need of an Oscar bump: the record-smashing “Avatar.” The figures were generated between the nominations Feb. 2 and the last weekend before Sunday’s awards.
Last year’s best picture nominees pulled in $146 million over a comparable period, and most of that went to a film Oscar helped turn into a sensation: “Slumdog Millionaire.” Three of the five 2009 nominees at least doubled their take in that period, something no film in this year’s batch even came close to doing.
“The bottom line is adding five more movies didn’t necessarily add two times the gross to the crop of films,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box office president for industry tracker Hollywood.com.
One possible explanation is that a best-picture nod may be less valuable now with more films getting one, but several other factors lessened the honor’s financial impact.
The awards ceremony this year is two weeks later, March 7 vs. Feb. 22 last year, so that the show wouldn’t compete with the Olympics, and the nominations came two weeks later as well. Generally, the longer a movie is in theaters, the less it brings in each week.
Snowstorms along the East Coast also appeared to dampen enthusiasm to see Oscar-nominated films, said Bruce Goerlich, chief research officer for market researcher Rentrak Corp.
In addition, five of this year’s nominees weren’t even in theaters by the time they were nominated: front-runner “The Hurt Locker,” “A Serious Man,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Up” and “District 9.” Last year, all five best picture contenders were still in theaters when nominations were announced.
“Up” was released so long ago it has been out on DVD for 3 1/2 months. “The Hurt Locker” did return to the big screen, but only in about 100 theaters nationwide.
“It used to be for years, the (nominated) pictures would be re-released at Oscar time,” said Tom Sherak, president of the Academy. “But it’s not viable to do that any more, so most studios don’t.”
Sherak believes expanding the category to 10 has been successful because it means more people have seen the nominated films and are likely to be interested in Sunday’s broadcast.
This year’s biggest Oscar bump, percentage-wise, might go to a movie out of the best picture race: “Crazy Heart.” Prior to Jeff Bridges’ best actor Oscar nomination, the film took in just $5.5 million. It has since added about $20 million, and its theater count looks to expand again, from 1,148 to around 1,300 this weekend.
“We’re prepared to go even wider if the momentum is still there,” said Stephen Gilula, the president of Fox Searchlight, which is a niche film label owned by News Corp.