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Studios looking to cash in on Oscar nominations

February 2, 2010 |  4:40 pm

Education After amassing more than $2 billion in global ticket sales, “Avatar” seems like the last film that would get a financial boost from today’s Oscar nominations. But Academy Award recognition can bring surprising benefits to even the least needy candidates.

Though director James Cameron’s 3-D blockbuster has been atop the box office charts for seven weeks, much of the business has come from repeat customers. However, there is still a potentially untapped audience.

“There are plenty of people around the world who are not frequent moviegoers and may be motivated by the nominations,” said Tom Rothman, chairman of the film’s distributor, 20th Century Fox. With nine nominations, he added, “We expect it to be a meaningful help to the box office.”

Every studio with a best picture nominee made plans today to benefit from Oscar attention, be it by drawing new audiences to existing theaters, expanding into new theaters or bringing attention to DVDs.
  • "Avatar": It has already racked up more than $2 billion in worldwide grosses. Fox is hoping the movie's nine nominations will help it reach more infrequent moviegoers, about 12% of the U.S. population who typically go out to the cinema once a year.
  • "The Blind Side": Currently playing nationwide, it has grossed $237 million domestically. However, nominations for best picture and actress Sandra Bullock could provide a major boost as the film rolls out internationally in the next few months. "These nominations will certainly help the film overseas," said Sue Kroll, president of marketing for “Blind Side” distributor Warner Bros. "They will be included in all the advertising across all media."
  • "District 9": Sony Pictures' sci-fi action picture is out of theaters after grossing more than $200 million worldwide but could see an increase in its already strong DVD sales. Vice Chairman Jeff Blake said Sony plans to highlight the film's nominations in a big DVD marketing push.
  • "An Education": Sony Pictures Classics will expand the British drama, which has collected $8.8 million so far in the U.S. and Canada, from 75 theaters to 760 this Friday.
  • "The Hurt Locker": The movie was released on DVD last month. However, Summit is aiming to grow the movie from the 28 theaters it is still playing in to about 100 to boost the modest $12.7 million it has generated.
  • "Inglourious Basterds": The Weinstein Co. Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein said he hopes Oscar attention can generate an additional 1 million DVD unit sales on top of the 3 million it has so far. In addition, director Quentin Tarantino's revisionist World War II drama may get a small re-release in theaters.
  • "Precious": It has grossed $44.5 million so far, primarily from African American moviegoers. Lionsgate will triple its theater count to more than 650 and may draw a more diverse audience thanks to its six nominations.
  • "A Serious Man": The movie recently finished its theatrical run with $9.2 million. Will be released on DVD next Tuesday.
  • "Up": It was released on DVD in December after grossing more than $700 million worldwide. Disney may re-release the animated comedy in its El Capitan Theater in Hollywood to take advantage of the best picture nomination.
  • "Up in the Air": The movie is playing in 1,500 theaters. The studio will not add more theaters but will give the movie another marketing push, says Paramount Pictures Vice Chairman Rob Moore. "These accolades can help give the movie another pop at the box office." The picture has grossed $73.5 million domestically. 

CrazyHeartOther films with multiple acting nominations are expanding this week as well. Fox Searchlight's country music drama "Crazy Heart," which received three nominations, including best actor for Jeff Bridges, will go from 239 theaters to more than 800 on Friday. Sony Pictures Classics will expand "The Last Station," for which Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer received acting nominations, to about 50 theaters this week, up from nine.

Studio executives with nominated films will be tallying movie ticket and DVD sales in the coming weeks, but at the same time they have their eye on taking home the big prize. 

"While helping box office is certainly important, even more so is that the best picture Oscar tells generations to come that the winning film has enduring significance,” Fox’s Rothman said.

-- Claudia Eller and Ben Fritz

Top photo: Emma Thompson, Ellie Kendrick, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes and Carey Mulligan in "An Education." Credit: Kerry Brown / Sony Pictures Classics.

Bottom photo: Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart." Credit: Lorey Sebastian / Fox Searchlight.
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