Will Oscar bounce translate to box office gold?



It’s called the Oscar bounce, but for a blockbuster movie like “Avatar” that has already seen its worldwide box office climb above $2 billion, being nominated for an Academy Award for best picture isn’t expected ignite huge new interest in the film. If it comes, it will be like icing on a cake.

But for films like “Up in the Air,” “Precious” and “An Education,” being nominated for best picture will almost surely turn to box office gold.

“‘Precious’ reminds me so much of ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ which was almost exactly a year ago at $43.8 million in box office the weekend before the nominations,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst at Hollywood.com. “‘Precious’ had $45.5 million the weekend before the nominations.” He pointed out that “Slumdog Millionaire” went on to make another $97 million for a total of $141.3 million and won the Oscar to boot.

Dergarabedian expects both Lionsgate and Sony Pictures Classics to expand their films onto more screens this week in light of their nominations. Currently, Lionsgate has “Precious” in 222 theaters after 13 weeks in release, while Sony Classics has “An Education” in 75 theaters during its 17th week in release.

One result of expanding the best picture category this year from five to 10 films is that, unlike recent years, there are fewer nominated films still in the theaters.

“The only films still in theaters are ‘Avatar,’ “Up in the Air,’ ‘The Blind Side’ and ‘An Education,'” Dergarabedian said. “‘The Hurt Locker’ is already on DVD and home video, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they now put it in a few theaters. ‘The Blind Side’ has already taken in $238 million so it doesn’t stand to get as much bounce out of the nomination as some other films. On the other hand, ‘Up in the Air’ has grossed $73.3 million, so the nomination could make that film a $100 million movie.”

Last year, every best picture nominee was still playing in theaters when the Oscars nominations were announced. “Every November or December came to be known as ‘Oscar season,’ Dergarabedian noted.

While best actor or actress nominations usually aren’t reflected in increased ticket sales, that may not be the case with Jeff Bridges, who was nominated for best actor in “Crazy Heart.” Dergarabedian said Bridges is so identified with that movie and that role that he expects the $6.7 million the film has already taken in to increase, especially should he win an Oscar.

Dergarabeidan also expects the box office popularity of films like “Avatar” and “The Blind Side” to be reflected in bigger ratings at this year’s Oscar telecast.

“Not since ‘Titanic’ has there been an Oscar telecast that has the potential for such huge ratings,” he said. He noted that the 10 best picture nominees this year have a total gross of $1.5 billion–okay, so “Avatar” skews the data–but last year, the five best picture nominees had a total gross of $353 million and that was after all the numbers were in.

Between 2004 and 2008, he added, the average gross for all the best picture nominees was $331 million.

And remember, he pointed out, not all of the best picture nominees this year are over their theatrical run.

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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