The Academy Award is Hollywood's supreme prize. For the winners, it can mean better tables at restaurants, bragging rights, a bump up the power rankings, and a spike in one's asking price. But what is an Oscar worth where it really counts: the bottom line? Do the nominated and winning films benefit at the box office from their newfound Oscar status?
It depends on several factors. In film distribution, as in comedy, timing is everything. "It depends on where a film is in its trajectory," Paul Dergarabedian, President of Box office Division for Hollywood.com, told Millionairecorner.com. "(Best Picture winner) 'The King's Speech' is a perfect example. It opened Nov. 26 in just four theatres. It was released slowly and had an opportunity to build word of mouth. By the time the nominations were announced in January, it was primed and ready to get a boost."
And what a boost. Prior to the nominations, it had earned domestically nearly $58 million at the box office. Through Feb. 27, it earned $114.5 million, a jump of over $56.5 million. The R-rated movie is poised to reach an even wider audience. A PG-13 version, with some of the profanity edited out, is being released to theatres.
"The Black Swan" had a similar release pattern. It opened a week later than "The King's Speech" and initially played in just 18 theatres. Prior to the nominations, it had earned $83.7 million. Since then, it earned nearly $103.6 million, an increase of $19.8 million."
"Toy Story 3," 2010's biggest box office hit, and "Inception," a more than $292 million blockbuster, on the other hand, received no Oscar bump from their multiple Oscar nominations. They were released earlier in the year and were on home video by the time Oscar nominations were announced.
"To me," Dergarabedian said, "the Oscar bump has more to do with the nomination, because it’s like having a potential winning lottery ticket. (The film) rides that wave of (audience) goodwill and interest."
Brandon Gray, founder of Box Office Mojo website, agrees. "There’s more hay to be made out of the build-up to the Oscars than after the awards are handed out," he said. "It’s the movies’ fleeting chance to cash in."
According to industry research firm IBISWorld, the average nominated movie in 2010 (excluding Inception, The Kids Are All Right and Toy Story 3, including The King’s Speech) earned 74.6% of its expected total box office revenue pre-nomination. During the time between nominations and awards nominated, movies were expected to bring in another 18.7% of their box office total and will earn the remaining 6.7% post-awards.
In some cases, though, no amount of Oscar nominations, film festival prizes or critics association honors can compel people to see a film about which they are squeamish. "127 Hours," the true story about a hiker who must amputate his own arm after it becomes trapped under a giant boulder may have been a triumph for Best Actor nominee James Franco, but people were "scared away" by the film's agonizingly grisly scene," Dergarabedian believes. It has only made an additional $6.6 million at the box office since its nominations were announced, bringing its total box office to nearly $18 million, the second lowest domestic box office total of the Best Picture nominees (the indie "Winter's Bone" earned just $6.7 million.
But then again, as Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman famously once said, in Hollywood, "nobody knows anything." That Oscar season boost could just be due to strong word of mouth. "There are people who couldn't care less about the nominations," Dergarabedian laughed. They just heard from a friend they had to see the movie."