After all the money the studios and independent distributors poured into campaigning, what was actually winning an Oscar really worth? If you go by pure box office results in the heat of the publicity and mass audience viewership of the Academy Awards, then probably not as much bang for their buck as they would like.
For some films that managed a major win — like The Help (for supporting actress Octavia Spencer), Beginnners (for supporting actor Christopher Plummer), or Midnight In Paris (for Woody Allen’s Original Screenplay) — there may be added incentive to pick up the DVD, but no other residual value. In TV ads I saw for last week’s home video release of nominations leader Hugo, there was no mention of its impressive haul of five Academy Awards (in technical categories), but I am sure they will probably put a sticker on the box. Still, the expensive Martin Scorsese film, which had earned $55 million up to the week before its 11 nominations, added only another $14 million by the time the Oscars rolled around a month later — despite a big campaign spend on TV and print by Paramount. Internationally, Oscar wins can be a very big thing. Sony Pictures Classics’ Best Foreign Language Film winner, Iran’s A Separation, stands to gain from its exposure in the Academy race this season. With nearly $1 million added over the weekend (on more than 200 screens) and a $3.4 million domestic take to date, it will be a sizable art house hit far eclipsing SPC’s disappointing 2010 Foreign Film winner from Denmark, In A Better World, which only rode its Oscar victory to a $1 million gross.
Although those ad execs in the know say this was one of the most lucrative Oscar ad-buying seasons in a while, there doesn’t look to be a giant box office bounce off the awards the way the Grammys affect music sales in its immediate aftermath. Of all the distribs, The Weinstein Company, with its strategy of peaking during nominations and then again after its wins, is the only one that could benefit in a big way right now: with Best Picture and Best Actor winner The Artist in the prime of its run and nearly doubling the number of screens this weekend; Meryl Streep’s Best Actress win for The Iron Lady renewing interest in that December 30th release (it was up an impressive 22% to $27 million despite losing 11 locations from the week before — the power of Streep); as well as Best Documentary winner Undefeated, just beginning its expansion.
It’s no wonder Harvey Weinstein likes to bank so much on Oscar attention. His winning Best Picture last year, The King’s Speech, earned well over half its total domestic gross in the period following Oscar nominations and wins — approximately $80 million was added to the film’s ultimate total of $138 million. It added $9 million alone in the one week period post- Oscars.
In the case of The Artist, its $3.6 million take this weekend — an increase of 25% and 790 screens for an 11th-place finish — is good but no barnburner. With a $37 million cume to date, the company can probably hope to make it to $50 million, great for a French black-and-white silent with no big stars but on the low end of Best Picture winners’ eventual grosses. Despite the fact it has tripled its total take since its 10 nominations were announced January 24th, The Artist will probably be helped just as much now by positive word-of-mouth as by the Oscar imprimatur in determining how much further it can go. Weinstein is clearly hoping, though, to have those Oscar memories rub off on ticket buyers as their full-page newspaper ads on Friday featured Jean Dujardin (with Oscar in hand), Berenice Bejo and a black-tied Uggie at the ceremony.
It’s interesting to note that over the past 30 years, only four films (Rainman, Forrest Gump, Titanic, Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King) also topped the boxoffice charts in their respective years. And in terms of Best Picture winners, 2009’s The Hurt Locker represents the nadir of low grossers with only a $17 million total domestic gross. Other Best Pic winners in the past four decades that didn’t burn up the box office were 2005’s Crash ($54 million), 1982’s Gandhi ($52 million), 1987’s The Last Emperor ($44 million), and 1977’s Annie Hall ($38 million). The Artist has a shot at overtaking all four, but of course their totals were not in 2012’s inflated dollar figures.
Of all this year’s so-called Oscar movies, perhaps the one that has performed most impressively in terms of getting that so-called “Oscar bounce” is Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants, which earned a whopping $30 million from the weekend following the nominations announcement to now. It started dropping hundreds of screens last weekend and more this weekend as the Best Picture and Best Actor (George Clooney) nominee won only for Best Adapted Screenplay. Still, it made the most of its Oscar-season release strategy, cashing in on those “money” nominations and sitting pretty at $80 million, the fourth-highest gross ever for Searchlight film and a career-best for Alexander Payne.
On Oscar night, Clooney — joined by fellow nominee Brad Pitt –held his own very starry “losers” party (that’s how attendee Emily Blunt said he good-naturedly characterized it) at Craig’s Restaurant in West Hollywood. But the savvy Oscar strategy behind his movie was clearly a winning one, proving you don’t need the actual Best Picture triumph to have a great season.