Better to be a best picture Oscar nominee than a winner. At the box office, that is.
This weekend, eight of the nine best picture nominees saw on average a near-two fold bump in their weekend-to-weekend stateside ticket sales. By Oscar night, their total cumes will have jumped an average of 44% since last Tuesday’s Oscar nominations announcement.
Though middle-budgeted, adult cinematic fare is continually competing for eyeballs in the Golden Age of television, as well as battling streaming alternatives at home, the Oscars are a prime time for both the industry and exhibition to raise the profile of moviegoing and reintroduce high-brow films into the marketplace. Essentially, until Feb. 26, most of the best pic nominees are box office winners, earning the most amount of money before Oscars are handed out. Post-awards isn’t as lucrative as it use to be, at least for the best picture winner. Twelve years ago when Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby won best picture, the pic saw another 52% spike in its total B.O. following the Academy Awards ceremony or $35.6M which took femme pugilist pic to $100.4M. Compare that to last year’s Spotlight from Open Road which only grew another 15% after its best pic win, moving from $39.1M on Oscar night to a $45M final cume.
“As theaters run busier, smaller titles might get pushed out, and an occasion like the Oscars gives us the opportunity to pull them back,” says AMC EVP and Chief Content and Programming Officer, Elizabeth Frank, “Almost no one has seen all nine of these films and it’s an opportunity for casual and avid moviegoers to come into the theater and see these titles.”
AMC is bringing back all nine of the best picture nominees with its 11th annual Best Picture Showcase. During two Saturdays, Feb. 18 and 25, AMC theaters will play all best pic nominees. On that day before the Oscars, select AMC locations will also play all nine pics in one sitting. Meanwhile, Regal Cinemas is hosting a Best Picture Film Festival sponsored by Amazon starting on Feb. 17. For ten straight days, guests who purchase a $35 Festival Pass will be able to see all nine Best Picture nominees, with four showtimes a day (1pm, 4pm, 7pm, 10pm).
Despite La La Land taking the top PGA feature award this weekend, and the top feature cast ensemble trophy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, some awards pundits believe that the two aren’t really in a square-off competition with each other at Oscars (La La Land has 14 noms, Hidden Figures has three), despite being in a head-to-head contest in the best picture category.
That said, a competition looms at the B.O. in regards to which pic can make more by Oscar night. One school of thought, especially following the film’s surprise SAG win last night, is that Hidden Figures will make more. In the midst of an immigration sanction-obsessed time by the Trump White House, Hidden Figures resonates with its positive message of unity, progress and breaking down walls. Furthermore, Hidden Figures made more this weekend than La La Land, $14M to $12.2M (Hidden was in 215 more theaters than La La Land which expanded from 1,865 to 3,136 locations). Currently, the Damien Chazelle-directed original musical is ahead of the Ted Melfi-directed African American NASA drama in total cumes, $106.7M to $104M.
All of this said, industry projections have both films doing between $140M-$150M by Oscar night. Fox insiders think $130M is more realistic for Hidden Figures by the end of the February.
But there are those who believe that both on the awards scene and at the multiplex, the sky is the limit for La La Land since it’s bolstered by nominations in the best director, actor and actress categories. La La Land earned an A- CinemaScore during its limited run, a grade that coincidentally another best picture musical Oscar winner earned 15 years ago: Chicago. Hidden Figures (along with Patriots Day) is one of the few major studio films since Selma and American Sniper (both best picture Oscar nominees) to earn an A+ CinemaSore.
That stiff competition means more turnstiles spinning and popcorn sales for theater owners. AMC typically sees an uptick post Oscar noms for a best picture contender’s ticket sales between 5% to 30%, but when there’s a runoff between two movies, that amount resides on the upper side of that range.
Arthouse films, particularly when they haven’t saturated the domestic market, also have the most gain at the B.O. following their Oscar noms. So, it comes as no surprise that percent-wise, Weinstein Co.’s Lion will post the biggest spike among any best picture contender this year. Without moving its theater count a smidge this weekend from 575 runs, the tearjerker organically rose 33% at the weekend B.O. with $2.3M. By Oscar night, industry estimates figure that the Nicole Kidman-Dev Patel-Rooney Mara movie will sit at $35M. This weekend Lion expands to an estimated 800 theaters.
While Hidden Figures is playing to all demos, B.O. analysts report that A24’s Moonlight, which is also expected to see a 57% surge in its total ticket sales from Oscar nom day, has largely played to upscale, specialty crowds. The pic finally broke past 1,000 screens in its 15th weekend, a mark that A24’s best actress Oscar winner last year, Room, didn’t even notch (its highest was 862 theaters with a final domestic cume of $14.6M). Projections have Moonlight as high as $25M by Oscar night, and even if the sublime tale of young boy on the streets gets overlooked, A24 can boast how profitable Moonlight is: The film was made before P&A for a reported $1.5M.
Paramount’s Fences has appealed to various demos thanks to leading star and last night’s SAG best actor Denzel Washington. Though it made the bulk of its money over the Christmas holiday, the Melrose Lot’s re-introduction of the film at 880 locations scored $1.44M, just $30K less than Paramount’s other best picture nominee Arrival which was playing at 341 engagements this weekend. This Friday, Fences will remain in 750+ theaters, while Arrival will be in 600+. Industry estimates forecast Arrival easily crossing the century mark by Oscar night, becoming the third best picture nominee to do so after Hidden Figures and La La Land, while Fences will hit $60M. Arrival will also hit DVD/Blu-Ray store shelves on Valentine’s Day. At $50.8M, Fences is on the verge of taking over Amadeus ($51.97M) as the fourth-highest grossing film based on a play, the top three spots belonging to A Few Good Men ($141.3M), Driving Miss Daisy ($106.5M) and Steel Magnolias ($83.7M).
Roadside Attraction’s release of Amazon’s Manchester by the Sea expanded from 625 venues to 1,125 this weekend earning $2.05M, a 117% surge over last weekend. After Hidden Figures, La La Land and Lion, it was the fourth best picture nominee on the chart this weekend. Its current cume stands at $41.5M and analysts believe that $50M is within the grasp for this Kenneth Lonergan-directed drama which Amazon picked up for $10M at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Out of all the best pictures, Lionsgate’s Hacksaw Ridge isn’t expected to rise that much after a limited release of 502 theaters this past weekend and a FSS of $416K. Current cume stands at $65.9M and a $70M projection by Oscar night would be considered too lofty. However, the pic hits Blu-Ray and DVD on Feb. 21 and can look forward to a potential sales week leading up to Oscar night.
But, wait, there’s another best picture nominee: CBS/Lionsgate’s western Hell or High Water which has four Oscar nominations including a best picture, screenplay, supporting actor Jeff Bridges, and film editing. Coming away from the Sundance Film Festival with rave reviews for his third title in his American frontier trilogy, Wind River, (which he also directed), Oscar-nominated screenwriter Taylor Sheridan couldn’t ask for a better month.
Oscar noms will certainly bring a boost to Hell or High Water‘s home entertainment sales. The title was already over-performing by every metric with significant staying power on the charts well before noms.
– On iTunes, for example, HOHW has remained in the Top 20 during its entire 11 week run since its electronic sell-through release week of 11/8. The norm is 6-7 weeks for a wide theatrical release and 4-5 weeks for an under $40M box office film.
– On Cable VOD, the title has stayed in the top-20 renters for its first 8 weeks.
– The movie also remains a top 25 DVD renter for its first 8 weeks of release.
Digitally, HOHW will be included in all major platform Oscar windows, and there will be a pricing promotion for the title digitally prior to the ceremony. Because of its Oscar groundswell, the projections on home entertainment for HOHW is that it will fare than most movies that gross $27Mm at the domestic B.O. including 50% higher on packaged media, 27% higher on digital and 17.5% higher on Cable/VOD.
Below, based on industry projections, is a summary of how eight of the nine Oscar-nominated best pictures in theatrical release will fare at the domestic box office by awards night, Sunday, February 26:
Projected Best Pic Boosts At The B.O.