If Birdman or even Boyhood wins best picture at the Oscars tonight, don’t look for a big uptick in their domestic box office. During the past 10 years, an Oscar Best Picture win has translated into a 20% increase in a film’s total cume following the ceremony, but achieving that hike depends on whether the distributor wants it.
After the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved the Oscars to the end of February in 2004, it shortened the theatrical play window for an Oscar nominee to make B.O. gains. Thus, films that opened in the fall sought to profit off their nom or win on DVD and VOD. Since 2005, some of the biggest post Best Picture hikes include Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (+52% with final cume of $100.4M), Fox Searchlight/WB’s Slumdog Millionaire (+44%, $141.3M) in 2009 and the Weinstein Company’s The Artist (+41%, $44.67M) in 2012.
Fox Searchlight’s Birdman is already on VOD and comes out Tuesday on DVD. While most major circuits refuse to play titles that are on VOD and DVD, there is the demand from some exhibitors to get a Best Picture winner back on screen. Should Birdman win, it stands to make another estimated 9%-17% after tonight according to sources, raising its domestic B.O. to $41-$44M. The pic emulated a rollout similar to last year’s 12 Years A Slave. Two days after the awards ceremony last year on March 4, 12 Years was released on DVD, but the film still saw a 13% uptick in its domestic B.O. from $50.3M on Oscar Night to a final cume of $56.67M.
Should IFC’s Boyhood upset in the best picture category, many insiders say that it’s pretty much done at the B.O. — that all its gains are on VOD and DVD. It’s a fate similar to such Best Picture winners that bowed during the summer as 2009’s The Hurt Locker and 2000’s Gladiator. Since Boyhood’s release in early January in the home entertainment market, it has largely been in iTunes top 10, which is based on the number of transactions a title racks up. As of Friday, Boyhood ranked No. 12. Said one executive close to the film: “We have a playable movie. People are reluctant to watch it because they think it’s weird or long. There’s an affirmation of winning Best Picture, and it’s a tipping point: Once audiences watch it, Boyhood doesn’t feel indie, rather it’s emotional. If we are fortunate, we’ll see a huge bounce on home entertainment.” Paramount is handling Boyhood on DVD.
Then there are those type of rollouts such as the Weinstein Company’s Oscar-nominated pics. The company traditionally plays and widens a contender straight into the Oscar nom corridor, reaping revenue off the awards buzz. If theatrical chains had the chance to vote for Best Picture right now, chances are they would vote for The Imitation Game. Among the art house Best Pic noms, it’s still alive at 1,408 playdates with a cume of $83.29M, registering modest weekend-to-weekend dips — it still has life left in it. Previous Best Picture winners from the Weinstein Co., read The Artist and The King’s Speech, have registered respective post-Oscar upticks of 41% and 22%.
Then there are others such as Focus Features’ The Theory Of Everything ($34.1M), the other period Brit pic that dueled with Imitation Game in terms of prestige all season long. Focus opted to play during the period prior to noms, staying out of Imitation Game’s way. It went wider during the December 12-14 period at 1,220 engagements, syncing with Golden Globe and SAG noms. The gamble in playing prior to the Oscar nom alley is that a film can run out of gas. Theory currently is in 545 venues and was released on DVD this past Tuesday.
Win or no win, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow’s American Sniper will continue to reap money at the B.O. Its cume through today is estimated at $319.6M. It conceivably has another $15M-$20M left in its U.S./Canada life cycle. Should Paramount’s Selma take best picture, it will benefit greatly in March from the 50th anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery marches, which took place March 7-25, 1965, and conceivably could move its current domestic take from $49.6M upward to $60M. Searchlight’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which crossed over to the masses last year at $59.1M (and a global take of $174.6M), stands as director Wes Anderson’s highest-grossing film. It already is played out. Sony Pictures Classics’ Whiplash ($11.3M) in 440 will hit DVD storeshelves on Tuesday.
Unlike last year when there were four $100M-plus Best Picture nominees or even 2013 when there were seven films that ranged from $95M-$182.2M, this year there have only been two films: Imitation Game and American Sniper that played to bigger numbers. One distribution executive said, “That’s because it was a quirky year for Oscar nominees. If you talk to the average Joe on the street, one guy might say that they loved Birdman, while the other guy would say it’s too weird. John du Pont is an interesting story (in Foxcatcher which is up for Best Director, Actor and Supporting Actor), but it’s not a mainstream film. Most of these nominees needed the awards to make gains at the box office.”
Sony Classics’ co-head Tom Bernard observed that for most of the Oscar contenders that opened in October and November, “We were fighting for screens with studio films” by the time noms were announced. American Sniper was an unexpected cash machine, impossible for any exhibitor to pry off the screen.
Further underscoring how important the Oscar noms were to this year’s crop of films, according to Rentrak, half of the Best Picture contenders this year made 40%-99% of their domestic B.O. during the post-nom period, while eight of the nine 2013 Best Picture noms made less than 40% following noms. This year those films making 40% or more of the domestic tally post-noms included American Sniper (99%), Selma (67%), The Imitation Game (49%) and Whiplash (46%). Birdman generated a third of its current B.O. following Oscar noms, Theory made 23%, and Boyhood earned 4%.
However, the mark of Oscar lives forever. Whenever a new technology (i.e. DVD, VOD) arrives, each generation goes back to seek out the titles for their collection. Sources say that most of this year’s Best Picture nominees, particularly the art house ones, on average stand to make two to three times the amount they generated at the box office in the home entertainment sector. And that’s all because of Oscar awareness. Typically, a studio has to spend $30M-plus in ad spend to hit that kind of home entertainment yield on a non-awards title.
Said one studio executive dispensing a nickel’s worth of advice on how to profit off of Oscar noms, whether it’s at the B.O. or the home entertainment window: “There are those companies that want to brand themselves by an Oscar campaign, but if you’re not careful, you can brand your company and make no money.”