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ACADEMY REWARDS

Oscar-winning pics get big boosts at B.O.

Nothing translates prestige into dollars with as much vigor as the Academy Awards.

With less than a week remaining until the big night, the five films nominated in the top category have collectively added more than $100 million to their global grosses since the noms were unveiled Feb. 11.

However, the big reward comes after the awards are handed out. Since 1990, a best-picture win has added an aver-age of $139.2 million to a film’s worldwide gross.

Interestingly, each of those six winners saw a greater percentage boost in its domestic worldwide B.O. post-Oscar, compared to its rise during the six weeks after its nomination.

That Oscar jump is even more impressive considering that many of the pics (notably “Unforgiven,” “Forrest Gump” and “Braveheart”) had been in theaters at least eight months before their Academy Award victory.

The rewards for runners-up and for winners of secondary awards are also considerable. But there’s no question that the best-picture award is a guarantee of immediate commercial treasures.

“Everyone really wants to win best picture,” said Ciby Sales exec VP Fiona Mitchell, who handles “Secrets & Lies.” “It’s the one prize that truly means something at the box office. And while a major win for a director or an actor coupled with other awards is a real asset, it’s not anywhere near its equal.”

Timing and competition are key determinants in the bigness of the bucks. From nomination day through the last theatrical flicker, such ideally timed fare as “Dances With Wolves” and “Schindler’s List,” which debuted at year’s end, went on to worldwide grosses of $290 million and $275 million, respectively.

Following a 199% climb during the six-week siege between the nominations announcement and its auric evening, 1993’s “Schindler’s List” shot up 247% after its win. The 1990 “Dances With Wolves,” another recipient of mas-sive commercial Oscar glory, ascended 113% post to its 70% pre.

“The Silence of the Lambs,” a February 1991 release domestically, received the smallest theatrical hiccup: an ad-ditional $22.4 million, almost entirely derived from overseas engagements.

Even awkwardly timed summer debuts such as “Forrest Gump” (1994) and “Braveheart” (1995) conform to this rule. “Gump” went from 11% to 19%, while the Scottish movie saw rises of 7% and 9%.

Early birds lose

An early opening in the calendar year obviously reduces a pic’s ability to strategize for Oscar in the theatri-cal marketplace. Second winds are impossible once you’ve appeared on video, as evidenced by “Silence of the Lambs” after its win in ’92, or “Apollo 13” last year.

With a week remaining to Oscar night, “Shine” has received an 84% boost globally from its pre-Oscar performance and “The English Patient” has risen 69%. Even “Jerry Maguire,” well into its domestic run and slowly opening in-ternationally, has experienced a 32% upturn in its B.O.

Of this year’s crop, “Fargo,” which bowed in March, has seen the smallest jump: about $900,000 (see chart). “Secrets” will see a climb of about $6 million in five weeks.

Revived prospects

“There’s no question about it. The nominations revived ‘Secrets & Lies’ commercially,” Mitchell said. “It’s been especially significant to the box office in South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. We’ll reopen in England next week, widen in Japan, and it’s still going strong in Spain and Italy. It’s rather amazing when you consider the film has grossed $5 million in the past six weeks.”

Mitchell’s comments are echoed by Sudy Coy, exec VP at Paris-based Pandora, which reps “Shine” and foreign-language nominee “Kolya.”

“We had no idea ‘Shine’ would be up for so many awards,” Coy said. “Had we and the international distribs had any inkling, we would have planned to expand much more aggressively prior to Oscar night. As it is, the territories that have opened since the nominations are doing extraordinary business.”

“The English Patient” is well on its way to an $80 million worldwide cume by Oscar night. Should it walk away with a handful of Oscars, including the big one, there’s every reason to believe it will eventually gross $200 million theatrically.

Losers lose at B.O., too

But for every Oscar winner, four nominees paste on phony smiles. And just as every recent best-pic winner has snowballed following the opening of the envelope, every also-ran has experienced proportional declines.

The eclectic 1995 slate that included “Babe,” “The Postman” and “Sense and Sensibility” demonstrates that. All three greatly benefited from Oscar attention, grossing more post-nomination than the eventual winner, “Braveheart.” However, that post-nom/pre-award jump was the biggest proportional boost for all three.

“Babe” expanded 36% prior to the awards and an additional 13% post-Oscar; “Postman” went up 51% and 44%, respectively; and “Sense’s” numbers were 93% and 74%.

There’s no arguing that the six-week nomination period provides the most vital commercial opportunity for pedi-gree movies. Hand in glove with that is a climate of ferocious competition.

Other contenders

In addition to this year’s five nominated pictures, such films as “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Breaking the Waves,” “Sling Blade,” “Evita,” foreign-language nominees “Kolya” and “Prisoners of the Mountains” and the documentary feature “When We Were Kings,” are vying for precious screen time in major territories of the world and using Oscar as a lever to open or maintain screens.

The pre-Oscarcast performance of such films, which were not nominated in the top category, will be crucial in shaping the remainder of their theatrical lives.

Distribution handicaps

But this year’s contenders have an added hurdle to overcome. A number of the Oscar-circle films, such as “The English Patient,” “Shine” and “Evita,” have the clout of a major in selected territories. However, only “Larry Flynt” and “Jerry Maguire” have the power of a distrib with a worldwide operation and a steady stream of product.

So, as several reps note, competition for screens is at an all-time high and, despite some sterling results, it’s gen-erally felt that most titles aren’t receiving the full potential the accolade has provided in the past.

Rather than the indies rushing in to fill a vacuum where upscale studio product had resided, more mainstream fare is taking a good chunk of that action. The inroads being made by specialized fare are real, just not as significant as PR reports would lead you to believe.

That has a lot of the indie vendors contemplating how current and forthcoming serious pictures will perform at next year’s Oscars. Though some view 1996 as an aberration in terms of quality releases from the majors, the pros-pects of Oscar-worthy movies from Hollywood remain a big question mark, based on the upcoming slate.

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