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‘Beauty’s’ platform for success

Release sked, timely Oscar noms helped B.O. rise

Though much of the spotlight on “American Beauty” has shined on its script, direction, acting and visual style, another major factor in its success is DreamWorks’ release strategy. Most distrib vets agree it should serve as a textbook case for all studios to study.

The approach by DreamWorks’ Jim Tharp and his staff helps explain why an unorthodox commercial effort has taken home a persuasive $108 million to date — and figures to add another $15 million or so by the end of its run.

Launched Sept. 15 on 16 screens, pic grossed $861,531 in its debut, for a “Blair Witch”-like $53,846 per screen average.

It platformed from there, adding screens each week but not reaching its peak of about 1,550 until early November. By nomination time, it had rolled up nearly $75 million domestically, but was on just a handful of screens.

Noms boost B.O.

With a leading eight noms and key Golden Globe and guild award wins, “Beauty” got a new lease on life and attracted both new auds and repeat visitors alike. Since the noms, pic had been a fixture in the weekend top 10, rising 25% this Oscar frame.

The five best pic nominees are more commercially mature than most other years’ contenders. All except “Beauty” entered Oscar weekend scaling back on playdates.

For the first time in Oscar history, three of the five — “American Beauty,” “The Green Mile” and “The Sixth Sense” — had passed the $100 million mark by the big night.

The latest releases, calendar-wise, were “The Green Mile” and “Cider House,” both of which bowed Dec. 10, the same weekend as 1998 best pic winner “Shakespeare in Love.”

Early birds

The fall has proven the best launch pad for Oscar hopefuls, though earlier releases such as “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Braveheart” have recently scored best pic wins.

“Lambs,” in fact, pulled off a rare feat, coming out in February and going on to sweep the top five Oscar categories a year later. Its Oscar bump was zero, as all $130.7 million of its domestic gross already was in the bag.

Each Oscar season, B.O. numbers point out a puzzle: Does a movie gross well because it’s Oscar-nommed, or does it become Oscar-nommed because it has a high gross?

This year, money talked.

The aggregate domestic tally for the Final Five is one of the weightiest in history, about $610 million. And to think it was only a year ago that pundits were frowning on traditional blockbusters’ chances amid best pic noms for “Shakespeare in Love,” “The Thin Red Line” and “Life Is Beautiful.”

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