Honor will punch up pic's box office take

Warner Bros. hopes that there are millions of dollars left at the box office for the winner of this year’s best pic.

“Million Dollar Baby” opened Dec. 15 but was held back from wide release until Jan. 28. It played at 2,125 theaters this weekend, so there’s not much room left for expansion.

“We’re already about as wide as we can be,” said distrib prexy Dan Fellman. Historically, an Oscar win immediately boosts the winners’ box office take and as “Baby,” which has a cume of $65 million, has played just five weeks in wide release, it could see larger than normal returns.

But Oscar has plenty of financial implications beyond the box office. Statuettes help boost homevid sales and TV license fees, while actors with statuettes on their mantle will see their quotes increase.

With “Ray”‘s $75 million theatrical run largely wound down, Jamie Foxx’s actor nod won’t have much effect at the box office, but it will give homevid a bump. The DVD was released Feb. 1, a week after noms were announced, and sold more than $80 million in its first week.

Generally, there is more money made at the box office between the announcement of noms and the Oscar ceremony than after the kudos are handed out.

In the last five years, winning an Oscar in one of the four major categories — picture, director, actor and actress — has been worth about $9 million at the box office. Winners in those categories have grossed an average of $11 million after the ceremony, while the losing nominees have averaged just $2 million.

By comparison, the average gross for all nominees in the period between the noms and the kudocast has been $13 million.

There have been numerous exceptions: The 2002 best picture “Chicago” scored $70 million between noms and the kudocast and then made another $37 million after it picked up its awards.

And while last year’s best pic winner “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” grossed $13 million after its Oscar sweep, that amounted to only 3.4% of its mammoth $377 million domestic take.

Still, the weekend after last year’s awards, “Rings” saw its grosses jump 40%, from $2.2 million to $3 million.

For smaller films, that kind of number can be huge.

“Monster” had grossed just $6 million when Charlize Theron was nominated. Buzz built before last year’s ceremony, where she clinched best actress for the role, and grosses rose to $34.5 million.

This year, “Million Dollar Baby” was particularly adept at capitalizing on its Oscar buzz, with Warner Bros. waiting until after nominations to go out wide with the pic. When noms were announced Jan. 24, pic had made just $8.5 million since its Dec. 15 release. Cume now stands at $59.5 million, which means 86% of that came in the last five weeks.

Miramax/Warners’ “The Aviator” also saw a boost, banking $32.5 million since noms were announced to bring its cume to $91 million.

Though the raw numbers are smaller, in percentage terms some of the smaller pics in contention this year have seen good returns on their noms. “Hotel Rwanda” has earned $11.8 million, 67% of its $17.6 million cume, since it was nominated.

Annette Bening’s actress nom for “Being Julia” perked up the pic’s grosses. It has earned $2.4 million, 39% of its $6.2 million cume, since it was nominated.

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