Films in theaters could reap bonanza

Almost as soon as the Golden Globes ceremony ended at the Beverly Hilton, distributors rushed to expand their pictures this past weekend, looking to capitalize not just on their wins but on possible Oscar nominations.

Historically, pics that win Golden Globes make most of their money at the box office in the period between the Globes ceremony (and the announcement of Academy Award nominees soon after) and Oscar night.

Pics looking for a Globes bounce this year by adding screens right after their wins include both best picture winners: Paramount Vantage’s “Babel” and Paramount-DreamWorks’ “Dreamgirls.”

And both Miramax and Fox Searchlight are looking to capitalize on the acting wins for Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker by sending “The Queen” and “The Last King of Scotland” into wide release for the first time since they debuted last September.

But while “Dreamgirls” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” — both of which are still in the heart of their theatrical runs — stand to gain traction in the coming weeks, for many others, such as “The Departed,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Borat,” the upside of the awards attention will lie in DVD.

Warner Bros. plans a Jan. 26 re-release of “The Departed,” giving moviegoers another chance to see it on the bigscreen before it hits DVD Feb. 13. Similarly, Paramount Vantage plans to increase the screen count for “Babel,” but it hits DVD on Feb. 20.

Other pics, like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” came out on disc last month.

Past experience proves Globes winners reap the benefits in disc sales, no matter how they do in the final kudos countdown. Disc sales of “Moulin Rouge!” immediately spiked upon its Golden Globes wins a few years ago. “Ray” came out on disc on the heels of its Globes victories and scored at the cash register, eventually earning $101 million more on DVD than at the box office.

“Cash register and box office are pretty interchangeable when it comes to consumer interest,” says Fox homevid marketing and publicity guru Steve Feldstein. “The Globes provide a perfect platform for another wave of promotional activity.”

Another area of upside will come on the foreign front.

Paramount’s newly minted international distribution arm decided to hold off on the first foreign openings for “Dreamgirls” until this weekend — gambling, correctly, that the musical would win several Golden Globes.

“Letters” has hit only one foreign market so far and managed a fairly successful Japanese run with nearly $35 million in six weeks, nearly three times what “Flags of Our Fathers” grossed there. But Japan turned out to be the only receptive foreign market for “Flags,” with its $13 million repping more than half the international cume.

Warners won’t move “Letters” into other overseas markets until mid-February, waiting for “Flags” to play out.

Over the past five years, the winners of the top two Globe kudos — drama and comedy/musical — have made $91 million between Globes night and Oscar night, compared with $48 million after the ceremony at the Kodak Theater.

Paramount Intl. topper Andrew Cripps says the Globe noms for “Babel” already have pushed business in Spain, where it grossed $6.2 million in two weeks, and Australia, where it took in $2.5 million in a month.

With $40 million worldwide already, “Babel” was to open this weekend in the U.K., Argentina and Brazil, to be followed by a rollout in the rest of Latin America.

Two other awards-season faves, “The Queen” and “The Last King of Scotland,” will look to boost their box office returns following Globe wins for Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker.

While Miramax’s “The Queen” has already played in most overseas territories, grossing $36 million at the foreign box office, it never went wider than 712 screens in the U.S., where it has grossed $32 million. Miramax planned to expand it to 1,500-plus theaters on Jan. 19 and even wider the following week.

“We’ve been onscreen some 15 weeks, so it’s been a long lead-in,” says Miramax topper Daniel Battsek. “But the awareness of the movie and the word of mouth are its two biggest selling points, and any time it gets seen it has the chance to create a new audience.”

“Last King of Scotland,” which has grossed $3.7 million in the U.S., faces a similar challenge. Fox has held the Idi Amin drama back in all markets except the U.K., where it opened fairly well last weekend with $1.7 million on 246 screens. It’s launching in most markets in early to mid February, well after the U.S. wide release Jan. 19.

“It only got up to 130 runs this fall and we held to that, realizing that Forest had such a strong possibility of getting recognized in the year-end honors,” said Searchlight chief operating officer Stephen Gilula.

“It’s not the most commercial film, but we knew that Forest was a serious contender, and now we think he’s in a good position to win,” says Craig Dehmel, Fox Intl. exec director of sales and strategy. “Part of the challenge for us was that it was one of three movies with an African background, along with ‘Catch a Fire’ and ‘Blood Diamond.’ And we thought that ‘Last King’ really needed the accolades to work internationally.”

Fox’s plan calls for moderate release patterns. “We are aiming for upscale commercial — arthouse and upscale multiplexes — and we’ll probably do about 100 prints in Germany, France and Spain,” Dehmel says. “With the awards buzz, we don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to reach audiences.”

Meanwhile, some pictures that didn’t win Globes are looking for a boost from the Oscars, even if it is getting late in the season.

In terms of going after international audiences for “Notes on a Scandal,” Fox has decided to bet on Oscar noms. Key markets will wait until mid-February, after “Notes” screens at the Berlin Film Festival.

“On ‘Notes,’ we’ll be more commercial and sell it as more of a mainstream film,” Dehmel says. “In Spain, for example, we’ll have 200 prints for ‘Notes’ and around 75 for ‘Last King,’ and we’ll have twice as many in Australia.”

Should Kate Winslet score her fifth Oscar nom for “Little Children,” New Line’s likely to expand it. Although it’s already been playing for three months in limited release, it’s only cumed $3.5 million domestically. Two weeks ago, the dark comedy went from 32 theaters to a high of 103.

A Winslet nom also would carry weight in Euro markets, where New Line has sold off rights. “Little Children” hasn’t opened in any major foreign territories yet except for the U.K., where it’s grossed less than $1 million.

(Diane Garrett and Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.)

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