Nominations change game for distributors

This article was updated at 5:52 p.m.

Despite the overwhelming number of specialty films that received Oscar attention, it’s only “The Departed” — the one best picture nominee to have grossed over $100 million — that’s getting a huge expansion this Friday.

Warner plans to take the Martin Scorsese-helmed actioner, which bowed wide in October and has since wound down to just over 100 playdates, to 1,450 this Friday to take advantage of its five nominations.

Studio is being much more conservative with its other best picture nominee, “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which has grossed just $2.5 million domestically. Despite its four nods, WB is only expanding the Japanese language World War II drama from to 360 to 430 playdates.

“Babel” and “The Queen” were already relatively wide after their Golden Globes wins last week and are each getting a couple of hundred more theaters this Friday. Paramount Vantage is boosting “Babel,” which has $24 million, from 889 to around 1100, while Miramax will expand “The Queen,” which has grossed over $35 million, from 1586 to 1830.

Sony Pictures Classics will take advantage of Penelope Cruz’s best actress nom to move “Volver” from 147 to about 700 playdates. Spanish import has thus far $7.5 million stateside.

Fox Searchlight was already planning to expand “Notes on a Scandal,” which landed four noms and has grossed just over $6 million, from 200 to 600 theaters. “Little Miss Sunshine” is already on DVD.

Miramax will play off Peter O’Toole’s best actor nom to expand “Venus” from 12 to 59 locations this Friday.

On the foreign front, a trio of films — “Dreamgirls,” “Blood Diamond” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” — have the biggest international box office potential among Oscar nominated pics since they’ve been held back from most markets.

Paramount’s new international arm has been relying on awards season recognition for “Dreamgirls,” which has opened so far only in Australia and New Zealand with a respectable $1.1 million at 167 playdates. The musical launches this weekend in Italy, Mexico and Spain, followed by openings in Germany and the U.K. on the first February frame.

Musicals aren’t an easy sell in overseas markets, though “Chicago” managed to take in $136 million overseas.

Warner Bros. has also been waiting for Oscar noms for “Blood Diamond,” which has opened in just 16 offshore markets so far with a $13.2 million cume led by $4 million in Australia. The pic’s launching this weekend in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy and the U.K., followed by France and Russia on the next weekend.

Warner has held back “Letters” from every international market except for Japan, where it’s grossed an impressive $36.7 million in seven weeks. Studio will wait until mid-February to launch “Letters” into other major markets in order to allow Eastwood’s companion pic “Flags of Our Fathers” to finish its run. “Flags” has grossed $27 million outside the U.S. with half coming from Japan.

Fox Intl. will begin launching “The Last King of Scotland” into major European markets with mid-sized openings — usually about 100 playdates — during the first two February frames. Pic’s already topped $4 million in its first two weekends in the U.K. with 248, better than the final gross for “Hotel Rwanda.” It’s opening in Australia on Feb. 1, followed by Belgium and Holland on Feb. 7 and France on Feb. 14.

Fox will open its first foreign market on “Notes on a Scandal” on the first weekend in February in the U.K., where the drama’s set. It’s waiting until after the Berlin Film Festival to open in other major markets until mid-February.

Best picture nominees “Babel,” “The Departed,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Queen” have a bit left in the tank. “Babel” opened in seventh place in the U.K. in a limited launch last weekend; “The Departed” opened in first place last weekend in Japan (its final market) to lift foreign grosses to $133 million.

Buoyed by the “Babel” noms, Paramount Pictures Intl. plans a re-release this weekend at about 150 sites in Mexico, where it had already cumed nearly $7 million. “Babel” is also opening in Columbia and Venezuela and being expanded in Argentina and Brazil.

Fox is hoping to squeeze perhaps $5 million more from “Sunshine” internationally to add to its $31 million overseas. That’s led by $7.5 million in France, where it just crossed 1 million admits; it’s also still playing in scattered runs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and Spain.

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