Nominations could give indies a helping hand

The specialty box office goes into overdrive this weekend as a number of titles look to benefit from Golden Globe nominations and key endorsements from critics orgs in the carefully calibrated kudos race.

More than in any other recent awards season, distribs this year have held off releasing many of their contenders until very late in the year, looking to translate awards publicity into box office coin.

The danger? Too many cars on the speedway.

Thursday morning’s Golden Globe announcement could prove good news for Miramax’s “Doubt” (five noms) and the Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader” (four), both of which open today in select markets.

Paramount’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Universal’s “Frost/Nixon” also scored five Globe nominations, including for best drama.

“Doubt” opens in 14 runs in eight top markets; “Reader” goes out in eight theaters in North America.

Warner Bros. opens “Gran Torino,” directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, in eight runs today. Film earned one Globe nom, for original song, but media spots are sure to tout Eastwood’s National Board of Review win for actor earlier this week.

A number of upcoming releases, as well as a hearty crop of holdovers, stand to see gains from landing on the Globe scorecard.

“Frost/Nixon” is well positioned to take advantage of the attention as it heads into its second sesh after a boffo bow last weekend in three runs. Pic will up its theater count to 39 in 23 markets today.

Fox Searchlight specialty holdover “Slumdog Millionaire,” a kudos favorite so far and a strong performer at the box office, earned four Globe noms, including drama. “Slumdog” heads into its fifth sesh today with a cume of $5.6 million.

Pic expands aggressively today, growing its theater count from 78 to 179 in the top 50 markets.

For specialty distribs and indie companies, free publicity and word of mouth are more important than ever as marketing budgets shrink, and distribs will immediately update radio spots and TV ads.

“Any recognition that generates publicity is positive,” said Searchlight co-chief operating officer Steve Gilula. Gilula said grosses for “Slumdog Millionaire” went up every night this week.

Focus Features’ “Milk” will also expand aggressively this weekend. Star Sean Penn earned a Globe nom for actor in a drama, although the film was absent from the drama and directing categories.

Pic, already a strong box office performer, expands today from 99 theaters to 308 in its third weekend. Domestic cume is $4.6 million.

Golden Globe noms were great news for the Weinstein Co., with “The Reader” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” each picking up four nominations, including a drama and a comedy/musical nom, respectively.

Better yet, the Weinstein Co. this week took over the distribution of Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina” from MGM, meaning Harvey Weinstein’s shop will get full credit.

“The nominations worked out great,” said Weinstein domestic distribution topper Steven Bunnell.

Films that have been in the marketplace for some time don’t generally see a box office boost from Globe, or Oscar, noms, but that’s not stopping the Weinstein Co. and several other distribs from trying. “Vicky Cristina,” which opened in August and is now playing in only a few theaters, will go into an additional 23 today in the top 20 markets.

Miramax also will look for “Happy-Go-Lucky,” opening in October, to parlay its Globe nom for comedy/musical into renewed box office interest.

Of the five films landing in the drama category, only “Button” and DreamWorks/Par Vantage’s “Revolutionary Road” haven’t opened. They unspool Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, respectively.

Other films earning one or more noms that haven’t opened include Searchlight’s “The Wrestler,” which opens Dec. 17, and Par Vantage’s “Defiance,” which bows Dec. 31.

Nominated films out on DVD include “The Dark Knight,” “Kung Fu Panda, “Wall-E,” “In Bruges” and “Tropic Thunder.”

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