Box office boost limited for best pic nominees

While sustaining their target auds, Oscar best-pic contenders “Milk” and “The Reader” did not gain B.O. momentum as they expanded nationwide over the weekend.

“Frost/Nixon” saw similar results when it went wide a week earlier.

So far, the three pics aren’t seeing the kind of B.O. bump that specialty films have often enjoyed — and banked on — after landing a spot in Oscar’s coveted category.

All three titles have watched most of the Oscar spoils so far go to Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” which was the only Oscar nominee to land in the weekend’s top 10. Placing No. 6, the pic declined 28% to an estimated $7.7 million from 1,633 runs for a cume of $67.2 million in its second sesh in nationwide release.

“Slumdog” has picked up every major award so far, including the DGA’s top honor for helmer Danny Boyle over the weekend.

The Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader” grossed an estimated $2.4 million from 1,002 theaters for the weekend, putting its per-location average at $2,369 and cume at $12.6 million, according to Rentrak. Drama did see a 69% bump in biz as a result of upping its theater count by 635 locations.

“Milk,” from Focus Features, grossed an estimated $1.4 million from 882 runs for a location average of $1,603. Film’s amassed a cume of $23.4 million since opening in November on the strength of its core demo.

For the weekend, “Frost/Nixon” declined a steep 54% to an estimated $1.4 million from 1,105 theaters over the weekend for a per-location average of $2,165. Pic went nationwide over the Jan. 23-25 frame; cume is $14.3 million.

The fifth best-picture nominee, Paramount’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” is in a different position because it was a wide release from the start. That pic’s domestic cume was $116.5 million through Sunday.

The monthlong stretch between Oscar noms and the awards ceremony can be bountiful for specialty titles. Last year’s crop of best-picture contenders saw generally stronger returns.

On the same weekend a year ago, for example, “There Will Be Blood” came in No. 9 overall, grossing $4.7 million from 1,507 runs for a per- location average of $3,008 and a cume of $22.7 million. Likewise, “Atonement” had cumed $43.1 million at this point in its awards run.

Distribs of “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and “Reader” all waited to expand until after the Oscar nominations.

“These are three niche films that aren’t breaking out. The award nominations didn’t rejuvenate business, nor revive it,” one specialty distrib said.

Surprisingly, some films earning Oscar performance noms are outdoing some of the best-pic contenders.

Over the weekend, Searchlight’s “Wrestler” grossed an estimated $2.4 million from only 722 runs for a location average of $3,255 and cume of $13.9 million, besting “The Reader” and “Frost/Nixon.”

Miramax is predicting that “Doubt” will outperform “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk” and “Reader” in domestic gross. Disney’s specialty division opted to take the film wide over Christmas, which proved a smart move, with “Doubt’s” cume through Sunday at $27.9 million.

Paramount Vantage/DreamWorks’ “Revolutionary Road” grossed an estimated $2.7 million over the weekend from 1,077 runs for a location average of $2,468 and cume of $16 million.

Among foreign-language contenders, Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Class” grossed an estimated $86,514 from six locations for a per- screen average of $14,419 and a cume of $121,410. SPC’s “Waltz With Bashir” posted a per-location average of $4,220 in grossing an estimated $185,687 from 44 theaters for a cume of $1 million.

Elsewhere at the specialty box office, Oscilloscope’s “Wendy and Lucy” grossed an estimated $49,337 for a per-location average of $3,795 and cume of $255,193.

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