Oscar nominations boost box office

Fox Searchlight awards favorite “Slumdog Millionaire” was the darling of the weekend box office as it successfully opened nationwide for the first time in its run.

Buoyed by its 10 Oscar nominations, including one for best picture, “Slumdog” grossed an estimated $10.6 million from 1,411 runs for a per-location average of $7,477. Ticket sales were up 80%, while the film placed No. 5 overall. Cume is $55.9 million in its 11th weekend.

Danny Boyle’s pic isn’t an easy sell considering it is set in India and is partly in Hindi. Yet the movie played strongly in markets across the country, including such locales as Columbia, S.C., and Butte, Mont.

“The film has exploded into the mainstream audience because of the Golden Globe Awards, the Academy nominations and now the Producers Guild of America best film award,” said Searchlight senior VP of distribution Sheila DeLoach.

Or, as an exec from a big studio said, “It has become the go-to film.”

Warner Bros. is Searchlight’s partner on “Slumdog.” Film was made at Warner Independent Pictures, but domestic distribution was handed off to Fox after Warner Independent was shuttered. Pathe Intl. handled overseas sales.

The four other films earning the coveted Oscar best picture nom –Paramount’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Universal’s “Frost/Nixon,” Focus Features’ “Milk” and the Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader” — saw more modest B.O. bumps.

It has become commonplace for specialty pics to use Oscar nominations as their primary marketing tool when expanding into additional markets. Wide releases also can profit.

“Button” — a wide release from the start — did see enough of an uptick to land back on the top 10 chart. Film picked up 13 Oscar noms, the most of any title.

Directed by David Fincher, “Button” grossed an estimated $6 million from 2,263 runs over the weekend for a per-theater average of $2,651. Ticket sales were up 8%. Cume is $111 million in its fifth sesh.

As with “Slumdog,” Universal waited until after Thursday’s announcement of Oscar noms to expand “Frost/Nixon” nationwide. Film grossed an estimated $3 million over the weekend for a location average of $2,750 and cume of $12 million.

“It was always the plan to capitalize on the nominations. It’s not the kind of film you can throw out into thousands of playdates,” said Universal prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco.

“The Reader,” the biggest surprise among the Oscar nominees, won’t expand significantly until Friday. For the weekend, film saw a 10% uptick in biz, grossing an estimated $1.4 million from 367 runs for a cume of $9.7 million in its seventh week.

“Milk,” which saw an 11% gain, is also waiting until the coming weekend before expanding to profit from picking up top Oscar noms. The Harvey Milk biopic grossed an estimated $864,342 from 250 runs for a cume of $21.6 million in its ninth weekend.

Sony Pictures Classics’ foreign- language nominee “Waltz With Bashir” grossed $153,394 from 25 locations for a location average of $6,136 and a cume of $737,569.

Generally speaking, films earning a best picture nom see the biggest box office bump.

But that doesn’t mean fellow specialty films picking up other top noms can’t prosper.

DreamWorks/Paramount’s “Revolutionary Road,” which received three noms, successfully expanded nationwide over the weekend, grossing an estimated $5.3 million from 1,058 theaters for a per-location average of $4,979 and cume of $11.9 million in its fifth weekend.

Searchlight’s “The Wrestler,” for which Mickey Rourke earned a lead actor mention, grossed an estimated $3.7 million from 566 runs for a per-location average of $6,537 in its sixth weekend. Cume is $9.5 million.

In other specialty action, IFC Films’ “Che” grossed $120,861 from 26 theaters for a per-location average of $4,648 and a cume of $809,326.

Oscilloscope’s “Wendy and Lucy” posted a per-location average of $4,578 as it grossed an estimated $36,625 from eight runs for a cume of $197,643 in its seventh sesh.

Third Rail’s Diane Lane starrer “Killshot” grossed an estimated $10,058 in its debut in five runs for a per-location average of $2,101. Pic also stars Rourke.

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