“The Revenant” is locked in a fierce battle for Best Picture, but even if the revenge drama fails to bag the top prize, it may be the big winner from Thursday’s Oscar nominations.
The story of a fur trapper who is mauled by a bear and left for dead, earned a healthy $39.8 million when it debuted in wide release last weekend. Armed with a leading 12 nominations, including nods for stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, as well as director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the film is perfectly positioned to capitalize on the Oscar love. It’s also riding high after a Best Picture (Drama) victory at last weekend’s Golden Globe Awards.
“It’s certainly getting a lot of free publicity this week,” notes Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners.
The awards attention helps justify the financial risk that Fox and the film’s primary backer New Regency took on the troubled production. The budget for the film ballooned from $90 million to $135 million — a figure more commonly associated with comic book movies than bloody tales of frontier retribution — and a lack of snow forced Iñárritu and company to move shooting from Canada to Argentina.
“The Revenant,” which needs roughly $400 million worldwide to break even, has grossed over $74 million to date with several outstanding territories abroad.
Jumping to 3,558 locations domestically this weekend–a 183 theater increase–DiCaprio’s revenge drama isn’t the only Oscar contender looking to add theaters in the wake of the nominations.
“Spotlight,” a drama about the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, will move from 368 locations to 973 after scoring six nods including ones for picture, director (Tom McCarthy), supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo), and supporting actress (Rachel McAdams).
“Room,” the story of an abducted woman (Brie Larson), will increase from less than 100 theaters to roughly 300 venues. The best picture nominee could also get a lift from Larson’s best actress victory at last weekend’s Golden Globes. With a modest $5.2 million in receipts, it could see its box office results rise substantially following the Oscar attention.
And “Brooklyn,” an elegiac love story about an Irish immigrant, will increase its theater count from 285 to 681. It plans to continue its expansion the following weekend when it could be in between 800 and 900 locations.
“The Big Short,” an off-beat comedy about the financial crisis, is also well-positioned to cash in on the awards attention. However, unlike “Brooklyn” and “Room,” it will see its theater count fall from 2,529 locations to 1,765 theaters.
Not every awards contender stands to get a bump at the multiplexes. “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which scored the second most nods with 10, has been on home entertainment platforms since September, while “The Martian” with seven nominations, debuted on DVD last Tuesday. Of course, those two films are already the highest-grossing of the best picture nominees. “The Martian” earned $597.1 million worldwide and “Mad Max: Fury Road” took in $375.8 million.
The remaining best picture contender, Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” has basically wrapped up its run in theaters, having debuted in October and earned $70.8 million stateside. It hits home entertainment platforms in February, so any bump it receives will come on iTunes and other on-demand services, not at cinemas.
Assessing the impact of awards on ticket sales can be tricky, analysts note. Last year’s best picture winner “Birdman” earned $15.7 million of its $42.3 million domestic gross after nominations, while the previous year’s recipient “12 Years a Slave” racked up $15.3 million of its $56.7 million in receipts following the announcement. But “The Hurt Locker,” the victor in 2009, added a meager $2 million and change to its gross after nominations were made because it was already available in the home having hit theaters in the summer. Timing is everything.
“There’s no conventional formula by which a film gets a bump because there are so many variables,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “But for some movies it raises their profile and puts them on audiences’ radars.”