Forget the box office bounce.
This season’s strike-skewered kudos race is all about DVD dividends — both in boosting pre-kudos awareness and in riding awards attention to goose homevideo sales.
Award hopefuls such as “Michael Clayton,” “Gone Baby Gone,” “In the Valley of Elah” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” will all debut in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 24 Academy Awards ceremony. “Lust, Caution,” “Across the Universe” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” will also bow during the Oscar run-up.
Over the past few years, the pre-kudofest period has become a prime launching pad for high-profile DVD releases. Universal has been releasing hopefuls in December for years — “Eastern Promises” was the latest in a line dating back to “Seabiscuit” — and Lionsgate famously flooded the kudos zone with “Crash” DVDs that season.
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More and more, studios that in the past waited to release contenders until after the kudocast for the biggest Oscar sales bump found they could draft off awareness during the lead-up to the ceremony and the days immediately after.
Last year, Warners had great success debuting “The Departed” on disc a couple weeks before it won the best picture statuette; sales shot up after its win, exceeding the studio’s expectations. The year before, Fox had similar success bowing “Walk the Line” five days before Reese Witherspoon won her Oscar.
This season, the WGA strike has thrown kudos campaigns a curveball, and it’s not clear how much impact scaled-back kudofests and the uncertainty surrounding the Academy Awards kudocast itself will have on DVD rollouts.
Warners has positioned both “Michael Clayton” and “In the Valley of Elah” for DVD bows Feb. 19, five days before the kudocast, where they will go head to head with “Lust, Caution” and New Line’s “Rendition.” “Gone Baby Gone” will bow one week earlier, on Feb. 12, preceded by “The Assassination of Jesse James.”
The narrow window between the Jan. 22 Oscar nominations and the Feb. 19 ballot deadline afford the pics and their backing studios one more chance to remind Academy voters of the pic’s merits.
During the crackdown on screeners a few years back, studios considered homevid bows in the heart of the kudos season a workaround to the visibility problem. “The Constant Gardener” and “Junebug” both bowed in January 2006, shortly before Oscar noms were unveiled.
Such commercial-release DVDs have an added benefit for campaigners: They can include bonus features that extol the various virtues of a production — a big no-no on regular “for your consideration” screeners.
In an already uneasy kudos season, studio campaigners will take any edge they can get.