‘La La Land,’ ‘Lion,’ ‘Moonlight’ Heading for Box Office Gains, Thanks to Oscars

'La La Land,' 'Moonlight' Head for
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Oscar nominations can be worth their weight in gold.

La La Land,” “Lion,” and “Moonlight” could see their ticket sales spike after scoring best picture Academy Awards nominations on Tuesday morning, analysts say.

“Those three films have the most upside in terms of their box office potential,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “These are powerful films that a lot of people still haven’t seen.”

Online ticketing service Fandango reported 50% higher ticket sales on Tuesday than a typical day for “La La Land,” which set a record with 14 nominations. In a recent Fandango survey, 69 percent of moviegoers said they’re more inclined to see a movie after it wins an Oscar or gets an Academy Award nomination. “La La Land” has topped $90 million after finishing fifth at the domestic box office last weekend with $8.4 million at 1,865 sites for Lionsgate, which is planning on widening the release to about 3,000 locations.

“La La Land” should be topping the $100 million mark by the end of the weekend.

Other studios scrambled to add theaters after their movies were showered with Oscar love. Paramount Pictures, for instance, boosted the number of locations for “Arrival,” which scored eight nominations including best picture, from 180 sites to 1,100 this weekend with bonus footage included. “Arrival” has grossed a surprisingly strong $96 million after nearly three months in theaters along with $67 million internationally. The return engagement for the alien invasion thriller should push “Arrival” past the $100 million mark domestically.

The Weinstein Company’s “Lion” scored six nominations including best picture, best supporting actress (for Nicole Kidman), best supporting actor (for Dev Patel), best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, and best score. The film has grossed a solid $16.3 million in two months of limited release through last weekend, when it was playing at 575 outlets.

TWC CEO David Glasser told Variety that “Lion” will expand to somewhere around the 1,800 to 2,000 range during the Feb. 4-6 weekend. “We’ve been getting great word of mouth and now we’ve got the nominations and a great campaign,” he added.

“Manchester by the Sea,” a searing drama from Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions, is looking to add between 900 and 1,000 playdates to the 543 venues where it was playing last weekend. The film has earned nearly $40 million.

A24 has not disclosed specific plans for “Moonlight,” which took eight nominations on Tuesday. The distributor has been playing the intense coming-of-age story in limited release since October, generating a healthy $16 million even though the film was at only 650 locations at its widest release. That’s a solid result for a movie without major stars.

Other films, such as Fox’s “Hidden Figures,” were already in wide release when Oscar nominations were announced. The studio said it did not plan to add theaters in the wake of the historical drama’s best picture nomination.

Some pundits thought that “Silence,” Martin Scorsese’s $40 million religious epic, might be able to break into the best picture race. It was shut out in all of the major categories, however, which should doom it at the box office. With a gross of $5.3 million, it ranks as one of the biggest bombs of Scorsese’s career.

By the time Oscar season is over, three of the nine nominees for best picture will likely cross the $100 million mark domestically. That said, this year’s crop of honorees is relatively low-profile. There are no hits on the scale of “The Martian” ($226.6 million, domestically) or “Mad Max: Fury Road” ($153.6 million, domestically), both of which scored best picture nods last year. Nor are there bona fide blockbusters on the level of past nominees like “Avatar” or “Inception.” Most of the films recognized are adult dramas or indie fare, which could depress ratings for the broadcast.

For art films, Oscar attention can turbocharge ticket sales. Take a small animated film like “The Red Turtle,” which somehow managed to muscle its way into an animated feature category dominated by the likes of “Zootopia” and “Moana,” two of the year’s biggest blockbusters. The Oscar attention could encourage audiences to seek out the movie when it opens on Friday.

“The thing about the Oscars is it gives a life to these movies in the marketplace,” said Michael Barker, Sony Pictures Classics’ co-founder and the distributor of “The Red Turtle.” “It’s a validation of quality and it helps audiences select what movies the want to see over other movies.”