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Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ Adds Hundreds of Theaters Ahead of Oscar Nominations

Paramount Studios is opting to more than double the number of North American locations this weekend for Martin Scorsese’s historical drama “Silence” as Oscar nominations loom Tuesday.

Silence” will expand from 747 sites to 1,580 on Friday. It’s an optimistic move for a film that has failed to catch on with either awards voters or audiences so far.

The movie, set in 1640 Japan, has under-performed in a month of limited release with $3.8 million. During the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, “Silence” had a per-screen average of $3,179.

Scorsese has been trying to make “Silence,” based on the Shusaku Endo novel about Jesuit missionaries, for 28 years. The film stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Jesuit priests who travel from Portugal to Japan to locate their missing mentor — played by Liam Neeson — and spread Catholicism even though the religion has been banned. It was budgeted between $40 million and $50 million — low by Scorsese standards, but high for a 2 hour and 40 minute long period film that is apparently proving to be a challenge for viewers.

“Silence” has not gotten the kind of awards attention that was once expected. Some of its few recognitions include landing on the top 10 lists of the The American Film Institute and the National Board of Review, while Rodrigo Prieto is one of five nominees for a Best Cinematography Award by the American Society of Cinematographers. Scorsese had been expected to score a Directors Guild of America nomination on Jan. 12 but was passed over.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated Scorsese eight times for a Best Director Oscar. He won in 2006 for “The Departed.” AMPAS announces this year’s nominations on Jan. 24.

“Silence” premiered too late for several awards bodies to consider it, and it didn’t land on any major critics awards lists. Yet critical reception has been mostly positive, with an 84% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, said Paramount’s decision to expand “Silence” could pay off.

“This is often a smart strategy for studios that have confidence that their film may grab Oscar nominations and perhaps have another bite of the box office apple,” he added. “Clearly studios believe in the power of Oscar to give films a bump in interest and thus a potential bump in revenue.”

M. Night Shyamalan’s horror-thriller “Split” and Vin Diesel’s “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” are poised to fight for the weekend’s North American box office crown with about $20 million each predicted. Paramount is also releasing “Xander Cage.”

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