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‘Argo,’ Warner Bros. Capitalizing on Awards at Box Office

Analysis: Warner Bros. has made the most of the awards run by "Argo," even putting it back in theaters where it already played

“Argo,” which seems to have been snatching up every award in sight lately, would be the front-runner in this one, too, if it existed: Best Use of a Sudden Slew of Honors.

Ben Affleck's Iran hostage thriller has been in release since Oct. 12, but following the Oscar nominations on Jan. 10 — and subsequent honors from the Producers Guild, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild and BAFTA —  the box-office grosses have risen in four of the last five weeks. It's domestic total is $123.7 million, and nearly $14 million of that has come since the nominations – in weeks 14 through 18.

"Argo" established itself as a hit when it opened in 3,232 theaters, its largest distribution to date, to $19 million and two weeks later took the No. 1 weekend spot in its third week. It cemented that status in late November when it crossed the $100 million mark, but that was quite a while ago. And in the first week of 2013, "Argo" nearly dropped out of sight. It was down to 302 theaters, grossed less than $800,000 and fell out of the top 20 films. 

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But this past weekend, it grossed $2.5 million after Warner Bros. added 470 theaters to raise the location count to 1,405, and returned to the top ten for the first time since Thanksgiving.  For some exhibitors, this is the second booking for “Argo,” and that's unusual.

“It's an extraordinary situation,” Warner Bros. executive vice president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein told TheWrap, “but then this has been an extraordinary ride for an extraordinary film.”

Since its seven Oscar nominations, with Warner Bros. steadily upping its screen count, “Argo” has posted week-to-week percentage gains of 59, 80, 12 and, this past weekend, 23 percent. 

Goldstein said that he would like to add more screens this week, but it could be tough because of the four openers crowding the market. On Valentine's Day, his studio is rolling out the drama “Beautiful Creatures,” Relativity debuts its romance “Safe Haven,” the Weinstein Company has its animated “Escape From Planet Earth” and Fox has “Good Day to Die Hard.”

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"Argo" comes out on DVD on Feb. 19, so the post-nominations box-office run for the movie, which cost about $45 million to make, will likely slow. But there is, of course, one more chance for a bump with the Oscars on Feb. 24, and Warner Bros. has shown it knows how to capitalize on hardware.

"Lincoln" is still leading the Best Picture nominee pack at the box office, with $174 million, followed by "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "Argo" and "Life of Pi." The international grosses of several of the films — "Pi" with $455 million, "Les Miz" with $215 million and "Django" with $187 million — top their domestic totals. "Argo" has made $75 million abroad.

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There is no direct correlation between box office and Oscar success. Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 movie “The Hurt Locker” is Exhibit A. It beat out "Avatar" for Best Picture despite a domestic total of $17 million, compared to the $750 million total for James Cameron's 3D epic.

On the other hand, plenty of blockbusters — “Forrest Gump,” “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings” — have taken home the big prize. And 20 of the past 34 Best Picture winners have made $100 million or more at the box office, suggesting Academy voters can appreciate a film that resonates with a mass audience.

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