Best Picture Contenders’ Oscar Bumps Barely Showing

Most have seen modest returns, with “American Sniper” the lone major gainer

With the exception of “American Sniper,” and to a lesser degree “Selma,” the Best Picture Oscar contenders have seen mainly baby bumps at the box office since their nominations.

The Iraq War saga from Warner Bros. is in a league of its own financially, having taken in virtually all of its roughly $250 million in domestic grosses since opening wide on January 16. That was the day after the Clint Eastwood-directed drama starring Bradley Cooper earned nominations for Best Picture, Actor and four others.

“Selma,” the historical drama based on the 1965 Alabama marches for voting rights, has taken in 62 percent of its $43.6 million haul since the nominations. Paramount Pictures opened the Ava DuVernay-directed historical drama in 19 theaters on Christmas Day, and in wide release a week before they were announced.

This year’s Best Picture contenders were never expected to be box-office dynamite.

The eight Best Picture movies had earned a combined $203.1 million prior to the nominations. That’s by far the lowest total since the field was expanded by the Academy from five, according to Box Office Mojo. The previous low was 2011, when the nine nominated films had earned a combined $519 million ahead of the nominations. Ironically, that’s roughly the same amount that this year’s movies have earned as of Tuesday, including their post-nomination bumps.

“These are really well-done films, but they have limits in terms of the mainstream because at heart they’re art house movies,” said Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock. “They have real appeal to their core audiences, but the fact is most teenagers don’t give a rat’s ass about them.”

Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel

There wasn’t much to be gained for some. Fox Searchlight’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and IFC Films’ “Boyhood” opened earlier in the year and are played out theatrically — barring an Oscar victory — and available on DVD. Searchlight gave “Budapest” a limited re-release just after the nominations, but that was mainly a nod to its fan base.

The historical drama “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as gay British cryptologist Alan Turing, is the second-highest grossing of the Best Picture contenders with $68 million. Since the nominations, it’s brought in about $25 million, or 37 percent of that total, for The Weinstein Company.

TWC has taken a gradual approach with “Imitation Game,” hoping to catch the same sort of box-office and awards lightning that “The King’s Speech” did in 2010.

TWC rolled out “Imitation Game” in 747 theaters on Christmas Day and went to 1,566 on January 9, the week before the nominations. It stayed there until Jan. 23, when it went up to 2,025 locations and brought in nearly $7 million. Last weekend, it added roughly $5 million after expanding into 2,402 theaters.

“The Imitation Game” was at $43 million before the nominations. By comparison, “The King’s Speech” was at nearly $58 million at that point, and brought in $78 million, or nearly 58 percent of its eventual $135 million, after the nominations and its Best Picture victory.

“The Theory of Everything” has grossed $4.4 million since the nominations for Focus Features, or roughly 14 percent of its $30.6 million domestic total. The Stephen Hawking biopic starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones opened on Nov. 7 and was in its widest release, 1,220 theaters, on Dec. 12. Its widest post-nominations rollout was 858 theaters on Jan. 23, when it took in $1.2 million.

Michael Keaton in BirdmanSince the nominations came out, Fox Searchlight has squeezed $6.7 million out of “Birdman,” the dark comedy directed by Alejandro Inarritu and starring Michael Keaton that opened in October. That’s roughly 20 percent of its $33.3 million domestic total. It took in $1.5 million last weekend when it was playing in 976 theaters, its widest run.

Sony Classics has yet to go nationwide with its music school drama “Whiplash,” which has taken in $8.6 million since its limited debut on Oct. 6. Since the nominations, it’s drummed up $2.5 million, or roughly 29 percent of its haul. Its biggest weekend was two weeks ago, when it brought in $787,000 from 567 theaters.

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