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Later Oscar Noms Force Theaters to Place Their Bets Early for the Weekend

Analysis: With nominations announced on Thursday rather than Tuesday, theaters had to place their bests early on the front runners

The studios' scramble to quickly place Oscar-nominated movies on as many theater screens as possible — an awards season tradition — is missing this year.

With the Academy releasing its nominations on Thursday, rather than Tuesday, there was no time for maneuvering. The theaters were forced to place their bets on the front runners early on.

Also read: The Complete List of Oscar Nominations

Sony planted its “Zero Dark Thirty” flag on this weekend more than a month ago and will be in roughly 2,400 theaters. Disney weeks ago sealed its 126-theater expansion for DreamWorks’ “Lincoln,” which garnered the most nominations with 12, and will have it on about 2,090 screens. 

The playdate tweaking that does go on will come next weekend, for the three-day Martin Luther King holiday.

Also read: Oscar Analysis: 'Lincoln' Is On Top, But Watch Out for 'Silver Linings Playbook' and 'Life of Pi'

The Weinstein Company was ahead of the curve on that one, targeting the MLK weekend to go wide with "Silver Lining Playbook" from the start of its campaign and securing commitments early.

"We'll be shooting for around 2,500 theaters," Weinstein's distribution chief Erik Lomis told TheWrap Thursday. It will be on about 745 screens this weekend. 

Waiting until next weekend will allow the distributors to further capitalize on potential wins at Sunday's Golden Globes.

“We’ll see how things play out with the Globes,” Disney head of distribution Dave Hollis said of "Lincoln," "but we’ll hope for the best and if things go well, we could add more screens the following week.”

Also read: Oscar Nominations: The Complete List

Fox will be looking to add another 200 or so screens on the MLK weekend for “Life of Pi,” which was second with 11 Oscar noms. In its eighth week of release, it’s currently on 750 screens.

“We’re really proud of this movie,” Fox’s head of distribution Chris Aronson told TheWrap. "We think it's going to do brisk business this week, and we’re going to try it get it as out there as we can next week so that more people can see why this film is so special.”

The fact that of the 100-plus nominations, more than half went to movies that are currently playing in theaters further diminished the need for screen bartering, according to Russ Nunley, vice president of marketing and communications for the Regal Entertainment Group, one of the nation's largest theater chains.

For example, Universal's “Les Miserables” and Weinstein's “Django Unchained” — both multiple nominees — have been ensconced on about 3,000 and 2,900 screens respectively since Christmas.

In can be a balancing act, with theater owners looking to cash in on the newly minted Oscar contenders, while keeping enough screens in play for new films. Technological advances have helped with that, Nunley said. "With digital cinema, we can be more flexible by adding capacity and more available seat for films that suddenly gain momentum at the box office.

Films released earlier this year, like Fox Searchlight's "Beast of the Southern Wild" and Focus Features' "Moonrise Kingdom" are already out on DVD and will see any boost from their noms in that market.