Big post-Oscar revenue bumps at the box office probably aren’t in the envelopes this year, studio distribution executives say. But with the bulk of the major contenders having moved onto their DVD window, home entertainment sales should get a sizable lift.
“From a box-office standpoint, I don’t think that for a lot of these films, there’s going to be much benefit from Oscar acclaim,” said one studio distribution chief. “But I definitely think it will help out in home entertainment.”
The winner of six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, Summit Entertainment’s “The Hurt Locker” is already a prime example.
Having completed its North American theatrical run in November, the Kathryn Bigelow-directed war film was re-introduced into 274 theaters on Oscar weekend, adding $439,000 to a doemstic gross that now stands at $14.7 million.
But the Oscar favorite’s real momentum right now is in the home entertainment market, where "Hurt Locker" has already seen a big spike in the run-up to the awards.
More than 710,000 disc and digital units of the film have been sold, and it has generated about 3.2 million DVD rentals, according to Summit.
Company officials specifically note the movie’s “55” sales index in the home entertainment market.
This number is a ratio, derived comparing each 55,000 million DVD and download units sold of a film, and comparing it to each $1 million worth of box office it generated. Generally speaking, an index in the 30 range is considered very good.
“‘Hurt Locker’ has already benefitted from the Oscars big-time,” noted one rival studio official.
But historically speaking, that bump pales to some of the bigger post-Oscar spikes over the last 30 years.
Winning Best Picture in 1988 in front of a U.S. television audience of more than 42 million viewers, “The Last Emperor” would soon experience what would become the biggest Oscar bump of all time.
Having been released the previous November, the Bernardo Bertolucci-directed film had grossed just over $25 million at the domestic box office when it won the top prize at the Chevy Chase-hosted Oscar telecast on April 11, 1988.
With distributor Columbia Pictures immediately upping its exhibition from 460 to 877 theaters, the film experienced a 306 percent bump the following weekend, taking in $18.6 million, over 42 percent of its gross, after the Oscars were handed out.
While studio officials aren’t looking for those kinds of numbers this year, they don’t sell short the benefit of having clips to their films shown multiple times at the Academy Awards multiple times.
“Unequivocally yes,” responded Fox executive VP of distribution Chris Aronson, when asked if he thinks there’s significant audience left who hasn’t seen “Avatar.” The movie, which has grossed over $712 million in North America since December, was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture (it won three, including production design, cinematography and visual effects). And it remains domestically distributed in 661 3D locations, despite being pushed aside this weekend by the release of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
“I am convinced that much of the business still being done by ‘Avatar’ is from people seeing it for the first time,” Aronson explained — though it missed out on an opportunity by not winning a big award. “A major Oscar victory (would have increased) the numbers of first-times who don’t go to the movies very often. And there would also be others who have seen it and will go back again.”
But again, tempering expectations for big Oscar bumps this year are the release statuses of many of the top contenders, a number of which have completed their theatrical runs.
Besides “Hurt Locker,” among the Academy’s expanded list of 10 Best Picture nominees, a number of other films – “A Serious Man,” “District 9,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Up” — have closed their theatrical runs and moved on to DVD distribution.
One Lionsgate executive cited 2006 Best Picture winner “Crash” as a proven model for these films. Released in May 2005, Lionsgate re-introduced the ensemble drama in a handful of North American theaters (175) the following March after it won the big Oscar.
The Paul Haggis-directed film added only a minimal sum ($1.2 million) to a total domestic box-office gross that eventually totaled $54.6 million, but the enhancement to “Crash’s” DVD performance proved outstanding, with unit sales more than doubling the week after the awards. The film sold 17,500 DVDs the day after the Oscars alone.
While huge Oscar bumps at the box office might not happen this year, several films are in position to be helped. With its star, Jeff Bridges, taking the top actor prize, Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart” is now in its widest release (1,148 theaters) after 12 weeks.
Fox Searchlight will look to build on a domestic box office gross that has reached $25 million for a film that cost only $7 million to shoot.
“I would think that ‘Crazy Heart’ might be one of the few films that could absolutely benefit at the box office from winning an award, just because of its positioning right now,” said one rival studio official. “ ‘Crazy Heart’ could definitely get a big bump.”