Oscar 2008: Impact of Best Picture Nominations on Theatrical Release

Four of the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: Universal’s “Frost/Nixon,” Focus Features’ “Milk,” Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” and the Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader” have designed their theatriacl release strategy around the Oscar nominations, announced today, Jan 22.

As I noted elsewhere, the biggest loser this year is DreamWorks/Paramount Vantage’s “Revolutionary Road,” which had campaigned for Best Picture, as well as for lead performances nominations for Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio; both were nominated for Golden Globes and Winslet won.  “Revolutionary Road” will expand nationwide tomorrow, Friday, January 23.

“Frost/Nixon” and “Slumdog” will open nationwide on Friday after lengthy limited runs. “Milk,” the more risky in terns of theme, is expanding its theater count only slightly this weekend, but goes nationwide next weekend.

The Best Picture nomination for “The Reader’s” was the big surprise today, putting Harvey Weinstein back in the center of the awards contest, as he had been during his Miramax days.  The film is doing O.K. but not great at the box-office out of 367 sites, but will now go wide.

The nominations have become a linchpin in selling indies and specialty titles to the mass public.  The four-week gap between Oscar nominations and the Oscar ceremony (on Feb 22) can boost significantly the domestic grosses for films earning major nominations.

According to Variety, last year, “There Will Be Blood” grossed $20 million, or half of its domestic cumulative, during that stretch of a month. “Atonement” earned a quarter of its cumulative, or roughly $10 million.

“Frost/Nixon” was counting on major nods because it's been overshadowed at the box office by other titles.  The film opened in November, earning $8.2 million to date, well behind the $20.6 million earned by “Milk,” which opened one week earlier.

“Milk” has a different set of challenges. There’s a sense that the film has exhausted its core demo or target audiences of gay men and urban viewers in big cities.  It remains to be seen whether the picture will crossover into Middle-America multiplexes.

The Weinstein Co. doesn’t have the deep studio pockets for marketing  “The Reader,” which has grossed $5.5 million to date, but will certainly benefit from its major nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Stephen Daldry), and Actress (Kate Winslet).

“Slumdog Millionaire” already is a big hit, grossing $44.2 million to date. Last weekend, the film played on 582 runs, and tomorrow it expands to more than 1,200 theaters.