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Oscar Contenders’ Box-Office Bump: ‘The Shape of Water’ Has the Most to Gain from Nominations

All Oscar nominees are winners at future box office — but this year, films like "I, Tonya" and "Phantom Thread" stand to benefit most.

“The Shape of Water”

Distributors spend millions in pursuit of Oscar glory, not solely for bragging rights and ego; success means long-term ancillary value, especially overseas. And in the nominations afterglow, this year’s slate of Oscar contenders stands to gain even more than usual.

Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy romance “The Shape of Water,” already a success for Fox Searchlight with more than $30 million domestic, looks to gain the most after nabbing 13 Oscar nominations. That’s five more than its closest rival, “Dunkirk.” “The Shape of Water” is positioned to make the most money because, unlike most nominees, its widest break is still ahead.

4106_D023_00001_R_CROPLily James stars as Elizabeth Layton and Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in director Joe Wright's DARKEST HOUR, a Focus Features release.Credit: Jack English / Focus Features

“Darkest Hour”

Jack English

Three other late-year platform releases have already done that much or more — “Darkest Hour” (Focus/$41 million), “Lady Bird” (A24/$39 million) and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Fox Searchlight/$32 million).

These are impressive totals. Prior to this year, few nominees had reached these levels by nominations day. Three years ago, “The Imitation Game”had made $40 million; last year, “Manchester By the Sea” had reached $38 million nomination morning.

By comparison, none of the last three Best Picture winners had done so well by mid-January, despite playing for 10 weeks or more — “Birdman” $26 million, “Spotlight” $29 million, and “Moonlight” $14 million. All were home streaming by Oscar night, which reduced additional grosses somewhat.

"Lady Bird"

“Lady Bird”

Courtesy of A24/Color Collective

Unlike “Darkest Hour,” “Lady Bird,” and “Three Billboards” have more than 1,000 prints in release. Best Picture nominees”Phantom Thread” (Focus) and “Call Me By Your Name” (Sony Pictures Classics), as well as “I, Tonya” (up for two acting awards) have yet to exceed 1,000 prints. All will shortly. Meanwhile, the three high-flying early releases each will get a short-term boost, which will likely add $10 million-$15 million more.

Other releases have already done a high level of business, with a chance to pull in more. A24 now looks very smart with the early push for “The Disaster Artist;” ditto STX and “Molly’s Game.” Both earned only screenplay nominations, but accumulated decent totals.

“Shape” has hovered at the low-700 to mid-800 theater range the last five weeks, with its highest number (856) coming last weekend. Now Fox Searchlight is positioned to push it deeper in the country while holding on to most current theaters. An advertising campaign touting its Oscar nominations and awards should push the film to its best three-day weekend of $4 million or more, but it could wind up doubling its current total.

That would be impressive in Oscar terms for recent years. Since “The King’s Speech” in 2010, no winner (other than the wide-release “Argo”) has grossed as much as $60 million. The awards are specialized territory, but results have fallen significantly from early successes like “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Shakespeare in Love,” and “No Country for All Men.”

Timothée Chalamet stars as Elio in <em>Call Me By Your Name</em>

“Call Me by Your Name”

“Call Me By Your Name,” with its 1980s Italian setting and gay romance, has more-limited potential despite its acclaim. Three nominations for Picture, Actor (22-year-old Timothee Chalamet), Song, and Original Screenplay (its best chance for a win) should be enough to give it a boost. At a minimum, it will do substantially more SPC’s “Whiplash” three years ago, which only grossed $14 million total despite three Oscar wins.

“I, Tonya”

Courtesy of NEON

Not up for Best Picture but still getting attention (with a likely Supporting Actress win for Allison Janney) is “I,Tonya.” With a film that has more potential for middle-American appeal than some other contenders, Neon is now positioned to add considerably to its $14 million total as it expands beyond its current theater count of 799. It’s a reasonable guess that it will reach $30 million or more by Oscar night.

Even earlier in its run is Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” which is first Best Picture nominee since “There Will Be Blood” joined “The Post” as a Christmas Day platform release with its expansion weeks later. “Phantom” has made a little over $6.4 million, with about half of that this last weekend in 896 theaters (up from 69). It will grow to more than 1,000 screens this weekend. “Phantom” should be a real test of Oscar’s box-office value: This more-cerebral contender could now make $20 million-$25 million — not a huge haul, but considerably more than it would have managed otherwise.

“The Post”

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

“The Post” has had a credible run so far, but the combination of Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks would appeal at any point. Its two nominations, for Picture and Actress, are significant, which should help it hold. That could lead to an ultimate gross above $80 million — compared to the $70 million or so it might make otherwise.

Among other top category nominees, “Get Out” and “Dunkirk” are both long removed from theaters. Sole acting nominations for “The Florida Project,” “All the Money in the World,” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” will likely have minimal theatrical impact.

Now, distributors need to worry about Oscar-nominated films fighting for the same screens. That will reduce the totals for some, and could also encourage earlier home-viewing dates for several titles.

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