The Oscars are finally in the annals of history, and obviously the biggest box-office related story is that "The Hurt Locker," a $15 million grossing film festival pick-up, managed to take six awards - including best picture and best director. Most impressive is that it did so against the billion-dollar-grossing mammoth of a cultural phenomenon that was "Avatar." But while a limited re-release brought "Locker" $439,000 more in grosses this past weekend, and a similar amount should result this upcoming weekend, it's unlikely its big win will allow it to cross even the $20 million mark (though it's likely DVD sales will be greatly affected). In fact, few of the prominently nominated films really benefited from Oscar this year when it came to box office. "Avatar" and "The Blind Side," for example, were already massive hits pre-nominations, and it's doubtful they really received much of a pre-awards related boost. Ditto "Inglourious Basterds" and "Up,"both of which had already arrived on DVD.
In 2009, when there were only five nominees, including "Slumdog Millionaire," "Milk," "Frost/Nixon," "The Reader," and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," in which Oscar seemed to have a much greater affect. With all of the films still in theaters, their grosses jumped 94% between the announcement of the nominations and Oscar night itself. This year, despite the expanded field, the grosses only gained about 15%, which was in very large part due to "Avatar" - grosses that questionably had anything to do with Oscar. This contrast probably has less to do with any sort of trend in Oscar's influence than it does the release dates of the best picture nominees. While every single nominee last year came out in November or December, this year only four of the ten did - and two of them were those aforementioned box office phenomenons.
That all said, there were some smaller films and companies that did make good use of Oscar this years. While it was more or less mostly small victories, it did suggest there's still some Oscar gold. Here's indieWIRE's rundown of four of the most notable awards season specialty release winners:
On Oscar weekend, Oren Moverman's "The Messenger" hit $1,006,655 at the box office. That may seem like a small amount, but for relatively new distributor Oscilloscope, it marked a substantial step forward in that it was the first of their films to cross the million dollar mark. This was in large part due to another milestone for the company in their 3 Oscar nominations this year: Two for "The Messenger" (in the major categories of best supporting actor and best original screenplay, no less), and one for doc "Burma VJ." This came in addition to "The Messenger"'s four Spirit Award nominations.
"I thought it was really exciting," Oscilloscope's Adam Yauch told indieWIRE. "Mainly because both of these films are films that have an important purpose in this world beyond just trying to make money. These films have a higher purpose - conveying some information of what's going on, so from that perspective it's really exciting to see the awards attention because it means a lot more people are going to find out about these films."
As for what this means for the future?
"We don't really have a five year plan," Yauch said. "We'd be lucky to have a one year plan. But basically our plan is to continue to go out and find films that we like and resonate with us for whatever reason... And it'd be great if we can ramp up and get to the point where we can find wider and wider audiences."
By far the individual film to benefit the most from the Oscar nominations, Scott Cooper's "Crazy Heart" - starring Jeff Bridges in what is now an Oscar-winning performance - had grossed only $6.8 million when "Heart"'s three nominations were announced. With post-awards grosses still to come, the film has now taken in over $29.5 million, making it one of the highest grossing specialty films technically released in 2009.
The interesting thing about the Fox Searchlight release is that it was originally supposed to be part of next year's awards season. But Searchlight saw that there was breathing room in this year's race, and decided at the last minute to release it in late December. It turned out to be a good plan.
“The release of this movie was tied completely to the awards season,” "Heart" co-star and Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal told indieWIRE. “And I could feel it so strongly. For example, when Jeff Bridges won the Golden Globe, all of a sudden ten people a day would stop me on the street and tell me they’d seen the movie. It had such a huge effect."
Sony Pictures Classics
Sony Classics had quite the heavy hand heading into this year's race, and they pulled off quite the balancing act. With a whopping 13 nominations (from 7 different films), SPC tied The Weinstein Company to lead all distributors' nomination tallies, and also managed to make good on it all financially.
The distributor's lone best picture nominee "An Education" managed to add $3.3 million onto its now $12 million tally; "The Last Station," which was held off from release until January 15th, managed to take in $4.5 million so far - due in very large part to its two acting nominations; both "The White Ribbon" and "A Prophet" have been managing strong numbers for foreign-language releases, with the former grossing $1,710,787 since its late December release and the latter already taking in $475,151 despite only 2 weekends of a very limited run.
And the best may be yet to come. "The Secret in Their Eyes," which won best foreign language film over "Ribbon" and "Prophet," doesn't even open until April 16th.
"The Secret of Kells"
While it's definitely a bit too soon to really claim it as a success story, Tomm Moore's "The Secret of Kells" - which surprised everyone by picking up a nomination for a Best Animated Feature Oscar - had a very good debut over Oscar weekend. It opened on a sole screen at the IFC Center in New York this Oscar weekend, and grossed $39,826, selling out all of its Saturday shows and finding the biggest single-screen opening weekend gross ever for the IFC Center.
It's a promising number for the GKIDS-released film, and the second best specialty per-theater-average of the year behind Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer."
"We are just thrilled beyond words at the record-breaking reception New York audiences have given to 'The Secret of Kells,' and how amazing that this good news comes on the very same day when the film is a nominee at the Academy Awards," Eric Beckman, president of GKIDS, told indieWIRE. "It has been an amazing ride so far, and we now look forward to expanding our release even further and giving audiences in other markets an opportunity to experience the film."
"Box Office 2.0" is a weekly column by indieWIRE Associate Editor Peter Knegt. Check out the previous editions:
Box Office 2.0: Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski at the Box Office
Box Office 2.0: The Worldwide Box Office Wrath of "Khan"
Box Office 2.0: 10 Potential Late Winter Indie Breakouts
Box Office 2.0: Oscar By The Numbers
Box Office 2.0: Recapping The Non-Competition Films of Sundance '09
Box Office 2.0: Recapping The Competition Films of Sundance '09
Box Office 2.0: Tracking The Awards Contenders
Box Office 2.0: The Biggest Stories of the 2009 Indie Box Office
Box Office 2.0: "Broken Embraces" and the Cannes '09 Crop
Box Office 2.0: What Happens To "Precious" Now?
Box Office 2.0: The Curious Case of "Orson Welles"
Box Office 2.0: Fall Winners and Losers
Box Office 2.0: Assessing 2009's Dox Office From "Capitalism" to "The Cove"
Box Office 2.0: Two Notable DIY Releases That Opened In "Precious"'s Shadow
Box Office 2.0: Snap Judgements & Great Expectations