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Oscar Box Office Details: Mixed Bag with Few Breakout Hits

Oscar Box Office Details: Mixed Bag with Few Breakout Hits

The 2014 releases competing this time around are top-heavy with specialized and limited films, most helped by awards attention and anticipation during their release periods before the December parade of accolades. In fact, all eight Best Picture nominees, and all but four of the nominees in acting, directing or writing were initially platform-released.

Of the 106 total feature film category nominations, a mere 26 — less than a quarter — came from initially wide-release films, likely making this the most top-heavy specialized/upscale audience Academy Awards ever.

Below we review all of the top winners and nominees, and list their gross (pre- & post-nomination domestic, as well as total worldwide), their estimated production cost, possible future theatrical upside, where they are available to be seen or will be soon, and give our estimate as to whether financially, at least short-term, it has been worth the investment.

Oscar attention invariably (and sometimes contractually) increases the return to studios in the post-theatrical world (DVD/Blu-Ray, VOD, cable, library). For theatrical play, return engagements after nominations and awards usually see a film rental return much below the normal roughly 50% distributor/theater split, so unless a film is in its initial run (as “American Sniper,” “Selma” and “Still Alice” are), they don’t offer the bonus the increases imply.

(Fox Searchlight) – Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography

Total Domestic Gross: $38 million   Pre/post nomination: $26/11 million   Worldwide: $77 million
Projected domestic/worldwide gross: $50 million/$125 million
Budget: $18 million   Home availability: Now on select VOD platforms, DVD rental on 3/17

Searchlight has been spending like crazy for months on this, so its top wins mean more than glory for them. Like all companies, getting a win has an intangible value that goes beyond profit, and two in a row would be a major coup. But the reality is that despite constant support and theatrical presence since October, this still has grossed less that “The Artist,” a black and white silent French film that was released a month later. Add the production cost and a possible $40-50 million marketing costs worldwide, so it needed their Oscars. The Best Picture and other wins could get this to $50 million (its upside limited by many chains resisting playing VOD available films). “The Artist” three years ago added about $12 million post-Oscars. Among top markets though, Japan and France are among those that have yet to open, and others where it has had minor impact likely see a boost. . Whatever happens this will fall far short of the $187 million worldwide “12 Years a Slave” took in last year.

“The Theory of Everything” (Focus) – Best Actor

Total Domestic Gross: $34 million  Pre/post nomination: $26/8 million   Worldwide: $100 million
Projected domestic/worldwide gross: $42 million/$160 million
Budget: $15 million    Home availability: Now on VOD, DVD 3/17

Despite the presence of Matthew McConaughey and two acting wins, Focus only got “Dallas Buyers Club” ($5 million budget, heavy marketing costs likely not much less than “Theory”) to $27 million domestic and $54 million total. They are coming out much better with the British-made “Theory,” which projects, despite likely $30 million-plus in marketing, to make money for all concerned. A number of territories, including Japan, have yet to open. Still, despite a lot of attention and good reaction, perhaps in part because of all the intense competition. this has never quite broken out as similar past year contenders have, and has domestically fallen short of “The Imitation Game,” the other British biopic in the mix.

“Still Alice” (Sony Pictures Classics/North America)) – Best Actress

Total Domestic Gross: $8 million  Pre/post nomination: $0/8 million  Worldwide: $8 million (foreign not available)
Projected domestic/worldwide gross: $30 million/$60 million
Budget: $5 million   Home availability: Unknown

“Still Alice” is going to be the case study on Oscar-related revenues for years to come. This independently made film, acquired for North America by SPC only last September with the clear expectation that the overdue Julianne Moore had both the role and the year that would get her the win, didn’t even open (other than for a week to qualify) until the day after the nominations, and will have its first wide national break this Friday. This is a film that, released limited apart from the awards cycle, might have ended up around $5 million in total gross. Instead, backed by considerably more marketing expense (SPC paid in the low millions to acquire this), it could see an ultimate figure multiple times that number. This is being handled by many different (often specialized) local distributors around the world. Those that have opened have reported their numbers, and most big countries have yet to open. This is a film that likely would never have made theaters in many places, to Moore’s win has totally changed its trajectory.

Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) – Best Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Sound Mixing

Total Domestic Gross: $11 million  Pre/post nomination: $6/5 million   Worldwide: $12 million
Projected domestic/worldwide gross: $14/30 million
Budget: $3 million   Home availability: DVD rental 2/24

This incredibly well-liked film (it currently sits at #38 on IMDb’s list of all-time favorites) has never been able to gain much traction outside of a very limited upscale/specialized world. It started unimpressively, and never really has come close to getting to where it was expected to, more so with SPC pouring considerable marketing behind this for months now. Its three wins will boost this week’s DVD sales and likely soon to be seen VOD, and international – where this has barely made a dent beyond some limited openings – will have new. This was a low-budget film (and SPC acquired it for $2.5 million, a small portion of what they have added in marketing since). It should be a long-term cable staple after its initial home viewing revenues. and maybe eventually eke out a profit. But this has never took off in theaters the way most expected it to.

Boyhood” (IFC) – Best Supporting Actress

Total Domestic Gross: $25 million   Pre/post nomination: $24/1 million  Worldwide: $44 million
Projected domestic/worldwide gross:  $44 million
Budget: $3 million   Home availability:  Now on DVD and streaming 

IFC didn’t quite keep up with the spending on rival “Birdman,” and the latter’s pedal-to-the-medal investment (which has the advantage of a  least helping to add to its still-in-release theatrical gross) certainly helped tip the race. IFC started from a minimal investment, and did a great job getting this three-hour long film up to its current gross. But even without it winning Best Picture, which is something rivals Sony Pictures Classics and Focus have never done, the company has joined the big boys after years of being seen as mainly a niche company (and increasingly VOD-oriented).

“The Imitation Game” (Weinstein) – Best Adapted Screenplay

Total Domestic Gross: $84 million   Pre/post nomination: $40/44 million    Worldwide: $161 million 
Projected domestic/worldwide gross: $100/$200 million
Budget: $14 million   Home availability: DVD rental 3/31

This has been an anomaly among the Weinstein (and earlier Miramax) awards contenders in that it has become a big success even without (by most accounts) being a top-tier contender in the top categories. Under the current TWC banner, their four top grossing previous Oscar winners all won one or more wins in acting, directing, and picture, with some or much of their grosses coming after their victories. The same applies to all their earlier winners under Miramax other than “Pulp Fiction” (which did about 25% of its business after the nominations, but won only screenplay). “Imitation” despite that  has been an impressive indeed, more so than recent the Weinstein contenders like winner “The Artist” ($44 million) and contenders like “August: Osage County” and ” Philomena,” both coming in under $50 million. Despite heavy campaign expenses likely combined with other marketing possibly triple the production cost, this is going to be a very profitable film for them. With the film still in the Top Ten, expect them to get to $100 million in coming weeks.

The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) – Best Production Design, Costume Design, Make Up & Hair Styling, Original Score

Total Domestic Gross: $59 million  Pre/post nomination: $59/0 million  Worldwide: $175 million
Projected domestic/worldwide gross: $59/175 million
Budget: $30 million   Home availability: Already on DVD, streaming, premium cable

Had this won more than its expected craft Oscars, it would have made distributors rethink their Oscar strategies. “Budapest” was already in profitable territory after its theatrical run finished before the fall festivals that launched most of its competitors. This is a case of a film that might have become the favorite to win had it been a later year release. Instead, it made money, and grossed more than most of its rivals in part because it faced less competition and then had far lower marketing costs. (The inside word is that this was slow to get a campaign in part according to other publicists because the producers didn’t want to throw vanity money into a long-shot campaign). But few other results would have been healthier for the industry than to have a first quarter film win Best Picture. Based on its big score last night and the clear enthusiasm for the film at the Kodak, it might have won much more as a year-end release. But then, the increase in gross (and of that, only about half back in rentals) might have been below much higher marketing costs.

“American Sniper” (Warner Bros.) – Best Sound Editing
Total Domestic Gross: $320 million  Pre/post nomination: $3/317 million    Worldwide: $420 million  
Projected domestic/worldwide gross: $360/$550 million
Budget: $59 million   Home availability: Unknown

This is the overwhelming top grosser among contenders (domestically more than the other seven Best Picture nominees combined), so how much did the Oscar nominations help? As a percentage of its total gross, the least impact. In terms of added gross, probably at the high end, considering the low grosses of most of the rest. Eastwood’s Best Picture winners “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby” combined (adjusting for inflation) equaled $330 million in domestic gross. Despite its minor win, chances are this adds more post-Oscar gross than any of the other films.

“Selma” (Paramount) – Best Song

Total Domestic Gross: $50 million   Pre/post nomination: $17/33 million  Worldwide: $50 million (international totals unreported)   
Projected domestic/worldwide gross:  $52/75 million
Budget: $20 million   Home availability: unknown

Currently the fourth highest grosser among the Best Pictures nominees, and likely to end up that way.  This certainly didn’t lack from publicity over the nominations – even if it was more of a backlash than positive response, and last night got as much or more attention than any other nominee. At its widest it actually played more theaters than all but “Sniper” and “Imitation,” and as a wide release managed to maximize its audience, even if it fell short of its perceived high end potential (“The Butler” amassed $116 million – a clear case of crediting Weinstein marketing, as over-the-top it sometime appears, for creating want-to-see, something “Selma” seemed to lack at anything like the same level). Whether this shows a profit remains to be seen. Its dropping out of high-end competition for big wins early on likely reduced its not insignificant marketing costs (it’s hard to imagine that they’ll come in at under $30 million though), but it is going to need heavy VOD, DVD and long-term library interest to break even. Better news is that its principals are already moving on to other important projects. It only grossed $670,000 this past weekend. It remains to be seen if Paramount tries to capitalize on its win, or saves its marketing ammunition for home viewing dates ahead.

“Ida” (Music Box/U.S. only) – Best Foreign Language Film

Total Domestic Gross: $3.7 million  Pre/post nomination: $3.7 million/0 Worldwide: Unknown outside of U.S.
Home availability: DVD and VOD

The new normal in this category now that all members vote must vote in it — therefore the most widely seen and honored nominee wins — continued for the third straight year (after “Amour” and “The Great Beauty.”) This was released last Spring though, and its theatrical life has been long over. Its win though will elevate its home viewing and international exposure. This might seem like a low gross, but for subtitled specialized releases in the U.S., it is excellent, and Music Box kept its marketing expense on the low-end throughout its run and campaign. And the company’s first-ever Oscar win gives it a significant competitive boost.

“CitizenFour” (Radius-Weinstein) – Best Documentary Feature
Total Domestic Gross: $2.6 million  Pre/post nomination: $2.4/.2 million  Worldwide: $2.6 million
Home availability: HBO (starting 2/23)

Again, the top grosser in the category won. Though it was rivaled and possibly topped by Netflix’s outlay for “Virunga” (even in losing that company showed it is prepared to support its films in their almost entirely exclusive showings), RADiUS won for the second straight year. Its campaign likely cost much more than the film rental they saw, but presumably HBO aided in this substantial effort.


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