Once upon a time, an Oscar win meant an even-bigger box-office haul. After its surprise win in 1982, “Chariots of Fire” grossed an adjusted $184 million — $107 million of which came post-Oscars.
Today, a 139 percent post-Oscars growth spurt at the box office is even harder to imagine than a blockbuster movie about a 1924 footrace. All the top titles, from “The Shape of Water” to “Dunkirk,” can be streamed. “Call Me By Your Name” is set for home availability March 13. Only Foreign Language Film winner “A Fantastic Woman” has a longer theatrical-only period ahead.
That’s not necessarily bad news. Streaming revenues give a much higher return to distributors than late-run theater dates, which are usually well below 50 percent, and something needs to pay for all that Oscar campaigning. And when “The Shape of Water” is the highest grossing Best Picture winner in six years, but has been seen by about 6 million people in North America, there are plenty more would-be viewers.
“Birdman,” “Spotlight,” and “Moonlight” were still in theaters after their wins, and saw their pre-Oscar grosses increase between 10 percent and 25 percent. But ultimately, each earned about $5 million; that suggests a ceiling for gain.
Here’s the prospects for the top winners:
The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight)
“Shape” will play in over 1,000 theaters this weekend, up from 832 leading into the show. As of Sunday, “Shape” made $57.4 million. Add a minimum of $5 million and it would total out at around $63 million.
That would place it fifth highest among director Guillermo del Toro’s domestic films in adjusted grosses (behind “Blade II,” “Pacific Rim,” and both his “Hellboy” movies). “Pan’s Labyrinth” — with subtitles! — took in over $50 million at 2018 prices by comparison.
However, most of his earlier films did not benefit from the quick returns of streaming revenues. And with a box-office gross over $60 million, it would be highest-grossing Best Picture winner since “Argo.”
Three Billboard Outside Ebbing Missouri (Fox Searchlight)
Best Actress and Supporting Actor wins will keep it in around 400 theaters this weekend, down from 770. The last film to win two acting Oscars was “Dallas Buyers Club,” which also was already available in homes; it added around 15 percent to its gross.
With $52 million in, that could mean an impressive $7 million-$8 million for “Three Billboards.” It’s positioned to end up around $60 million.
Darkest Hour (Focus)
This is a surprisingly successful biopic; recent similar titles had suggested a gross under $30 million. It made $55.4 million before Gary Oldman’s Best Actor win, $4 million of which came in after it began streaming. The film rose to 913 theaters last weekend, but at just $570,000 it reached a point of diminishing returns. Focus has not yet reported next weekend’s theater count, but this might make another $2 million-$3 million — maybe even a total of $60 million.
I, Tonya (Neon)
“I, Tonya,” which took Best Supporting Actress, had the lowest total going into the awards and was the last among the top-category winners to be released. It might have some theatrical life to come, but it’s also just become available via streaming. With Allison Janney’s long television career and the sensational middle-America story at its core, this is an Oscar film that might pique the attention of more mainstream moviegoers. “Whiplash,” another supporting winner at a similar point in its run, added only $500,000 after its win.
A Fantastic Woman (Sony Pictures Classics)
This will be the big winner. After its brief 2017 qualifying run, the Chilean film about a transgender woman coping after her partner’s unexpected death opened in early February, and still has much of the country to go. As of last weekend, it grossed $781,000, with 89 theaters at its highest point. Upcoming theaters will add to its total, but the greatest impact will come from the high-end specialized theaters that will extend their runs.
Last year’s winner, “The Salesman,” similarly saw its initial release close to its nomination. It expanded a little more rapidly by Oscar night, at which point it had grossed $1.4 million; afterward, it made $1 million more. Expect that as a minimum for “A Fantastic Woman,” which likely has broader appeal and marketable elements (lead actress Daniela Vega was presenter at the Oscars, with her own compelling story), and the reliable SPC to maximize its potential. Don’t be surprised if this rises to over $2 million. That would be low compared to most winners— but at the high end for subtitled films in the current unfriendly market.