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Nominations versus box office numbers

Studios tally up the big winners and losers
/ Source: Reuters

Hollywood’s studios Wednesday began tallying winners and losers in the annual Oscar race, one day after nominations were announced for the U.S. film industry’s top awards.

Financial winners were obvious, including such films as “Whale Rider” and “Monster” from Newmarket Films and “The Cooler” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring” from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

Losers were less apparent, and the jury is out on major titles like “Cold Mountain” from Walt Disney Co.’s Miramax Films and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” distributed by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp Ltd.’s Fox Entertainment Group Inc..

The Oscars, given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, provide a so-called “Oscar bounce” to box-office sales. More importantly, Oscar honors promise greater sales of videos, DVDs and higher TV licensing fees.

For a low-budget film like “Monster,” which earned Charlize Theron a best-actress nomination, the winter awards season can be a key driver for theater ticket sales.

“The attention can make the movie have a wider release or be more profitable. There is no question it is going to add millions to the (box office) gross,” said Bob Berney, head of privately held, New York-based Newmarket Films.

How high the bounce?Newmarket released “Monster” in December. As acclaim built, it increased movie screens on which it was airing and will expand from 330 screens last weekend to 600 Friday and likely peak at 800, Berney said.

The domestic box office is now at $6 million, and “Monster” added $2 million of that only last weekend.

Similarly last year, low-budget “The Pianist” linked its marketing directly to awards season and saw its box office take more than double to $20 million in the period, according to box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Inc.

Another winner is director Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” which earned several nominations including best picture. It was released last fall by Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio, then re-released this month as award buzz grew.

“Mystic River” expanded to 1,327 screens last week from 133, boosting total sales for the $25-million film by 5 percent to $58 million. Forty-three screens will be added this week.

The box office bounce is expected to be less meaningful for certified blockbusters like best picture nominee “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” from Time Warner’s New Line Cinema, which has already earned $337 million domestically.

Last year’s “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” sold $321 million of tickets domestically before nominations were handed out. That rose by only $13 million to $334 million the day after winners were named, according to Exhibitor Relations.

Cold Miramax ‘Mountain’There were likely some bruised egos at Miramax Films Tuesday when “Cold Mountain” failed to earn nods in key categories because the studio pushed hard for nominations for the movie, star Nicole Kidman, and director Anthony Minghella.

Miramax and its co-chief Harvey Weinstein have been a major force in Oscar campaigns since the mid-1990’s with past winners like “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love, and it annually uses awards season publicity to help market movies.

To be fair, Miramax won unexpected nominations for Brazilian film “City of God,” and “Cold Mountain” garnered seven nominations overall, including major categories that include best actor and supporting actress, for performances by Jude Law and Renee Zellweger, respectively.

Noting the success of “City of God,” a Miramax spokesman said the Oscars had been “great for the company in many ways.”

“Cold Mountain is performing well at the box office. We have seen little week-to-week drop in grosses and we expect the nominations garnered will give added awareness to the film,” added spokesman Paul Pflug.

Like “Master and Commander,” “Cold Mountain” has yet to finish its domestic or international run or be sold on video, DVD, pay-per-view television or broadcast TV markets.

A Miramax spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Fox, meanwhile, is capitalizing on its 10 Oscar nominations, including best film, by boosting the screen count for “Master and Commander” from 235 last week to 1,117.

The $135 million movie has only generated $85 million in domestic ticket sales, but has garnered another $90 million overseas and has yet to play in the key Japanese market or throughout Latin America.

“The Last Samurai,” too, failed to earn nominations in key groupings, and the $140-million “Samurai” has grossed only $106 million domestically. However, international ticket sales are up around $206 million for a global total of $312 million.

“There is no doubt it was an excellent investment for us to make, and we are very proud of it,” a Warner spokeswoman said.