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Oscar winner ‘Slumdog’ earns box office bump

“Slumdog Millionaire” hauled in the most Oscars on Sunday night but it also received the biggest bounce at the box office of the best-picture nominees.
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Slumdog Millionaire” hauled in the most Oscars on Sunday night but it also received the biggest bounce at the box office of the best-picture nominees.

The rags-to-riches tale brought in an extra $54 million domestically since its nomination Jan. 22 — more than doubling its gross since its November premiere, to $98 million to date.

The lift for the winner of eight Oscars on Sunday, including best picture and director, was more than all of the four other best-picture nominees combined, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers LLC.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the next biggest beneficiary from the post-nomination period and the winner of three Oscars, added just $20.6 million to its $124.2 million total.

The sometime disconnect between critical acclaim and box-office success was given a humorous nod by host Hugh Jackman in his opening number.

“’The Reader,’ I haven’t seen ’The Reader.’ I know I need to see ’The Reader,”’ Jackman sang, referring the Holocaust-themed drama, for which Kate Winslet won the best actress award. “I ran out of time.”

The worsening economy almost sank “Slumdog” as Time Warner Inc. announced it would shut down Warner Independent, which had bought its North American distribution rights. The movie was headed for a direct-to-DVD release when News Corp.’s Fox Searchlight stepped in to distribute it, eventually showing it in 1,600 theaters nationwide.

Flush with success, director Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson said they hoped the big win would convince studios to continue to take chances on smaller films.

“Even the studios will note that we made this for 7 million pounds ($10 million), and it’s going to cross $100 million in the U.S. Tuesday or Wednesday. That’s good business for them,” Colson said, clutching his statuette backstage.

He hoped the success would convince studios to fund independent-style films that “don’t tick all the boxes” of criteria for marketing success.

“If the best of those can get made and our film helps that to happen, well I’m even prouder of these,” he said.

Boyle nodded to best supporting actor winner Heath Ledger, and said small films are what give fledgling actors and directors their start.

“Heath started small as well. He started in small films. Everybody does,” Boyle said. “You’ve got to protect them. It’s difficult because the studios are under pressure, but the studios have to protect them as well.”

Despite its troubled start, the uplifting story about a downtrodden boy and girl falling in love through tough times turned out to be exactly what audiences wanted to see.

“Actually it’s a film that says there are more important things than money,” said Simon Beaufoy, who took home an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, to reporters backstage. “That struck a chord.”

Still, the win comes at a troubling time for major studios, which have announced restructuring plans as well as smaller film slates going forward to mitigate risk in a tough economy.

Several niche labels have recently shut down or been folded into their parents, including Warner Bros.’ Warner Independent, Picturehouse and New Line Cinema brands, Paramount’s Paramount Vantage, and Capitol Films’ THINKFilm.

Among the other best-picture nominees, Universal Pictures’ “Frost/Nixon” nearly doubled its post-nomination gross by $8.6 million to $17.4 million; The Weinstein Co.’s “The Reader,” gained $15.3 million to $23.2 million; and “Milk,” by Universal’s Focus Features added $7.6 million to $28.2 million.