The Value of an Oscar Nomination

By Reagen Sulewski

December 8, 2010

Who wants to be a millionaire? All the people who handle awards season Oscars campaigns.

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So, on to the films that did see an effect. Because this is box office, we'll have to make a couple of assumptions – that films which received nominations would have continued on at roughly the same rate of decrease in box office as if the Oscars didn't exist, essentially restarting a film's clock from that point, and that films wouldn't have received a wider expansion. That second one is bit larger of a leap, but without it calculation for some films would be impossible. And on a practical matter, to stop tallying box office once a film's calculated box office drops below $250,000 in a week – we have to draw the line somewhere, and screen availability would become an issue at some point.

Last year's Oscars turn out to be a bad one for examining the phenomenon. Even with the increase to ten Best Picture nominees, last year only five of them were still in theaters, one the aforementioned outlier Avatar. Of the four remaining films to examine, The Blind Side, An Education, Precious and Up in the Air, none showed any great performance after being nominated. The Blind Side had the highest weekend total of those four at the time of nomination, a mere $2.5 million. It got a kick up of around $400 thousand that weekend, which through modeling at a 25 per cent estimated drop off, turns into slightly more than $5 million extra over the next two months. Up in the Air's positive performance post-nomination was barely noticeable - perhaps as little as a $250,000 boost to the weekend following nominations.


Of our two remaining Best Picture nominees for that year, both were effectively out of theaters by the time of nominations (An Education was in 75, Precious was in 222), and both got significant expansions following their nominations. In these cases, I feel it's fair to attribute pretty much the entire post-nomination box office to those nominations. This gives us $3.8 million for An Education and just over $2 million for Precious. Underwhelmed yet?

So why chase Oscar then? Well, for An Education, that $3.8 million represents 30% of the film's total box office. For another matter, that just happens to be a poor crop of films to look at for the phenomenon. Easily the film that benefited most from Oscar nominations last year was Crazy Heart, which rode Jeff Bridges' Best Actor nomination and win, along with two other nominations, to around $20 million extra in the theaters, if we assume expansion plans would have been canceled without them.

Crazy Heart, then, is exactly the kind of film that's most helped by an Oscar nomination or two – a small drama with crowd-pleasing elements that's brought to the forefront of the public's attention. Some films inspire a range of scenarios. The grand champion of these is the 2009 winner Slumdog Millionaire, which went from a film festival favorite to one of the highest grossing films of that year based on awards attention.

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