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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In the case of Slumdog, the assumption that no expansion of release would have occurred in the bizarre circumstance of it not receiving a Best Picture nomination is probably flawed. Contracts had already been signed with theaters with the presumption of nominations. But it's useful to look at scenario that as a upper bound. Presuming it held fast at around 600 screens, and had a better than average weekend drop of around 25%, it earns $25 million more post-nomination date, compared with the $95 million it added to its tally, meaning the nomination was worth as much as $70 million in theatrical grosses.

The range between that and the lower bound turns out to be surprisingly narrow. For that, let's treat it like a normal expansion which manages to hold the dollar value on the weekend, and then falls from there. That earns it $31 million more in its run, leaving a $64 million Oscar bonanza. This is something of a special case, but it's illustrative of why studios try so hard for these nominations.

And spend, too. Harvey Weinstein pulled out any number of stops to get The Reader nominated for multiple Oscars in 2009, raising the eyebrows and ire of many. Did it work? Certainly for Kate Winslet it did, but also for the film's bottom line, adding over $20 million to its final total. All of 2009's nominated films did well – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button earned $10.7 million, Milk earned $10.2 million and Frost/Nixon earned $8.2 million out of their Oscar nominations by the same metrics.


Stepping back one more year, 2008's nominees also saw lucrative jumps after being highlighted. The winner, No Country For Old Men, netted $16.4 million extra from Oscar. The presumed runner-up, There Will Be Blood, did even better, with around $19.5 million extra. That these two films would be able to leverage nominations into a lot of cash makes sense, as they're both difficult thrillers that would unearth larger audiences who've been told that they're Oscar-worthy. The three other Best Picture nominees didn't do poorly, though, as critical and audience fave Juno brought in $9.9 million extra. Michael Clayton managed an extra $9.6 million while Atonement brought in $3.4 million more.

In comparison to last year's meager showing by Best Picture nominated films, that's an alarming drop-off. Has the move to ten nominees cheapened the monetary value of them? It's just one year of data, but it's something that bears watching.

And as for this year's contenders – which of these is likely to benefit the most? Think smaller, first. The King's Speech and The Fighter, two biopics with crowd-pleasing elements to them and limited release patterns could see major boosts with awards recognition. Black Swan and 127 Hours could be the year's wild cards, the “I dare you to see it” films of the year made more important by being among the big ten. It may already be too late for 127 Hours unless Franco becomes the odds-on favorite in the Best Actor race, as it's possible it could be run out of theaters by the late-January nomination date. As with last year, some of the major contenders are basically done with their run – The Social Network, Inception and Toy Story 3 can't gain at the box office from their likely nominations – DVD sales count for the bottom line, certainly, but are outside our scope here and I'd need to see proof that Oscar nominations drive them.

The answer to the question of what getting nominated is worth ends up being a rather unsatisfying “it depends”. On the type of movie, the type (and number) of nominations, how long it's been out, how many people have already seen it, what type of release it's had and what kind of pull the studio has. The end result can be from zero to, if you catch lightning in a bottle, upwards of $60 million. What film's going to get that? Well, it's all circumstance.

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