Box office gross and the best picture

The King’s Speech won the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday, and has so grossed over $245 million worldwide against a budget of $15 million. This film follows in the footsteps of The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country for Old Men in being voted Best Picture despite being anything but the blockbuster-type films that Hollywood is so economicelly dependent upon. (We might also like to take a moment to reflect on why it is that Americans are so keen to lavish awards on films about the British royal family). This can be clearly seen by looking that daily box office gross for the American release of The King’s Speech, using data from Box Office Mojo (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Daily box office gross for The King’s Speech, released Friday 26 November 2010 (Source: Box Office Mojo).

The blue line indicates the announcement that the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the green line indicates the day on which it won the Oscar. This allows us to see the performance of the film pre- and post-nomination, and post-award. The red curve is the moving average fitted using the classical decomposition module at, with the seasonality set to 7 to take into account the weekly variation. Unless otherwise noted, this is also the case for the other graphs included in today’s post. (NB: These graphs are quite large and contain a lot of information, so it’s best to click on then to open a separate window to see them clearly).

Looking at the data in Figure 1, we can see that the initial release of The King’s Speech was limited: its opening weekend saw it gross just $355,450 from 4 theatres. After a month, the film was released wide to 700 theatres grossing $4,484,352 for the weekend from 25 December 2010 (which was actually a Saturday). The subsequent gross of the film coincided with wins at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs (though the impact of the latter on American audiences is questionable), and the trendline reveals steady progress for the 60 days following christmas. Rather usefully, Box Office Mojo gives a breakdown for the performance of films at the US box office before and after Oscar nominations and awards, and this tells us that, if we take our last reading on the day of the Oscars (i.e. last Sunday), of the $114, 231,030 grossed by The King’s Speech $57,949,346 or 50.7% was grossed prior to its nomination and that $56,281,684 (49.3%) was grossed between the nomination and its win.

The limited release that we see in Figure 1 is also evident if we look at the daily grosses of the three prior Best Picture winners. Figure 2 presents the daily US grosses for The Hurt Locker, which is unique of the films included here as it is the only film to have won the Oscar having been released prior to October (this is why the blue and green lines do not appear on the graph). The data for this film on Box Office Mojo is for the original release int he summer of 2009, and upon nomination it was re-released in early 2010. Prior to its nomination, the film grossed $12,671,105 or 74.5% of its total ($17,017,811). Having been nominated, The Hurt Locker grossed a further $2,028,895 (11.9%); and then took a further $2,317,811 (13.6%) once it had been announced as a winner. Like The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker was originally released to just 4 theatres grossing $145,352 on its opening weekend, and only adding screen after two weeks.

Figure 2 Daily box office gross for The Hurt Locker, released Friday 26 June 2009 (Source: Box Office Mojo).

Slumdog Millionaire is an example of a film that really benefitted enormously from the Academy Award nomination and win. The daily grosses for this film are presented in Figure 3, and note that unlike the other films included here the first of this film’s release is a Wednesday and NOT a Friday (which explains why the peaks of the film’s grosses are slightly off). Slumdog Millionaire was originally released to just 10 theatres grossing $360,018 before going wide a couple of weeks later (26 November 2008) to 614 theatres and grossing $4,301,870. The real picture is given by looking at the gross pre- and post-nomination, and post-award. Prior to being nominated, the film grossed $44,711799 or 31.6% of its total. Having been nominated, it grossed a further $53,642,596 (38.0%); and once it was conformed as Best Picture went on to gross another $42,965,533 (30.4%). This gives the film a total gross of $141,319,928 against a budget of $15 million. Looking at the trendline in Figure 3, the boost to gross of Slumdog Millionaire of being nominated and wining the Oscar is clear to see: the nominate puts it up another level and the win gives it a final kick before it plays out.

Figure 3 Daily box office gross for Slumdog Millionaire, released Wednesday 12 November 2008 (Source: Box Office Mojo).

Comparing the facts for The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, we can see that this year’s Best Picture winner is a carbon copy of the 2008 winner, and we might expect it perform similarly now that is is Best Picture.

The data for No Country for Old Men on Box Office Mojo is not to the same standard as that for the other films included here. All but six of the daily gross values are estimated and there are to breaks in the data. This should be borne in mind when interpreting the information from Figure 4. NOTE: The trendline in Figure 4 is simply the seven period moving average that Microsoft Excel will calculate for you, and is NOT the same as the trendlines in the other graphs (which have the seasonality removed).

Figure 4 Daily box office gross for No Country for Old Men, released Friday 9 November 2007 (Source: Box Office Mojo).

No Country for Old Men is another film released in November. It is another film that was initially given a limited release to just 28 theatres (grossing $1,226,333) before going wide after two weeks to 860 theatres (grossing $7,776,773) – hence the big jump in grosses around day 15. As we can see from Figure 4, it is another film to have benefitted from the nomination and the win, with weekend grosses picking up after each (although the weekday grosses after the nomination do not appear to have changed that much). The pre-nomination gross for this film was $48,899,543 (65.8% of $74,283,625); with a further $15,391,636 (20.7%) post-nomination and $9,992,446 (13.5%) post-award.

Taking these films together – The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country for Old Men – we can see that the Academy Award for Best Picture over the past four years has gone to films that have had similar release patterns. In fact, we have to go back to The Departed in 2006 to find a Best Picture winner with the time series chart that is typical of Hollywood blockbusters – a big opening weekend followed by a steady decline. The daily box office figures for The Departed are presented in Figure 5.

Figure 5 Daily box office gross for The Departed, released Friday 6 October 2006 (Source: Box Office Mojo).

From Figure 5, we can see that the announcement that The Departed had been nominated for an Academy Award produced a small upsurge in box office gross, but that by the time it won the award it had played out and received no actual economic benefit from being the Best Picture. According to Box Office Mojo, from its original release date to the announcement of its nominations, The Departed grossed $121,756,022 or 92.0% of its total. After the nomination it grossed $10.049,275 (7.6%), and after its win just $579,018 (0.4%). (Of course, this data tells us nothing of the impact of the Oscars on DVD/Blu Ray/download sales). This is the only film of the past five Best Picture winners to open wide on its first weekend, grossing $26,887,467 from 3017 theatres. In fact, none of the other four films got anywhere near this number of theatres at any point in their release.


About Nick Redfern

I am an independent academic with over 15 years experience teaching film in higher education in the UK. I have taught film analysis, film industries, film theories, film history, science fiction at Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Central Lancashire, and Leeds Trinity University, where I was programme leader for film from 2016 to 2020. My research interests include computational film analysis, horror cinema, sound design, science fiction, film trailers, British cinema, and regional film cultures.

Posted on March 3, 2011, in Academy Awards, Film Industry, Film Studies, Motion Picture Distribution, The King's Speech and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: