US box office and Oscar nominations

Last year I looked at the impact of Academy Award nominations and wins on the daily box office grosses of best picture winners from (here). This year I look at the nine films nominated for best picture at this years Oscars. All the box office data used here is available at Box Office Mojo.

Table 1 presents the pre- and post-nomination box office gross for those films nominated for best picture. The nominations were announced on 24 January 2012, and pre-nomination gross is the total gross up to this point. The post-nomination gross covers the period 24 January to 26 February. For those films that were released a long time ahead of the announcements of the nominees there is no benefit since these films just aren’t around for audiences to see. From The Help, Midnight in Paris, and Moneyball we can also see that re-releases after 24 January don’t make much of a difference to a film’s gross. The thing that really stands out is the low nature of the total grosses: only The Help took more than $100 million prior to Sunday.

Table 1 Pre- and post-nomination box office gross for films nominated for best picture at 2011 Academy Awards ($ million).

There is no point at looking at the daily grosses for Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Help, and The Tree of Life since they were not on wide release when the nominations were announced. We could look at DVD sales and downloads to see if the nomination had any effect on the earning power of these films. Here I’m interested in the daily box office grosses of the cinema releases up to 25 February.

Although the post-nomination box office takings of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Figure 1) accounts for the majority of its gross, this cannot be attributed to any benefit gained from being nominated for best picture. From its day of release (25 December) until 20 January this film was showing in just 6 theatres and this very limited release explains why the grosses in the early part of this film’s release are so low. On 20 January the film went wide to 2630 theatres and this explains the sudden jump in the daily grosses. From this point forward (day 27) the daily grosses show the typical trend of a film that could have been released at any time of year. From Figure 1 there is no evidence that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close received any benefit from being a nominee for best picture. This film has received generally poor reviews in the US and abroad. This particularly the case in the UK, where it has been described as both ‘soothingly banal’ in the Telegraph and as ‘hollow, calculated, [and] manipulative’ in the Observer – neither of which come close to the scathing review in the New York Post, which described the film as ‘extremely, incredibly exploitive’ and a ‘quest for emotional blackmail, cheap thrills and a naked ploy for an Oscar’. Being nominated for best picture does not appear to have been able to mitigate the bad reviews.

Figure 1 Daily box office gross of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Figure 2 presents the daily box office grosses of War Horse. Although this film was directed by Steven Spielberg, and is an adaptation of a successful book that has also been an internationally successful stage production there is no evidence that the nomination for best picture had any impact on its gross. The trend does not vary at all around 24 January, and by the time the winners were announced last Sunday this film had pretty much played out at the US box office. The stage version of War Horse won five Tony awards, including best play, but the film has received mediocre reviews (particularly in the UK) and has a world-wide gross of $141.76 million (with $79.06 million in the US). This sounds like a lot of money, but with an estimated negative cost of $66 million it represents a relatively modest return – especially when Spielberg is the director.

Figure 2 Daily box office gross of War Horse. The blue line is the day on which the Academy award nominations were announced.

The box office grosses of Hugo show a small bump following the announcement of its nomination (Figure 4). The number of theatres showing this film was increased after 24 January from 650 to 925, but the effect cannot be simply attributed to a wider release since the average gross per theatre also increases. Hugo does seem to have directly benefited from being in the running for an Oscar, albeit on a relatively limited scale. This is the same pattern in The Departed – also  directed by Martin Scorsese – I noted last year.

Figure 3 Daily box office gross of Hugo. The blue line is the day on which the Academy award nominations were announced.

Another interesting feature in Figure 3 is the a typical period of grosses from day 31 to 41. This covers the period 23 December to 2 January, and is a clear indicator of how audience behaviour changes over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

This same pattern can be seen in the grosses of The Descendants (Figure 4). The peaks in this period occur on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, grosses for this film are low and at no point do they exceed $3 million.

Figure 4 Daily box office gross of The Descendants. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced. (NB: this data does not include grosses prior to 25 November).

The orange line shows the date (15 January) on which the results of the Golden Globes were announced, and this does appear to have given the film a boost. In the week leading up to Friday, 13 January, The Descendants was showing in 737 theatres. From 13 January to 19 January it was showing in 660 theatres, and then in 560 theatres until 26 January. Over this period the gross of the film actually increased and, obviously, so did its gross per theatre indicating that winning the award for Best Motion Picture – Drama from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association did have a positive impact on this film’s box office performance (see Figure 4a). After it was announced as a nominee for the best picture, the number of theatres showing The Descendants was increased to 2001 on 27 January. However, this lead to a fall in the average gross suggesting and so while being nominated for an Oscar appears to have led to an increase in box office at least part of this needs to be attributed to the wider release pattern. Of course, the reason this film was given a wider release after day 63 on release is because it was nominated for an Oscar.

Figure 4a Daily average gross per theatre for The Descendants. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.

It is difficult to separate the effects of the Golden Globe win and the Oscar nomination on the box office gross for this film. Te change in the number of theatres over the last two weeks of January clearly indicates how distributors and exhibitors view the two different awards: Golden Globes aren’t that important and even a win will not stop the decrease in the number of theatres showing your film (even if it boosts your gross) but a nomination for an Oscar makes a big difference.

Finally, we come to this year’s best picture, The Artist (Figure 5). This film also won the Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes.

Figure 5 Daily box office gross of The Artist. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.

In Figure 5 we see the same boost over the Christmas period we see with Hugo and The Descendants. However, unlike The Descendants where the average gross per theatre over this period went even though the number of theatres went down, the boost to grosses of The Artist can in large part be attributed to the fact that it is on 23 December that it goes on wide release. From 25 November until 22 December, The Artist was showing in 4 to 17 theatres but on 23 December it was showing in 167 theatres. The second jump in the grosses occurs on 20 January when the number of theatres went from 216 to 662 but the average gross per theatre fell. This suggests that, unlike The Descendants, there is no clear evidence of a boost from winning a Golden Globe and that increasing the number of screens is more likely to be directly responsible for the jump in grosses. The publicity from winning the Golden Globe no doubt played a part in the decision to increase the number of theatres so dramatically. The announcement of The Artist‘s nomination for best picture was presumably also a factor in the decision to substantially increase the number of theatres a second time on 27 January to 897. The average gross remained static for the first week, and then falls as more theatres were added after 3 February (see Figure 5a). The impact of an Academy Award nomination for best picture on the grosses of The Artist are more likely to be indirect in that they influenced the behaviour of distributors and exhibitors than direct in the impact it had on the behaviour of audiences.

Figure 5a Daily average gross per theatre for The Artist. The orange line is the day of the Golden Globe awards, and the blue line is the day the Academy award nominations were announced.

The final interesting feature to note is the spike at day 82. This is out of step with the corresponding point in other weeks, and represents a sudden increase in the box office gross. The gross on this day was $100,000 greater than the corresponding day in the previous week, and more than double the gross of the previous day. This can be explained very simply: day 82 of this film’s release was Valentine’s Day. A similar bump can be seen at day 82 of The Descendants. in fact, this effect is present  for every film but in the five other graphs the size of this change in audience behaviour is not so large that it jumps out at you. In part, this is due to the other films being largely played out by mid-February and in part to the fact that the daily grosses of The Descendants and The Artist are much lower than those of the other films. This means that the benefit of being on release on Valentine’s Day for these films is greater since it makes a larger difference relative to their overall gross. It is interesting that in none of these examples was the number of theatres showing a film varied for Valentine’s Day since this is a day in which people in the US go to the cinema in far greater numbers than is usually the case.

Dinner and movie for a date on Valentine’s – Americans are sweet.

But it does prove that cinemas will never die – staying in to watch a movie isn’t the same as going out to watch a movie and the socializing aspect of going to a theatre is crucial in understanding the enduring appeal of the medium.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on March 1, 2012, in Academy Awards, Film Industry, Film Studies, Hollywood, Motion Picture Distribution, Motion Picture Exhibition and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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