Category Archives: Academy Awards

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.

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.