Prestige of Oscar nominations translates into ticket sales

Story and photo by Zach Tegler, NewsNetNebraska

When Danny Lee Ladely got a call from his representative at Fox Searchlight Pictures offering him to show “Beasts of the Southern Wild” at Lincoln’s Ross Theater again, he jumped at the opportunity.

Five months after its release, “Beasts” collected four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Ladely, director of Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, had already screened the movie when it was released in August 2012.

Ross Theater director Danny Ladely

Ross Theater director Danny Ladely

But showing the independent film again in January meant giving the Ross Theater’s audience another chance to see the flick before the Oscars were awarded Sunday.

The Ross wasn’t the only Lincoln theater to jump on the Oscar bandwagon once nominations were announced. A few weeks ago, the Lincoln Grand Cinema, gave moviegoers the opportunity to watch all nine Academy Award Best Picture nominees during a weekend-long Oscar showcase event.

And Lincoln residents weren’t the only ones to clamber to the theaters to see  Oscar-nominated films. This year’s announcement of the nominations had one of the largest influences on box office earnings in Oscar history.

“I think that having an Academy nominee is pretty prestigious,” Ladely said, “and it really piques people’s curiosity and interest in wanting to see those films.”

Seeing the nominees before Oscar Sunday

In Lincoln, some fans used the opportunity to see a couple of more obscure nominees: “Beasts” and Austrian film “Amour.”

Oscar WinnersThose two movies, with “Silver Linings Playbook,” were the only three Oscar nominees this year not distributed by one of the major six film studios.

That number is tied for the smallest number of “independent film” nominees since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences increased the maximum number of nominees from five to 10 in 2010.

Of this year’s nine nominees, six were distributed by Columbia, Warner Bros., Disney, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Paramount – and the Ross didn’t screen any of them.

“We don’t show the big Hollywood studio pictures here,” Ladely said. “And this is sort of an unusual year compared to past years because past the so-called independents were dominating the Academy Award nominees, but not so much this year.”

Just a few blocks southwest of the Ross, the Grand took care of screening the big studio films upon their releases, beginning with “Argo” in October. Then during  the weekend of Feb. 16 and Feb. 17, Marcus Theatres – which operates the Grand – held an event showcasing all nine Oscar-nominated films about a month after they were announced.

The blitz gave movie fans the chance to see movies whose stints in the theater had already ended (like “Argo” and “Life of Pi”) as well as the films without prior prominence in Lincoln – such as “Beasts” and “Amour.”

“I was really interested in these two specifically,” said Paul Lombard, who attended three movies during the Grand’s event. “They’re harder to find, especially before the Oscars.”

Heather and Todd Fago went to the five movies that were screened on the Saturday of the showcase and said that they wouldn’t have been interested in seeing “Beasts” and “Amour” if they hadn’t received Oscar nods.

“Just haven’t heard a lot about them really, until they got nominated,” Heather Fago said.

How the Oscars affect the box office

While earning a nomination might earn a little-known movie more notoriety, it often takes an Oscar victory to translate to the box office, said Wheeler Dixon, a professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“If a movie wins an Oscar, it’s going to add, say, $10 to $15 million to its box office,” Dixon said. “When it wins, then they can say, ‘Winner: Academy Award. Best special effects, best costume design or anything.”

That bodes well for “Argo,” which took home Best Picture Sunday night, as well as “Life of Pi” and “Les Miserables,” the only movies other than “Argo” to collect at least three awards.

But this year, the nominations did have an effect on the movies’ ticket sales. The nine nominees for the Oscars experienced the third-largest effect on box office earnings in history.

According to Box Office Mojo, about 34 percent of the nine nominees’ combined earnings has come after the nominations were announced. Best Picture nominee “Zero Dark Thirty” holds the distinction of being the most influenced movie ever, gaining more than 94 percent of its earnings after the announcement of its Oscar nods. But that film was released only three weeks before the announcement of nominations.

“Amour,” on the other hand, has had 93 percent of its earnings in the six weeks between its nomination and the award show – and it was first screened in May 2012.

What the Oscars really mean

While mere nominations do have some effect on the success of honored movies, Dixon said the Oscars are not as prestigious as many fans believe they are.

“The Academy Awards are really a marketing ploy more than anything else. They’re really an advertisement for Hollywood product,” Dixon said, “and why people are so perpetually fascinated by them and how they manage to position themselves as the most important award ceremony in the world is a really neat advertising trick, because they often do not pick anywhere near the best films of the year.”

None of this year’s nominees matched Dixon’s list of the top 10 movies of the year, and because the Oscars are voted on by members of the movie industry, the results are subject to conflicts of interest, he said.

That doesn’t bother moviegoer Lombard, though.

“They can’t tell us what the best picture of that whole year was because, for one thing, it’s just a group of people’s opinion,” he said. “They can’t have seen every single film from the previous year, let alone all the good ones. It can’t be the best picture. It’s just the best picture of all the Oscar nominees.”

And of the nominees, Dixon thought “Beasts of the Southern Wild” should have won; it was the only Best Picture nominee not to win a single award Sunday night. Benh Zeitlin’s film, which tells the story of natural disaster holdouts in a small bayou community, was the second-least grossing of the 2013 Oscar nominees. Only 9 percent of “Beasts’” $12 million in earnings came after it was announced as a nominee in early January.

Ladely saw better attendance when he showed “Beasts” last summer, but once he got an offer to show it again, he thought it was necessary to screen it for audiences one more time before the Oscars were awarded.

“‘Beasts’ is available on home video, but it’s a much better experience to see it on the big screen in a movie theater,” Ladely said. “So I thought it was important as long as I had that opportunity.”

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