Unexpectedly Intriguing!
February 22, 2007

Last year, we looked at 30 years of box office totals for Best Picture winners and we wondered how much does winning an Academy Award boost the box office numbers for the movies on the winner's list:

To answer that question, let's first look at their box office totals as of March 1, 2006, ranked from highest to lowest (all figures may be considered to be equivalent to 2005 U.S. dollars):

  • Brokeback Mountain: $75,838,000 - BEST DIRECTOR
  • Crash: $53,404,817 - BEST PICTURE WINNER
  • Munich: $46,178,425
  • Good Night, and Good Luck: $30,455,120
  • Capote: $23,441,493 - BEST ACTOR WINNER

The box office has long since closed for each of the films nominated for Best Picture of 2005 and we now have the results, which might tell us what effect winning an Academy Award delivers for each movie's box office numbers. The results are summarized in the table below (award winners are shown in boldface):

Best Picture Nominee's Pre and Post Oscar U.S. Domestic Box Office Totals
Best Picture Nominee Pre-Award Box Office Post-Award Box Office Post-Award Change Percent of Pre-Award Box Office
Brokeback Mountain $75,838,000 $83,043,761 $7,205,761 9.5%
Capote $23,441,493 $28,750,530 $5,309,037 22.6%
Crash $53,404,817 $54,580,300 $1,175,483 2.2%
Munich $46,178,425 $47,403,685 $1,225,260 2.7%
Good Night, and Good Luck $30,455,120 $31,558,003 $1,102,883 3.6%

Here's what we observed about these movies last year:

By and large, what these figures tell us is that at this point, whatever 2005 nominee goes on to win the award for Best Picture will rank among the least popular of all Best Picture winning movies over the past 30 years. Only Brokeback Mountain, with its exceptionally well-executed marketing plan, breaks over the very low hurdle set by 1987’s The Last Emperor, which was noted in that year as having been seen in theaters by remarkably few people.

To be fair, the jury this year is still out for Capote, which is only now coming into wide release. What will be interesting to see is whether Academy voters will give the Oscar to the nominee that has already made the most money (Brokeback Mountain) or will give it to the movie that has the most to gain in box office revenue from winning at this point (Capote). That assumes that Hollywood doesn't have some other agenda they're pursuing this year with its most recognized awards.

With a post-award pickup of 22.6% of its pre-award box office following Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Best Actor award, just imagine how big a pretty obscure art-house movie like Capote's take would have been if it had won Best Picture instead! Likewise, Brokeback Mountain was able to take in an additional 9.5% of its pre-Academy Award box office, even though it reached its widest distribution in U.S. theaters nearly a month earlier.

By contrast, Best Picture winner Crash was re-released into just 150 theaters the week after the Academy Awards were announced, limiting the ability to generate significant income fro this venue. Crash's additional box office was also hurt by the movie already having been released to the home video market back in September 2005.

For movie-makers, this result does suggest why "serious" Oscar contenders are released very late in the year, as the box office for films put out earlier (Crash and Good Night, and Good Luck) doesn't seem to benefit much from winning, especially if they're already released to DVD.

Now, those DVD sales are a different matter that we might look at next year!

What About This Year's Top Pictures?

Here's the box office totals as of Tuesday, February 20 for this year's Best Picture nominees:

We'll see what happens after the awards are announced this Sunday. And for those who remember what we think of the Academy Awards ceremony, we still won't be watching....

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