This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
What's an award worth? At least when it comes to nominations, quite a bit -- as Silver Linings Playbook proved over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
The film, which opened Nov. 16 in exclusive engagements, originally was scheduled to go nationwide Nov. 21. But at the last minute, The Weinstein Co. shifted gears. Concerned that the movie was tracking poorly, TWC held it to a mere 367 theaters -- counting heavily on awards success to give the picture traction.
Not even experts who have learned time and time again not to bet against that master maneuverer Harvey Weinstein believed he could spin Silver into gold. But his gamble paid off. Following Silver Linings' eight Oscar noms Jan. 10 and Jennifer Lawrence's Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy/musical Jan. 13, the movie rocketed to No. 3 at the box office for the four-day MLK weekend, grossing $13 million and bringing its domestic haul to $55.1 million -- not to mention giving it a real shot at crossing the $100 million mark.
"The sky's the limit," says TWC president of distribution Erik Lomis.
Clearly, Silver Linings' success in the great game of the awards helped turn it around. But should Harvey thank the Oscars or the Globes?
One pundit recently argued that the Globes, not the Oscars, are the awards that matter most. According to a Jan. 15 Reuters article: "As it turns out, Golden Globe wins result in a bigger box-office boost than Academy Award wins -- $14.2 million per film, on average, versus $3 million, according to my statistical analysis. This might explain the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision last year to move its nomination announcements a few days ahead of the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 13."
Really? Silver Linings conspicuously didn't win three of the four Globes for which it was nominated; and it lost to Les Miserables in the all-important best picture category (for a comedy or musical).
The truth is, numerous factors play into any awards-crop success. It's impossible to isolate one to the exclusion of others.
First, among the current batch, several opened on or around Christmas, allowing their marketing and awards campaigns to dovetail with the Oscar nominations and Golden Globe Awards.
Second, such movies as Life of Pi, Les Miserables and Lincoln have benefited from being studio pictures, with all the marketing muscle and mega-dollars that entails.
And what about Zero Dark Thirty? Like Silver Linings, it received just one Globe win -- for Jessica Chastain, named best actress in a drama -- but still ranked an impressive No. 2 over the MLK weekend, taking in an additional $18.7 million and coming in behind Mama, a horror pic also starring Chastain.
Sony opened Zero Dark Thirty on Dec. 19 in New York and Los Angeles but held back its expansion, again betting on awards recognition even as debate swirled around the film. Zero got five Oscar noms, including best picture. Kathryn Bigelow might have been overlooked for a directing nomination, but that only intensified interest in the picture, which collected a better-than-expected $24.4 million when it expanded to 2,937 theaters Jan. 11.
While an "awards bump" boosted the movie's success, that so-called bump is mired in misconception. Generally, it's assumed that the bump begins after Globe and Oscar wins. But actually, the sweet stretch comes in that corridor between the Golden Globe Awards in mid-January and the Oscars in late February.
Thus The King's Speech -- also from The Weinstein Co. -- made $33 million leading up to the Globes, where it lost best drama to The Social Network. But from then until the Oscars six weeks later, its tally reached $114 million, and it eventually would earn a stellar $139 million domestically and $414.2 million worldwide.
Similarly, Fox Searchlight's Slumdog Millionaire had banked $43 million when it won the Globe for best drama, then soared to nearly $100 million by the Oscars. Its domestic take topped out at $141 million, and its worldwide gross was $377.9 million.
This year's Oscar race is unique in that, unlike King's Speech and Slumdog, many of the best picture nominees are big studio releases. Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi and Lincoln already were box-office successes by the time of the Globes and the Oscar nominations, and they are unlikely to see as much of a lift as some previous contenders, though they have enjoyed smaller drops than usual.
Where the awards bump will matter for them most is at the international box office, with many just commencing their runs. Witness Django, which opened abroad Jan. 18 and already has made $49 million, helped by the awards buzz.
So awards do matter -- but they're just part of the equation.
Case in point: the well-worn tale of Summit's The Hurt Locker. Despite Oscar wins for screenplay, director and picture, the movie topped out at $17 million domestically and $32.2 million foreign. On the other hand, Summit (now part of Lionsgate) is still counting the dollars from all those enhanced DVD sales.
Past Oscar Winners' Worldwide Accounts
The Artist, 2011 best picture
Slumdog Millionaire, 2008 best picture
The King's Speech, 2010 best picture