'Aviator,' 'Million Dollar Baby' Get Best Picture Boost

by Brandon Gray
January 31, 2005

The least popular group of Best Picture nominees since 1986 enjoyed sizable increases over the weekend, hot off the Jan. 25 Academy Awards nominations announcement. They followed the rule that the lower the gross, the more there is to gain from Oscar.

Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby led the charge in its first weekend of wide release, fetching a solid $12.3 million from 2,010 venues (up from 147). Prior to nomination, Warner Bros.' $30 million boxing heartbreaker was the least exposed Best Picture contender theatrically, and its purse rose to $21.6 million after 47 days. "We were hoping for about $10 million, so we're just thrilled," Warner Bros. executive VP and general sales manager of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein told Box Office Mojo.

In national release since Christmas, The Aviator ascended 56 percent to $7.6 million at 2,503 locations (up 242), propelling its 45 day haul to $68.2 million. The $110 million drama about Howard Hughes is a lock to surpass Cape Fear's $79.1 million as director Martin Scorsese's highest grossing picture (though it might not match the admissions). Distributor Miramax will add 200 to 300 theaters next weekend. "We're cautiously optimistic we can get to $100 million," said Miramax's head of distribution Mark Rudnitsky.

The strategy for capitalizing on Oscar has changed since the Academy Awards were pushed forward a month in 2003, reducing the nomination period from six weeks to four. "It puts more pressure to increase the number of runs," Rudnitsky explained. "That's why everyone's going wide so soon. Everybody's flying high now because we all have a shot at winning. If you lose, your balloon gets quickly deflated."

Joining Million Dollar Baby in its first aggressive nationwide campaign, Sideways flowed into 1,694 theaters, up 995, and collected $6.3 million. With $40.1 million through its 15th weekend, the $16 million whine country comedy is peaking after having sipped solid grosses in a long-gestating limited release strategy from distributor Fox Searchlight.

Finding Neverland soared 125 percent to $2.8 million at 1,258 venues (plus 389). In 80 days, Miramax's $25 million drama about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie has captured $35.9 million. "We are going to continue to add runs," Rudnitsky said. "There's a huge untapped audience for this movie."

The highest grossing nominee, Ray, reaped modest returns. Adding 233 theaters for a total of 526, it earned $615,415 for $73.8 million in 94 days. The real money for the Ray Charles biographically-themed picture will be on Feb. 1, when it arrives on DVD.

'Hide and Seek' Comes Out on Top

Full Chart of Oscar Nominees
2004 Best Picture Breakdown
Weekend Box Office Chart

NOTE: This story was updated on Jan. 31 with actual grosses.

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