Oscar award nominations boost films' box office

Saturday, January 29, 2005

LOS ANGELES -- Better hurry. There's just 30 moviegoing days left till the Academy Awards.

Studios behind the five best-picture Oscar nominees announced Tuesday are rushing their films out to more theaters this weekend, counting on the awards attention to pad the box-office haul on some of the movies by tens of millions of dollars.

Four of the top nominees are going into their widest release yet: The Howard Hughes epic "The Aviator" (2,500 theaters), the boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby" (2,010), the buddy comedy "Sideways" (1,694) and the J.M. Barrie tale "Finding Neverland" (1,250).

The fifth nominee, the Ray Charles portrait "Ray," comes out on home video Tuesday but still is expanding to 503 theaters, up from 293 the previous weekend, to capitalize on the Oscar interest.

"Attendance at movies nominated for best picture always goes up the day after or even on the same day the Oscar nominations are announced," said Mike Rudnitsky, head of distribution for Miramax, which released "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland."

Oscar honors for "Ray" are "going to make it a must-see, because a lot of people didn't get the chance to see it when it first opened," said Jamie Foxx, the front-runner to win the best-actor prize for the title role as singer Charles.

Universal Pictures counts on "Ray" to add a bit to its $73 million domestic haul and debut strongly on video because of the Oscars.

Miramax hopes theatrical grosses for Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Aviator," now at $60 million, will climb toward $90 million and perhaps beyond if it makes good on its front-runner status and wins best picture.

Fox Searchlight figures "Sideways" could vault from its current $34 million in revenue to $60 million or more. The quirky comic romance starring Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, Thomas Haden Church and Sandra Oh was a darling of critics but lacked the sort of action and big-name stars that normally spells box-office success.

"Finding Neverland," starring Johnny Depp, has taken in about $33 million and stands to reach the $45 million to $50 million range on its Oscar strength, Rudnitsky said.

Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," in which he stars with Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, potentially has the most box-office life left to it, so far playing only in narrow release and taking in $9 million.

"All the other movies this year have been in wide release in the marketplace. They're really at this point trying to recapture the audience," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released "Million Dollar Baby." "We're really the only new game in town."

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