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And the Oscar payoff goes to....
Oscar nominations came out Tuesday -- a nod from the Academy can mean millions.
January 25, 2005: 12:26 PM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Maybe Clint Eastwood should have called his latest flick "Ten Million Dollar Baby."

The Eastwood-directed boxing film was one of the big winners at the Academy Award nominations Tuesday morning, grabbing nods for best picture, best actor and best actress.

Odds now are on "Million Dollar Baby" to find gold at the multiplex.

According to industry experts, movies that got nominated in the top three categories of best picture, best actor and best actress are likely to see a box office payoff between now and the Feb. 27 awards.

Far and away the most lucrative nomination is for best picture, worth an estimated $11 million in added domestic ticket sales. That estimate, adjusted for today's ticket prices, is based on a 2001 study by Colby College economics professor Randy Nelson.

"Even if you get a nomination for best picture but have no chance in hell of winning, you can reap incredible profits at the box office," said Gitesh Pandya, an analyst with BoxOfficeGuru.com.

The four other films up for best picture are "Aviator," which got 11 nominations overall, "Finding Neverland," "Ray," and "Sideways."

Films with best actor and best actress candidates also get a box office lift, albeit a much smaller one. The top acting nominations on average add about $1 million in ticket sales per film.

The top acting nominees announced by 2002 best actor winner Adrien Brody and Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Frank Pierson included Annette Bening for "Being Julia," Hilary Swank and Clint Eastwood for "Million Dollar Baby," Jamie Foxx for "Ray," and Kate Winslet for "Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind."

The box office boon is one reason the Academy Awards are often likened to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Unfortunately for nominees in categories below the top three, the promise of a golden Oscar statuette is likely to be just a source of pride, not one of cash.

"For a best supporting actor or actress, a nomination is virtually worthless," said Colby's Nelson. Nor does it mean a boost for the salaries that the nominated actors command.

A brief bonanza

Nelson said the box office hike is limited to the interval between Tuesday, when the nominations were announced, and the awards telecast.

Nelson's analysis also assumes that the film was released in the fourth quarter and is still in theaters. It also does not factor in the impact on ticket sales overseas or DVD revenues.

Among the top category nominees, the windfall is likely to be bigger for small movies more than blockbusters.

Nelson and box office analysts say that blockbusters nominated for best picture see little, if any, boost because they are so popular that movie buffs have already flocked to see them by the time the nominations are announced. That's what happened to "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" last year and its prequel in 2003.

Rather, the big beneficiaries tend to be movies that have been middling box office performers. Paul Dergarabedian, the president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations, estimates that films with less than $50 million in domestic ticket sales could see their box office hauls double with a best picture nominee.

Among the five 2004 best picture nominees, four are sure to see box office lifts.

"Million Dollar Baby," a Warner Bros. film, sold $8.3 million worth of domestic tickets between its mid-December release and Jan. 23, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. "Sideways," a Fox Searchlight comedy about two middle-aged men touring California's wine country, has pulled in sales of $32 million during its three months of release.

"Sideways" landed five Oscar nominations, among them best picture, best director, best supporting actor and best supporting actress.

Meanwhile, "The Aviator," a Miramax-Warner Bros. production about the life of Hollywood director Howard Hughes, is up for best picture, best director, best actor and best supporting actress. The holiday release has taken in $58 million at the U.S. box office.

Will 'Ray' DVD sales sing?

There are exceptions to Nelson's general rule. A handful of Oscar nominations, including one for best picture, didn't help either "The Thin Red Line" in 1998 or "The Insider" in 1999 at the box office, said Dergarabedian. Both were fourth-quarter releases, with small but decent box office draws, and yet Oscar contention did not excite movie goers.

One 2004 nominee that will miss out on a box office boost is Universal's "Ray." With the DVD due out Feb. 1, the Ray Charles biopic is all but done in U.S. theaters.

But Scott Hettrick, the editor-in-chief of DVD Exclusive, said General Electric-owned Universal anticipated some nominations so it timed the film's DVD release in the hopes of catching a windfall at video outlets.

Instead of at the box office, Ray "will be in consumers' hands and in stores throughout the whole nominations period," said Hettrick.

For the most part, however, Hettrick thinks the impact of an Oscar nomination on DVD sales is generally small.  Top of page

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