Oscar$: No love, no money?

Best Picture nods usually help boost box office, so nominees "Babel" and "The Queen" could see a nice bump ... sorry "Dreamgirls."

By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Actors, actresses and directors were eagerly awaiting the Academy Award nominations announcement on Tuesday morning.

But Hollywood executives, and perhaps even investors in the major media companies that own the big studios, also were on pins and needles. Oscar nominations could help give a movie a big bump at the box office.

"Dreamgirls" has gotten a boost from several Golden Globe awards and it received eight Academy Award nominations...but not one for Best Picture.
"Letters from Iwo Jima," directed by Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, was a surprise nomination for Best Picture.
"The Departed" has already grossed more than $120 million at the box office, but Warner Bros. is re-releasing the film on January 26 in the hopes of cashing in on Oscar buzz. And the DVD comes out on February 13.
"Litttle Miss Sunshine," a sleeper comedy hit from the summer , got on Oscar nomination for Best Picture and should see DVD sales soar.
"Babel," a Golden Globe winner for Best Picture - Drama, has added an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and should see a nice box office boost as a result.
"The Queen," a nominee for Best Picture, also should benefit from the fact that star Helen Mirren is considered the favorite to win Best Actress.

The five movies nominated for Best Picture Tuesday were "Babel," "The Departed," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine," and "The Queen."

The musical "Dreamgirls," which was widely expected to get a Best Picture nomination, was shut out in that category.

According to a 2001 study by Colby College economics professor Randy Nelson, a Best Picture nomination could add, on average, nearly $11 million in ticket sales for a film between the day the nominations are announced and the Oscar telecast.

According to Nelson's study, Best Actor and Best Actress nominations could add an estimated $1 million to the box office. This year's Oscar ceremony will take place on February 25.

Some Oscar contenders have already received a box office lift thanks to victories in last week's Golden Globe Awards.

"Dreamgirls," which won the Best Picture - Musical or Comedy award as well as supporting actor and actress awards for Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson, was the third-highest-grossing film last week with $8.7 million in ticket sales. The movie, released by Paramount's DreamWorks unit, has now grossed $78 million so far, according to movie industry research firm Box Office Mojo. Paramount and DreamWorks are owned by Viacom (Charts).

"Dreamgirls" led all movies with 8 Oscar nominations. But the fact that it did not get a Best Picture nomination could limit how much of a lift it gets at the box office. However, one movie analyst said Tuesday morning that "Dreamgirls" won't suffer that much from the Best Picture omission.

"The 'Dreamgirls' snub is a bit surprising. But it still did get nominated in key categories and it had the most nominations so Paramount can capitalize on that," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office research firm Media By Numbers.

And several other Golden Globe winning films that got a wider release this past weekend saw a big boost to business.

"The Queen," which featured Best Actress in a Drama winner Helen Mirren, expanded from 344 theaters to nearly 1,600 and wound up generating $3.7 million in ticket sales, up from $1.4 million a week earlier.

The movie, released by Walt Disney's (Charts) Miramax, is expected to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, and Mirren is widely considered the front-runner to win Best Actress.

"Babel," which won the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Drama, grossed $2.3 million last week, up from just $459,000 a week before. The movie, also released by Paramount, was in nearly 900 theaters this past weekend, compared to only about 175 a week before.

Other movies that should benefit are "The Departed," which has already grossed more than $121 million in the United States since it was released in early October, making it the biggest commercial success of director Martin Scorsese's career.

According to Box Office Mojo, the movie is now playing in only 117 theaters, but the film's distributor, Warner Bros., is expected to give it another run, rolling it out to about 1,300 theaters this coming weekend in light of expected Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and possibly for some of the film's actors. (Time Warner (Charts), the parent of CNNMoney.com, also owns Warner Bros.)

"Letters from Iwo Jima," directed by Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, was considered somewhat of a surprise Best Picture nominee. The movie, currently playing in only 360 theaters, has grossed just $2.4 million at the box office so far. The movie was also released by Warner Bros.

And "The Last King of Scotland," a biopic about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, could also receive a box office bump since Forest Whitaker, who plays Amin, is considered a favorite to win. Whitaker has already won most of the major critics' awards for Best Actor and also won the Golden Globe last week for Best Actor in a drama.

The movie's distributor, News Corp (Charts).-owned Fox Searchlight, widened its release this past weekend from about 120 theaters to nearly 500 theaters.

But some think a nomination could be worth even more than the figures that Nelson's study showed. Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com, a movie industry research site, said "Dreamgirls," which was released just before the end of 2006, still had the potential to top the $100 million mark because of its acting nominations.

"'Dreamgirls" is still relatively new. This is a film that could benefit the most from nominations. It's a very commercial film, and although it's already reached a large audience, there could be a lot of people sitting on the sidelines waiting about whether they want to see it until the Oscar nominations are announced, Pandya said.

He added that "Babel" and "The Queen" also would likely see a sizable boost since they scored "Best Picture" nominations and that "The Last King of Scotland" also should benefit since Whitaker is the overwhelming favorite to win Best Actor.

Pandya compared the potential box office effect to what happened with "Monster" three years ago. Charlize Theron was considered a can't-miss winner for Best Actress (she did in fact win), and, as a result, the movie quintupled its box office gross - from $6 million to nearly $30 million - in the weeks following the nominations.

Dergarabedian agreed that the big winners at the Golden Globes stand to gain the most from Oscar nominations.

"For Oscar box office potential, you need only look at the Golden Globe bounce. Smaller films that were in limited release got a nice bump," Dergarabedian said. "Once they have the validation of an Oscar nomination that could be really good for these movies. Films like 'Babel,' 'The Queen' and 'The Last King of Scotland' and even 'Dreamgirls' are going to benefit. When these films get their nominations, it's like holding a winning lottery ticket."

Still, an Oscar box office boost is far from certain. Last year, the effect was negligible. All five Best Picture nominees finished with well less than $100 million at the box office.

Oscar nominations were good news for "Brokeback Mountain," which had grossed $51 million in the eight weeks before the nominations were announced and went on to gross another $28 million or so in the six weeks between the nomination announcement and the actual telecast.

Fellow Best Picture nominees "Good Night and Good Luck" and "Munich" each generated about $6 million in box office revenue in the six weeks between the announcement and the awards ceremony. "Capote," which starred eventual Best Actor winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman, took in a little more than $10 million from late January through early March.

And the eventual Best Picture winner, "Crash," was already out of movie theaters by the time the announcements were made on January 31, 2006.

But DVD sales of "Crash" did surge as a result of the Oscar nominations, and that was a financial boon for Lionsgate (Charts), the studio that released the film. Lionsgate reported a 13 percent increase in home video revenues in fiscal 2006, which ended in March of that year, thanks in part to strong DVD sales of "Crash."

So in addition to a box office bump, some studios could expect to see a boost in DVD sales, particularly for films released earlier in 2006 that might get nominations.

That is good news for News Corp., whose Fox Searchlight unit released the comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" in July.

The movie, which grossed $60 million at the box office and is now in only a handful of theaters, was considered a sleeper for a Best Picture nomination. "Little Miss Sunshine" was released on DVD in December and currently ranks as the fifth-best-selling DVD on Amazon.com (Charts).

"If 'Little Miss Sunshine' gets a Best Picture nomination, that would keep the DVD in the top ten for several weeks to come," Pandya said before the nominations were announced.

Other Best Picture nominees are going to be released on DVD before the Oscars as well. "The Departed" is being released on February 13 and is already the sixth-best seller on Amazon.com. A DVD of "Babel" is scheduled to come out on February 20, and it is currently the 14th-best seller on Amazon.com. There are no DVD release dates for "The Queen" or "Letters from Iwo Jima" yet.

The reporter of this story owns shares of Time Warner through his company's 401(k) plan. Top of page