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Oscar Rolls Out Green Carpet for Nominees

Movies: Academy Award nominations are sure to swell the box-office figures for films in the U.S. and abroad.

February 12, 1999|RICHARD NATALE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tuesday's Oscar nominations will give the best picture nominees a considerable boost at the box office, since some of them have plenty of life left in them. As the studios rush to expand the number of theaters for the nominated films, each of the five finalists stands to claim$10 million or more in additional ticket sales in the United States.

And overseas, films like "Shakespeare in Love" and "The Thin Red Line" will be opening amid the splash of Oscar news, which could add substantially to their gross potential.

The biggest benefit from the Oscar nominations, says Fox senior executive Tom Sherak, will come from viewers who rarely go to the movies. "All the people that wanted to see these movies have already gone. A best picture nomination is a validation for people who never go to movies. It says, 'This movie is good.' "

And that could attract patrons to a film like "Elizabeth," which grabbed seven nominations Tuesday. It's a new lease on life for the costume drama, which has taken in more than $21 million to date. "Elizabeth" should be in twice as many theaters this weekend (slightly more than 400) and eventually play in 600 runs across the country.

"Life Is Beautiful" should get the same kind of kick. The Italian tragicomedy scored the most nominations ever for a foreign film (seven), which will definitely hold sway with audiences that avoid subtitled movies. Roberto Benigni's film, which already has grossed $100 million worldwide, was on its way to being the biggest-grossing foreign film ever in the U.S., topping another recent Italian-language best picture nominee, "Il Postino." With $18 million already counted in the U.S., Miramax is now expanding "Beautiful" to more than 500 theaters, more than twice as many houses it was in before, accompanied by a television advertising campaign.

Major Oscar nominations are also an excuse for distributors to throw more marketing dollars at a film, which encourages theater owners to hang on to the movie or book it again. Fox's "The Thin Red Line," which had been winding down after grossing about $30 million, has been rejuvenated by its seven nominations, according to Sherak. The studio will buy more television time and thus be able to hang on to the approximately 1,600 theaters playing the movie, engagements it would otherwise have lost. It could also change the film's ultimate fate. Before the nominations, the $53-million film seemed likely to lose money. Now, all bets are off.

DreamWorks distribution head Jim Tharp estimates that "Saving Private Ryan," which walked away with 11 nominations, will possibly fan out to an additional 100 theaters above its current 1,000-theater re-release.

Since the Steven Spielberg World War II drama already has taken in nearly $200 million in the U.S. and $250 million overseas, it will again go after audiences that have not seen the movie yet.

Since "Ryan" is one of the clear leaders to win the Oscar, the film could be in theaters through spring and secure re-release overseas as well.

The film that stands to score the biggest bump from the Oscars is "Shakespeare in Love." The romantic comedy had been slowly building an audience, overcoming the perception of being an art-house period film. Thirteen nominations will come in handy this weekend as the film jumps from 800 or so theaters to more than 1,900, says Miramax's marketing executive Marci Granata. "Shakespeare" has grossed $36 million and is the other favorite for best picture. "Shakespeare" could conceivably match the $85 million that Miramax's Oscar-winning "The English Patient" took in.

The film hasn't played anywhere overseas yet. Its Oscar nominations will help it sweep into the international market (where it's being distributed by Universal) in a big way.

Though they were not among the best picture contenders, two small films that will be able to capitalize on Oscar nods are Lions Gate's "Gods and Monsters" and "Affliction," both independent, low-budget films. "Gods" picked up three nominations, two in the acting categories and one for its screenplay. "Affliction" took two acting nominations.

For "Gods," which has been playing on fewer than 100 screens, "it's like starting all over again," says Lion's Gate co-president Tom Ortenberg. Not only will they be able to maintain their level of theaters, but the film also will expand out of major markets to theaters that don't normally play small art-house films. The first expansion this weekend will return "Gods" to big cities and, by next Friday, the film should be on 250 screens.

"Affliction" has been in only about a dozen big-city theaters to date. The Oscar nominations will be a red carpet for the film to broaden to 300 theaters by next Friday, according to Ortenberg.

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