Oscar Box Office: 'Artist,' 'Hugo' and 'Descendants' Expanding After Noms

 Jaap Buitendijk

Scoring a top Academy Award nomination can generate headlines around the world and whip up interest among moviegoers, but the all-hallowed box office bump is never a given.

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Among this year's crop of best picture contenders, awards frontrunner The Artist and surprise nominee Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close arguably could benefit the most from landing a spot in the elite category, since they've been holding back until now.

The Artist--which received 10 Oscar nominations, the most of any film save for the 11 earned by Hugo--in particular could be helped.

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Last weekend, on the eve of the Golden Globes ceremony and Oscar noms, The Artist moved into a total of 662 theaters (it had been playing in 216 before) and this Friday will add another several hundred. The Weinstein Co. is distributing and marketing the film in the U.S.

The Artist, which has grossed $12.1 million to date, is a tough sell, considering it's a black-and-white silent film. But awards attention could help lure audiences (The Artist saw a 190 percent spike in ticket sales in the hours following Oscar nominations on online ticketing service Fandango).

George Clooney-starrer The Descendants, which also enjoyed a spike in sales on Fandango after, is aggressively upping its theater count to as many as 1,700 on Friday after being in a holding pattern in about 650 theaters.

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The Fox Searchlight film, receiving a slew of top nominations, including best picture and best director (Alexander Payne), opened on Nov. 16 and has grossed $51.5 million to date. At its widest point, Descendants was in 757 theaters. The question now is whether there is still business left over.

Martin Scorsese's Hugo is also making a bold bid after receiving 11 nominations, including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay (John Logan).

Within hours of the noms being announced Tuesday morning, Paramount said it will add nearly 300 theaters to Hugo's run on Friday, boosting the pic's location count from 650 to 944. Hugo, opening at the domestic office on Nov. 23, has earned a relatively modest $56 million in North America. At it widest point, it played in 2,608 theaters.

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"I'm hoping that more people will perk up and discover the film. We came out at a very competitive time, and I'm really hoping Hugo will grow again," King told THR.

Oscar nominations can also drive business at the international box office, where Hugo is still rolling out, grossing $33.6 million to date. Paramount is handling a number of territories, and upcoming openings include Mexico, Germany, Brazil, Spain and Japan.

The Descendants also could be helped overseas, where it is only now beginning to open.

Stephen Daldry's post-9/11 drama Extremely Loud, opening on Christmas Day, was only playing in six theaters until last weekend, when it expanded into a total of 2,630 locations. The Warner Bros. film grossed $10 million and came in fourth.

Among the other five best picture nominees, only Steven Spielberg's Christmas film War Horse is still in theaters (it too, is hoping for a boost). The Help, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life and Moneyball are all out on DVD.

To date, the combined domestic grosses of the nine 2011 best picture nominees is $517.1 million, far less than the $1.2 billion earned by last year's 2010 best picture nominees at the same point in time (granted that included Toy Story 3, which earned north of $400 million alone). On average, that's $57.5 million per film, versus $120 million last year.

Movies landing in other key categories, including actor, actress, best foreign language film and best documentary, will also try to promote their Oscar noms, but the box office bump will be harder to come by. Two films poised to benefit are Wim Winders' dance documentary Pina (IFC/Sundance Selects) and Iranian film A Separation (Sony Pictures Classics). Both are already doing strong business at the domestic box office.

Likewise, The Iron Lady, earning Meryl Streep a best actress nomination, could see a bump since it's already got good momentum. The Weinstein Co. is handling the film in the U.S.

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