Oscar Box-Office Bump: 'La La Land,' 'Moonlight' Plot Major Expansions

Lionsgate
'La La Land'

The two films aren't the only titles hoping to spin Oscar nominations into box-office gold — fellow best-picture contenders 'Arrival' and 'Manchester by the Sea' up their theater counts this weekend even though they are well into their runs.

Director Damien Chazelle's La La Land will dance into a total of 3,000 theaters on Friday after scoring 14 Oscar nominations on Tuesday, tying with Titanic for the most noms of any film in history.

The Lionsgate musical, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, isn't the only film hoping to spin Oscar nominations into box-office gold in the walk up to the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26. Fellow best-picture contender Moonlight (A24) expands nationwide for the first time on Friday into more than 1,000 cinemas. And Arrival (Paramount) and Manchester by the Sea (Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions), also contenders for top honors, will up their theater counts to 1,100 and 800-1,000, respectively.

Last year, Oscar best picture nominee — and eventual winner — Spotlight had earned $28 million domestically at the time of nominations. It went on to gross $45 million in North America and $88.3 million globally thanks to awards love.

This year's nine best picture nominees — the other five are Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Fences, Lion and Moonlight — have earned a combined $481.9 million domestically. That's an average of $53.5 million, a solid showing but down from last year's $75.8 million. In 2014, the average was a dismal $25.6 million.

La La Land is the top earner to date, with $89.8 million domestically and $175 million worldwide. Lionsgate is hoping it gets the biggest jolt of any title.

Denis Villeneuve's Arrival has earned $95.7 million in North America and $163.2 million globally. The sci-fi film opened wide in November, so it is far later in its run. It will be released on DVD on Feb. 14.

Theodore Mefli's Hidden Figures (Fox) should further prosper thanks to Oscar attention. The movie, expanding nationwide in early January, is the year's first sleeper hit, grossing $83.7 million in North America (it hasn't yet rolled out overseas in a major way). It is already available in more than 3,400 theaters.

Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan, expanded into more than 1,000 theaters over the year-end holidays before shedding locations in recent weeks (its location count last weekend was 543). The movie — marking Amazon's first best picture nomination — has earned $38.9 million to date. Manchester hopes to stay in theaters for the near future and won't be available to Amazon Prime customers until May 5.

Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (A24) also is one to watch. The art house film, earning $15.8 million to date in the U.S., has never played in more than 650 theaters since debuting in select markets early October, so it could see big gains in terms of its total gross. So far, it is the lowest-grossing title among the nine nominees.

Hacksaw Ridge (Lionsgate) is nearing the end of its life on the big screen, so it isn't expected to see big gains (it likewise will be released on DVD in February). From director Mel Gibson, the movie has overperformed in earning $65.5 million domestically and $158 million worldwide.

Fences (Paramount) is expanding only slightly post-nominations from 693 to 750 locations. The movie, which played nationwide over the year-end holidays in more than 2,000 cinemas, has grossed $48.7 million to date.

Gareth Edwards' Lion (The Weinstein Co.), now playing in 575 theaters, won't expand until early February. The film has grossed $16.3 million in the U.S. to date.

Hell or High Water, CBS Films' sleeper modern-day Western that grossed $27 million following its release in August, is already available.

A best-picture nom is considered the most coveted in terms of a bump at the box office, but titles landing in other categories can also see their grosses increase post-nomination, particularly foreign films and prestige titles.

"The Academy really has a history of honoring these kinds of films, and nominations can help tremendously at the box office," said Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker.

Sony Classics has two movies nominated for best foreign-language film, Toni Erdmann and Land of Mine, while Isabelle Huppert earned a best actress nom for Elle. The Red Turtle, which opened in select markets last weekend, also made a surprise appearance in the best animated film category. Land of Mine debuts Feb. 17 in a limited run.

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