Box Office: '12 Years a Slave' Plots Theater Expansion After Oscar Win

3:26 PM PST 03/03/2014 by Pamela McClintock
Fox Searchlight

UPDATED: Steve McQueen's slavery drama, which also debuts March 4 on DVD, could be playing more than 1,000 U.S. theaters Friday; overseas, the film is a sensation, grossing $90 million to date for a world total of $140.2 million.

Hoping to transform its Oscar best picture victory into additional box office gold, 12 Years a Slave will make a major expansion in U.S. theaters this Friday, even though Steve McQueen's slavery drama comes out on DVD Tuesday.

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On the eve of the Academy Awards, 12 Years enjoyed a phenomenal bump in its 20th weekend, grossing $975,931 from 411 theaters -- up 86 percent from the previous weekend and pushing its domestic total to a strong $50.3 million. This weekend, Fox Searchlight will be playing the movie in more than 1,000 theaters.

Generally, theater owners don't like to play films when they are out on DVD, but in the case of an Academy Award best picture winner, exhibitors often make an exception. "They will allow some co-habitation in this case," said Searchlight's distribution chief Frank Rodriguez.

12 Years picked up two other two Oscars Sunday night. Lupita Nyong'o won best actress, while John Ridley won for best adapted screenplay.

It's feasible that 12 Years could earn another $2 million theatrically. That's not a shabby number considering the movie has been available to rent or buy online for the last two weeks.

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So how does 12 Years stack up against other Oscar winners in terms of its box-office standing? It won't match the $136 million grossed domestically by last year's Argo, or the $135.5 million earned by The King's Speech three years ago. It has already out-grossed the $44.7 million grossed domestically by The Artist two years ago, and the $17 million taken in by The Hurt Locker four years ago. Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire earned $141.3 million in North America five years ago.

The King's Speech, The Artist and Slumdog all had the advantage of still being in the middle of their runs when winning the top Academy Awards, allowing them more of a boost.

Box-office observers agree that 12 Years has done good business considering its subject matter, but it's done far better overseas, earning $90 million to date for partners New Regency, River Road Entertainment, Plan B and Film 4 (Searchlight only has U.S. duties, with Summit handling international rights to the film).

In the U.K., where McQueen is from, 12 Years has racked up $31 million. Last month, the movie won top honors at the BAFTAs.

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