Riding the awards wave

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Best picture winner "No Country for Old Men" already has enjoyed an Oscar bounce thanks to its eight nominations. The weekend after the noms were announced in January, its boxoffice take shot up by nearly 100%. And with its DVD release set for March 11, whatever added coin it picks up at the boxoffice -- it took in an estimated $2.3 million this weekend -- will quickly be eclipsed by a surge in home video sales.

To maximize returns from the critically applauded Coen brothers thriller, Miramax shrewdly avoided a wide release when the film was launched Nov. 9 and instead opted for a platform rollout -- twice.

The film's carefully nurtured rollout slowly built to almost 1,000 playdates before first shedding a couple of hundred theaters around Jan. 1. It then began re-expanding after the Oscar noms were announced. Through this weekend, "No Country" had rung up more than $64 million domestically and recently began unwinding some of its less lucrative runs with the approach of its debut on disc. (The "No Country" DVD is being handled by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment domestically and Paramount internationally. )

Over the years, best picture Oscar winners regularly have enjoyed 25% or more in additional boxoffice after copping their statuettes. But that trend is on the wane with the quicker release of titles on DVD, as home-entertainment execs attempt to draft off of pic awareness built during theatrical campaigns.

Still, there is a nifty benefit for DVD sales from a best picture win: An Oscar bounce is harder to calculate for disc sales, but industry execs figure a title can do as much as three-fourths better on DVD than it might have otherwise.

Meanwhile, this year's other best picture nominees have featured a markedly similar approach to that of "No Country" in their marketplace positioning.

"There Will Be Blood," which Paramount Vantage released domestically, was last to the party. It initially opened Dec. 26 in just two theaters and didn't climb above 1,500 dates until Feb. 1, two weekends after the noms were announced. "Blood" tied "No Country" by staking a claim in eight categories.

But as of this weekend, playing in 1,402 theaters, it had climbed to nearly $35 million. Its home-entertainment launch -- Par will handle the Daniel Day-Lewis starrer domestically and Disney elsewhere -- is set for April 8 in North America.



Focus Features also crafted a carefully limited rollout for Working Titles period drama "Atonement." It originally ventured into just 32 theaters when it was released Dec. 7. Quietly biding its time, it didn't move into more than 1,000 theaters until Jan. 18, the weekend after it won the Golden Globe for best motion picture drama. Having grossed more than $49 million to date, it still was playing in 755 locations this weekend as Universal Home Entertainment prepares its March 18 DVD release.

Of all the five best picture nominees, Warner Bros.' "Michael Clayton" enjoyed the closest thing to a conventional wide release. While it bowed in just 15 theaters Oct. 5, the film quickly jumped up to 2,511 theaters the following weekend, when it took in $10.4 million. Warners kept the legal thriller in at least 1,000 theaters through mid-November, when it began losing playdates. But the studio treated "Clayton" to a re-expansion Jan. 25, boosting it back up above the 1,000 theater mark. Having collected more than $48 million in domestic theatrical run, the film was released Tuesday on DVD.

But commercially, the phenomenon of this awards season has been Fox Searchlight's "Juno." The offbeat comedy originally had been penciled in for a spring '08 release, but after its enthusiastic reception at the Toronto International Film Festival, Searchlight went into overdrive.

While the movie launched in just seven theaters Dec. 7, it steadily climbed the weekend charts. On the weekend of Dec. 28, it had moved into more than 1,000 theaters, claiming the fifth spot in the weekend's listings. The following weekend, with the addition of 906 more theaters, "Juno" hit second place with a weekend gross of $15.8 million. It has hung on in the top 10 ever since, amassing more than $130 million in the process.

With all that momentum behind hit, it will be the last of this year's best picture nominees to hit the home video shelves when Fox Home Entertainment starts selling it on DVD on April 15.

And the best documentary win by ThinkFilm's "Taxi to the Dark Side" could see the distributor pad its current 14 playdates and surely its $107,000 cume over coming weeks.
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