Screen plays for bigger business

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Theatrical distribution executives are looking for a windfall from Tuesday's Oscar nominations. Those most likely to benefit from the added attention are the smaller films, which this year account for four of the five best picture titles. Fox Searchlight won't be going after additional boxoffice grosses for "Little Miss Sunshine," though, because the film, which generated nearly $60 million in domestic boxoffice receipts, was released on DVD in December.

The other four pictures either will expand for the first time or, in the case of "The Departed," re-expand, with hopes of generating additional grosses.

"Departed" already has grossed $121.7 million domestically since it bowed Oct. 6, but Warners has announced that it will rerelease the film this weekend in 1,300 theaters.

"This is the perfect time to put 'The Departed' back in theaters for moviegoers who hadn't seen it, as well as for those who want to watch it again," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. "Additionally, we want to make the film as accessible as possible to Academy members across the country so they have every opportunity to see it on the big screen, the way it was meant to be seen."

Warners also will expand Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima" to about 420 theaters this frame. The film bowed Dec. 20 and has grossed $2.4 million in limited release. Last weekend marked its first expansion, to 360 theaters, and Fellman considers this its first breakout weekend.

Paramount Vantage's "Babel," which has grossed $23.7 million since it opened Oct. 27, will expand to 1,100-1,200 runs this weekend, executive vp distribution Rob Schultz said. The R- rated ensemble drama from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was in 1,251 theaters at its widest point. Vantage began its re-expansion last weekend after the film's Golden Globe victory for best drama.

"We're expecting a lot of good will in terms of the boxoffice," Schultz said. "We've been in the marketplace before, and we saw encouraging signs last week." Last weekend's expansion added 716 playdates to the film, generating $2 million and a $2,331 per-screen average.

Miramax Films' "The Queen," which bowed Sept. 30, has grossed $35.6 million and is now in its widest release in 1,586 theaters. Miramax is adding 238 theaters this weekend, hoping the film's six nominations, including one for best picture, will give it a boost.

Even films that didn't receive the coveted best picture nomination are looking to their other noms for a theatrical boost. Paramount Pictures' release of DreamWorks' "Dreamgirls" will expand this weekend to 2,500 theaters, with Paramount hoping that the PG-13 musical will benefit from the eight nominations it landed.

Picturehouse's "Pan's Laby-rinth," which received six nominations, is going to 825 screens this weekend and will reach 1,000 by month's end as it follows its original release plan. It has grossed $10.3 million; the indie subsidiary is trying to maintain its strong per-theater average and won't expand beyond 1,000 screens.

Anne Thompson in Park City contributed to this report.
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