B.O. prospects looking up for Oscar nominees

Films adding theaters, poised for a bump

Four of the five best picture Oscar nominees are still in the midst of platform campaigns, making them prime candidates for a boxoffice "bounce" from Academy acclaim.

Historically, films that go on to win best picture have padded domestic grosses by substantial double-digit percentages, and some of that Oscar magic starts to take hold immediately following the Academy nominations. Nielsen EDI data show that best picture nominees still in the ascendancy of incremental rollouts tend to get the biggest bump.

Just last year, platformers "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men" added to their pre-nom domestic cumes by 97% and 50%, respectively, in the three weeks following the Oscar noms.

Here's how this weekend is shaping up for the best picture nominees:

-- Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire" will expand from a recent 582 engagements to a total of 1,411 starting today, finally hitting wide release after 10 frames in limited release that have produced a domestic cume of $44 million and counting.

-- Universal's "Frost/Nixon" will get 1,097 playdates, up from just 153 over its seventh session. It has a cume of almost $9 million.

-- Focus Features brings "Milk" to 250 theaters -- about two dozen more than last weekend -- and will re-expand the Sean Penn starrer to more than 800 locations on Jan. 30, with almost $21 million rung up through eight sessions so far.

-- Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" already has registered $104 million through four frames in wide release, so it will be interesting to see whether "Button" can extend its already strong theatrical run.

-- The Weinstein Co. has 367 engagements set for its Kate Winslet starrer "The Reader," a surprise best picture nominee that's registered almost $8 million through six weeks in limited release. That's actually 50 fewer playdates than the Nazi-themed drama had last weekend, underscoring the unexpected nature of its Oscar fortunes.

The Weinstein Co. now intends to broaden "Reader" significantly on Jan. 30.

"Next weekend, we're going to do a television campaign and go very wide," Weinstein Co. distribution boss Steve Bunnell said. "It will definitely be north of 1,000, and we're working on that now. This has been a happy surprise for us."

Meantime, amid less Oscar publicity than anticipated, Warner Bros.' boxoffice behemoth "The Dark Knight" -- more than a month after hitting DVD -- returns to 350 theaters, including 147 Imax venues. The Christopher Nolan-helmed pic did fetch eight noms, but other than a best supporting actor mention for Heath Ledger, all came in craft categories.

The Batman sequel has rung up almost $1 billion in worldwide boxoffice and was positioned to take advantage of a possible wealth of higher-profile Oscar noms. Now, without a best picture nom, there's some question how lucrative the theatrical return will prove.

Similarly, Paramount Vantage's "Revolutionary Road," from DreamWorks and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, was shut out of most major categories, attracting supporting actor, art direction and costume design noms. But in contrast to the "Dark Knight" disappointment, "Road" could have used some promo help in expanding wide this weekend -- broadening from just 171 locations to 1,058 -- as the literary adaptation seeks to boost its four-frame tally of $6.1 million.

Elsewhere, Searchlight brings "The Wrestler" to an additional 422 theaters for a total of 566 playdates after attracting best actor and supporting actress noms for Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei.

And Sony Pictures Classics' animated "Waltz With Bashir" could see greater commercial traction after copping a nomination in the foreign-language category, whose nominees tend to enjoy boosted public profiles.

"Bashir" -- which totes a roughly $400,000 cume through four frames -- expands from nine U.S. and five Canadian playdates to 25 U.S. and six Canadian engagements. E1 is handling Canadian distribution.

Online ticketer Fandango noted "a considerable increase in ticket sales for all five of the best picture nominees." "Reader" posted the biggest uptick, at 150%, Fandango said.