Oscars: Nominees Banking on the Biggest Box-Office Bump

Shape of Water, Phantom Thread and Call Me By Your Name -Split-Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy Photos

Nine movies are competing for the best picture prize in this year's Oscar contest, many of them smaller titles that have earned anywhere from $6 million to $40 million so far.

Now that this year's Oscar nominations have been unveiled, which of the nine best picture contenders stand to benefit at the box office?

Two of the nine have nothing to gain beyond the honor of being nominated: Jordan Peele's innovative horror-thriller Get Out and Christopher Nolan's World War II epic Dunkirk, both of which are long gone from theaters.

Conversely, those primed for the biggest boost include Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, which picked up a total 13 nominations, the most of any film; Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name; and Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. That's because all three titles held back in terms of expanding pending Oscar nominations, which were announced Tuesday morning. Steven Spielberg's The Post is also well situated since it's been in nationwide release for less than two weeks.

Last year, Moonlight had earned $15.9 million at the U.S. box office when nominated for best picture by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, according to comScore. It would go on to earn another $12 million, thanks to the buzz surrounding the Oscar race and Moonlight's eventual win over La La Land.

Landing a spot in the coveted best picture race almost always leads to some sort of box-office bump, and is a powerful promotional tool for specialty films that don't have huge marketing budgets or a clear commercial hook (get ready for a flood of new materials touting the glory of Oscar). Films competing in other top Academy Award categories can likewise see boosts, although the halo effect isn't as strong.

Thanks in large measure to the might of Get Out and Dunkirk, the nine best picture nominees — many of which nabbed multiple noms — have earned a combined $566.2 million at the North American box office, up from last year's $483.9 million. And there's time now for that number to grow higher.

Dunkirk and Get Out have set a bar none of the other best picture nominees can come close to meeting. Get Out, released by Universal in February 2017, earned a record-breaking $175.7 million domestically and $254.7 million globally against a $4.5 million budget. Invading theaters in July, Dunkirk grossed $188.4 million domestically and $337.2 million worldwide for Warner Bros.

Beyond those two, the box-office totals fall off dramatically.

So far, The Post has been the most successful, taking in $46 million to date domestically. The Pentagon Papers drama from 20th Century Fox stars Meryl Streep, who was also nominated, and Tom Hanks, who, along with Spielberg, wasn't.

That is followed by Joe Wright's Darkest Hour. In recent days, the Winston Churchill drama has pulled ahead from many of its rivals, earning $41 million domestically to date for Focus Features and Working Title. Darkest Hour, which first opened in select theaters in late November, has already expanded nationwide but should still see a boost. Gary Oldman, nominated for the best actor Oscar, has already won the Golden Globe and SAG best acting awards for his portrayal of Churchill.

Greta Gerwig's directorial debut Lady Bird is next up with a domestic tally of $39.2 million. The critically acclaimed film, which debuted in New York and Los Angeles on Nov. 3, expanded nationwide in early December but is almost sure to make another push in the wake of the Oscar nominations. Gerwig is only the fifth woman in history to ever land a best directing nom.

Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has grossed $32.3 million. The Fox Searchlight film has also been in the marketplace since early November. It expanded nationwide in December and, like Lady Bird, upped its presence once again after winning the Golden Globe for best picture. (Three Billboards won in the drama category, while Lady Bird picked up the best picture prize for a comedy/musical.)

The Shape of Water, which has grossed $30 million to date, has never played in more than 850 theaters since swimming into select cinemas on Dec. 1. Fox Searchlight will now move swiftly to up the film's count to 1,600 locations as of Friday. It is likewise adding about 300 theaters to Three Billboard's footprint, bringing that film's total location count to 1,300.

Call Me by Your Name, which opened in four theaters on Nov. 24, has earned just north of $9 million to date. Sony Pictures Classics waited until last weekend to make its first major push, upping the film's theater count from 174 locations to 815. In that way, Call Me by Your Name is well-positioned to take advantage of its Oscar noms.

Ditto for Phantom Thread. The film, having grossed $6 million to date, was playing in fewer than 100 theaters until last weekend, when it expanded into a total of 896 locations. By Friday, that number should increase to 1,015. Phantom Thread stars Daniel Day-Lewis in what the actor says will be his final performance.

Jan. 23, 12 p.m. Updated with revised theater counts.