‘Licorice Pizza’, ‘West Side Story’, ‘Belfast’ Among Oscar Best Pic Nom Wide Expansions, But It’s Another Season Sans A Big Box Office Boost

Those theatrical motion picture studios earning Oscar Best Picture nominations today will put their best foot forward at the box office, and increase the cinema footprint of their contenders in an effort to capitalize on their success and raise the pics’ profiles.

And while the box office has improved, natch, because of the reopening of movie theaters since March last year, don’t expect the old days of Oscar’s halo effect on nominees’ future ticket sales.

Last year marked the lowest box office results ever for Oscar’s Best Picture nominees, which each grossed a take in the single million range. Best Picture winner Nomadland ended its U.S./Canada run with $3.7M, unseating 2009’s The Hurt Locker as the lowest grossing Oscar Best Picture winner of all-time.

Should one of the streamer’s Best Picture nominees, i.e. Apple Original Films’ CODA, or Netflix’s Don’t Look Up and The Power of the Dog, take Oscar’s top prize, then they will become the lowest grossing Best Picture winner ever since those OTT services don’t report their ticket sales. Of the Best Pictures nominees in theatrical release, Janus Films counts the lowest domestic gross with $945k in the middle of its 11th week.

“What was the Academy thinking when they set the nomination’s date?” roared one distribution chief today to Deadline, “we’re heading into Super Bowl weekend?!” Amen to that. If adults are already challenged to return to movie theaters because of the pandemic, Super Bowl Sunday doesn’t make it any easier.

Not to mention, the late Oscar ceremony date of March 27 doesn’t help. It’s not like the 1980s when Oscars were in the spring, and theatrical windows were crazy long (many of these Contenders would wind up on home video in the fall). Furthermore, the current crop of Best Pic noms have been in theaters for several months.

Also taking the air out of any Oscar box office boost is a bubblegum awards show like Golden Globes which is an advertisement for these movies. I bet you no one in Northampton, Mass. knows what won Best Drama at the untelevised Golden Globes this year, and possibly no one on Wilshire Blvd. The SAG awards, meanwhile, air on Feb. 27, but some of those nominees, like ensemble contender House of Gucci, aren’t even up for above-the-line nominations at the Oscars.

Those Best Picture nominees with the widest expansion plans include MGM/United Artist Releasing’s Licorice Pizza, Disney/20th Century Studios’ West Side Story and Focus Features’ Belfast

Licorice Pizzawhich counts three noms, comprised of Best Director Paul Thomas Anderson and Original Screenplay, will go from 786 theaters to 2,000 runs heading into its 12th weekend. The pic’s running U.S./Canada total stands at $12.8M, and it’s already past Anderson’s Inherent Vice which made $8.1M. Licorice Pizza after Oscars is looking to best the domestic gross of the San Fernando valley filmmaker’s 2012 movie The Master ($16M) and possibly even his 2002 Adam Sandler romantic comedy Punch Drunk Love ($18M). Global for Licorice Pizza is at $21.3M.

West Side Story at 800 runs will jump to 1,500 theaters after seven nominations. Today, Steven Spielberg received a nod for Best Director with Ariana DeBose, who stars as Anita, receiving a Best Supporting Actress nomination for a role which earned Rita Moreno her Oscar win in the same category for the original movie 60 years ago. The pic’s stateside gross in the middle of its 9th week stands at $36.7M with worldwide at $64M.

Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan in 'Belfast'

Focus Features’ Belfastwith 7 nominations, including Kenneth Branagh for directing (he’s got Death on the Nile opening this weekend via Disney/20th Century Studios), and supporting nods for Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds, jumps from 390 sites to 920 theaters this Friday. Since opening 13 weeks ago, Belfast has made $7.5M domestic, $21.4M WW.

Rooney Mara and Bradley Cooper in Nightmare Alley

Searchlight’s Nightmare Alley, currently at 705 sites, will go to 1,100-1,200 locations in its 9th weekend and that’s for both color and black and white editions. The Guillermo del Toro directed feature, in the midst of its 8th week, counts $10.8M and originally opened wide at 2,147 theaters. The pic, which has four nominations including Production Design, Cinematography, Costumes, is available to watch on Hulu.

When it comes to adults venturing to cinemas during Covid, I hear it’s not as big a problem in parts of Europe, i.e. the UK where Belfast is on its way to $11M at the local box office, and also where No Time to Die delivered close to $130M. Europe is fueling the offshore results of The French Dispatch to $30M abroad, as well as Nightmare Alley‘s international gross to $22M.

Zendaya and Timothee Chalamet in Dune

Dune will jump another 300 to 500 theaters in its 17th weekend on Friday for a potential run near 600 sites. Domestic is at $107.7M and global at $399M. The Denis Villeneuve-directed sci-fi take on Frank Herbert’s novel heads back on HBO Max on March 10. Imax remains in question as Disney has dibs on the large format and PLFs this weekend for Death on the Nile, and Sony with Uncharted next weekend. Dune has ten nominations. It is the only tentpole with a domestic gross north of $100M to crack this year’s Best Picture list.

King Richard

King Richard will also jump its theater count this Friday, that number still being determined. In the midst of its current 12th week, the movie has $14.8M in stateside ticket sales and just over $32M WW. King Richard is up for six noms including Will Smith for Best Actor and Aunjanue Ellis for Supporting Actress, and it’s available to purchase on electronic sell-through and DVD.

Drive My Car

Japan’s entry Drive My Car, Oscar’s dark horse and surprise nominee this morning with four noms including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, International Film and Directing for Ryusuke Hamaguchi, is currently in 100 theaters, and will only move to about 120 by this Friday (+20). Drive My Car clocks at 3 hours making it hard to book multiple auditoriums in a given day. Box Office Mojo has a global gross right now for Drive My Car of $3.1M with numbers from France, Italy, UK, New Zealand, Hong Kong and South Korea. The drama follows a widower, who is a renowned stage actor and director. He receives an offer to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima where he begins to face the haunting mysteries his wife left behind.

The last great gasp of the Oscar nom box office boost literally occurred before theaters where shuttered by Covid in mid-March 2020.  You’ll remember, the Oscars were early that year, on Feb. 9, with Oscar nominations on Jan. 13, soon after Golden Globes.

Between the time of noms (Jan. 13) and Oscar night (Feb. 9) two years ago, four Best Picture contenders saw huge jumps in their domestic box office, i.e. Sony’s Little Women (+37%), Searchlight’s Jojo Rabbit (+37%), NEON’s Parasite (+40%), and Universal/Amblin/Republic’s 1917 (+210%). All four post the awards ceremony saw further gains with Little Women up another 5% ending its stateside run at $108.1M, 1917 +20% for a final of $159.2M, Jojo Rabbit +40% for $33.3M and NEON’s Parasite posting a 50% domestic cume surge for a final tally of $53.3M.

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