Yes Virginia, box office matters

12.22.08 9 years ago

Fox Searchlight/Niko Tavernese

The other day as I poked my head up from working on the Forecast (lord, can”t wait until we automate more of it) I was speaking to my good buddy who will henceforth go by the alias Revolver.  After a long day of mind-numbing work, nothing is better than just shooting the [expletive] and talking Oscar.  It”s like sports.  The whole season is a big competition (you didn”t think it was about the quality of the movies did you?), you root for people like your favorite hometown team and no matter what happens, you know it”s going to start all over again and suck you back into it next year. 

Brazenly, I mentioned to Revolver that such and such an event didn”t matter in the context of this year”s race.  He quickly reminded me that nothing in Oscar world is insignificant.  Whether it”s screeners arriving a day late, an ill-timed trade ad or that blind item in Page Six, it all ads up in the long run. 

So, while there is a lull between the Globe and SAG nomination announcements and when all the minor trophies get handed out next month, the focus of everyone”s attention is on the holiday box office.  And trust me, it matters. 

As so many contenders are slowly rolled out across the country, per screen average seems more important than ever. At least to publicists that is.  Whether it”s Eastwood”s “Gran Torino” out performing his previous winner “Million Dollar Baby” or “Slumdog Millionaire”s” continuing goldmine in less than 600 theaters ($12.1 million and counting) how these pics perform means something in the minds of Oscar voters.  Trust me, nobody wants to vote for a looser or a perceived loser.

This past weekend expanded the fiend of winners. Hipster favorite “The Wrestler” had a sweet $50,000 per screen this past weekend, “Doubt”s” per screen jumped 44% thanks to the SAG nods and the aforementioned “Torino” and “Slumdog” that, unlike the big boys this past weekend, avoided any declines because of the east coast”s winter weather. 

The losers?  “Frost/Nixon,” which dropped 42% and isn”t playing as well as it should, my beloved “The Reader,” which is tanking like a mother and showing Harvey Weinstein can”t run an awards campaign at any level anymore, and “Milk” which although it”s grossed a nice (emphasis on “nice”) $10.3 million is really slowing down (the Harvey Milk story is not playing outside the big cities, imagine that). 

As for the final round of contenders, keep a close eye on the early returns this holiday for “Revolutionary Road” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” The former needs a strong per screen to keep its Oscar buzz alive and, on a national level; the later needs to withstand the collective power of Adam Sandler, Tom Cruise and a tearjerker with a cute dog.
And for all the complaining about how painful some of the darker films are this year, trust me, nothing is more excruciating than wasting two hours of your life sitting through “Bedtime Stories.”

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