Why you should care
Because you don’t have to be a winner to win big.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Redmayne and Cate Blanchett must be happy now that they’ve been nominated for Oscars. But so are the financial backers and production companies who can now expect to be flush with cash. According to a 2014 UCLA study, the Oscars are worth more than the value of the golden trophy melted down.
A movie with five nominations can expect to make $68 million more than one with zero nominations.
That’s a lot of additional ticket stubs. With zero nominations, a movie with Oscar appeal would be expected to make about $24 million; with five nominations, its box-office take would grow to roughly $92 million. With data between 1985 and 2009, study authors Gabriel Rossman and Oliver Schilke created a formula to quantify the big box-office bump. And it makes sense, they say: Any publicity’s good, but good publicity is great. Plus, flicks earn a stamp of approval that launches them to moviegoers’ must-see lists. Doesn’t hurt that theater owners lend their screens to the cause, often keeping Oscar movies up for longer.
It’s a compelling study, because it tells the tale of how studios choose what to produce. “If the Oscars didn’t exist, nobody would make the kinds of movies that get Oscars,” Rossman says. Fewer biopics and onscreen political scandals, disabilities and war crimes — those heavy thematic issues that end up characterizing the Oscars year in, year out. That’s because people have trouble deciding on their own if they like those (for the most part) downers. Movies with giant robots going at it are easier for laymen to review, Rossman says, while Oscar movies bill themselves as transcendent and thought-provoking — judgments that he thinks people look to the experts to decide. So it really doesn’t matter if a movie wins; getting a nomination might make the difference between making and losing money.
And this model shows that attempting but failing to appeal to the Oscar committee costs a pretty penny (you’ve pigeonholed yourself to a small audience that decides your movie sucks). Succeeding, though … that’s like winning the lottery. Other real-life scenarios compare too, from lobbying (sometimes companies try to encourage legislation that benefits them by lobbying, but that doesn’t necessarily pay off) to lawsuits (some factors make winning more likely, but not guaranteed).
Certainly, this study’s exact quantification is up for debate. “Those figures seem high to me,” economics professor Randy Nelson says; there’s a big monetary difference between being nominated for best picture and best costume design. And since 2009, the categories have expanded to 10 nominations, so the influence of a nomination isn’t yet known. And box-office analyst Daniel Loria says it’s a shame the study stopped at domestic box office; that’s only one of many ways that movies turn a profit.
And yet, with millions watching the Oscars, there’s certainly cache. Take The Artist. It ultimately grossed $45 million domestically after being nominated and winning. The first week it was out, on the other hand? It sold a paltry $200,000 worth of tickets.