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Last Updated: Friday, 20 February, 2004, 08:17 GMT
Cashing in at the Oscars?
By Will Smale
BBC News Online business reporter

Worth their weight in gold
Winning one or more of the main Oscars can turbo-charge a film's performance at the box office.

Widely taken as an indication of quality, it leads to an additional rush at the multiplexes, extends the run of the movie in question, and brings in pots more cash.

Yet with this year's Academy Awards almost upon us, the film studios are just a little reluctant to talk about the financial benefits of winning an Oscar. Make that completely reluctant.

Instead this is perhaps the only time of the year when the studios actually take offence at financial questions.

While they normally like to shout from the rooftops about how many tens of millions their films have grossed, in the weeks before the Oscars a complete transformation takes place - the studios are suddenly all pious.

At this time of the year it is certainly not about money they say (or rather, refuse to comment), it is instead about the art, the artistry and the craft. It is about honouring this year's most talented and deserving. Questions about cash are just so wrong and vulgar.

Marketing blitzes

Thankfully it is not too hard to take a look behind the cassocks of film-making piety, to the ballgowns of fabulous revenue and profit that lie glittering beneath.

If a film gets two or three of the big Oscars, it can go on and really clean up at the box office
Chris Hewitt, Empire film magazine
The fact that this year's Oscar ceremony has been brought forward by a month from its usual date in March offers the first hint.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences made the decision in an attempt to lessen the amount of time the larger studios have to spend on big-budget Oscar campaigns.

It wanted to give smaller films made by independent companies a better chance to shine.

But why have the main studios - most notably Miramax - been accused of spending too much time, effort and money in recent years on promoting their Oscar nominations?

'Clean up'

Is it either because they are so proud of their films, or smell the extra greenbacks? I couldn't possibly speculate.

Lord of the Rings is expected to do very well this year
Exhibit B is the amount of extra revenue it is possible for an Oscar-winning film to go on and generate.

Chris Hewitt of UK film magazine Empire says: "If a film gets two or three of the big Oscars - such as best film, best actor and best director - it can go on and really clean up at the box office," he said.

"One of the main Oscars can add between $30m and $60m to a film's cinema takings in the US alone."

DVD sales

Mr Hewitt says this is because it will both persuade people who haven't yet seen the film to go along, and make those who have already been think of going again.

"Success at the Oscars gives a film a second wind at the box office," he said.

Bill Murray in Lost in Translation
The genius that is Bill Murray is favourite to win best actor
"Take the movie American Beauty for example. Critically acclaimed, before the Oscars it took $70m.

"Then it won five Oscars in 2000 and went on to take $130m," said Mr Hewitt.

Alexei Boltho from BBC Films agrees that winning one of the top three Oscars - film, actor or actress - can definitely boost a film's box office takings.

"Film distributors such as Miramax will often give a film a limited release just before the Oscars in order to qualify the film," said Mr Boltho.

He added: "If it wins one of the top categories they will then release the film on many, many more prints.

"And for films already in cinemas, winning an Oscar can extend both the length of its run and the number of screens on which it is shown, increasing its potential box office take."

Winning an Oscar can also increase a film's future DVD and video sales.

'Fade away'

Mr Hewitt said: "If you've got people going into a video store to rent a DVD and if they don't know what they are after, they will be drawn more to a film that says on the front of the box that it has won this or that Oscar.

"It adds prestige and is an indication of the film's quality."

He added: "And it works for both mainstream commercial films and the more independent ones.

"The other side is that films which don't win, or aren't even nominated for an Oscar can just fade away."

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