MGM-UA executives saw green the morning after the Academy Awards. Dollars, that is.
While the Oscar winners basked in the honor from their peers Thursday, distributors of their films scrambled to capitalize on the earning potential of those 13-inch-high statuettes.MGM-UA, whose "Rain Man" earned the best picture nod, has the most to gain. Executives said they are expecting a big boost to the film's already impressive performance at the box office.
Eager to find out exactly how much a best picture Oscar is worth, Entertainment Data Inc. recently crunched some numbers and calculated that this year's winner could probably count on a $20 million windfall. While Entertainment Data Inc. researchers had no way of knowing how a film would do sans Oscar, they did find that "The Last Emperor" earned $18.9 million after its win last year; "Platoon" drew another $35.2 million in ticket sales; and "Out of Africa," $17.4 million.
"If you figure that historically an Academy Award (for best picture) can be worth $20 million, then `Rain Man' could do at least $155 million in the United States," said Barry Lorie, MGM-UA's senior vice president of marketing. Since its release Dec. 16, the film has grossed $135.6 million here.
The studio is not likely to release the film beyond the 1,562 theaters in which it is already playing - the widest release of any film now in the market. But, said Lorie, "if theaters ask for a print" of the film, the studio will provide it. In the meantime, the studio is launching a media blitz through TV commercials and newspaper ads.
Confident of success, both MGM-UA and Paramount - whose film, "The Accused," earned Jodie Foster the best actress award - timed their foreign releases to coincide with Oscar season. Wednesday night's worldwide broadcast, which eventually will reach an estimated 1 billion viewers, amounted to "massive paid advertising around the world," noted veteran film marketer Greg Morrison.
"When we first learned of the picture over a year ago, realizing we've got a picture with star power and a good chance for Academy Awards, we planned our foreign distribution so that we'd be on screens around the world when the awards were announced," said Jack Gordon, MGM-UA's president of international distribution. Gordon also expects a $20 million gain in ticket receipts overseas, where "Rain Man" has already grossed $65 million since the end of February.
As for "The Accused," Martin Kutner, executive vice president of international marketing and distribution, predicts that overseas Foster's Oscar could push the film beyond its weak U.S. results. Foster was already popular overseas for her Oscar-nominated performance in "Taxi Driver" and has beguiled French audiences by doing interviews in their language. So far, the film has grossed $26.4 million at foreign theaters.
In the United States, where the film grossed more than $30 million after its release last fall, Paramount plans to re-release "The Accused" onto several hundred screens nationwide April 7.
That is more exposure than "A Fish Called Wanda" will get in U.S. theaters, despite Kevin Kline's win for best supporting actor. Because the film is already on videocassette (where it is a rental favorite), MGM-UA has no plans to book it in theaters. "We are going to let the world of exhibition know that if they choose to book `Wanda,' we'll be happy to accommodate them," Lorie said.
Overseas, "Wanda" is one of MGM-UA's top earning films in the past five years, grossing more than $75 million since its release last October. "I'm sure the award will be very potent for us," said Gordon, particularly when the film opens April 8 in Japan.
Warner Brothers plans moderate expansions of release for two of its winners. "Accidental Tourist," which earned the best supporting actress award for Geena Davis, moved from 249 to 303 screens this weekend. "Dangerous Liaisons," which won awards for adapted screenplay, costumes and art direction, moved from 613 to 713 theaters.