Fox Searchlight knew "The Grand Budapest Hotel" was a great film, but studio executives never imagined it would end up a top Oscar contender.
The Wes Anderson film rolled out in limited theaters last March, just after the 2014 Oscars and long before awards buzz even began. But the comedy immediately proved its box office might: In its first week, the film brought in a whopping $800,000 after being released in just four theaters.
Almost a year later, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" racked up nine Academy Award nominations. But that was just the start of Fox Searchlight's good fortune. The studio then got another nine nominations from "Birdman," and two more for "Wild."
Movies released by the studio earned a total of 20 nominations, the highest of any Hollywood studio in this year's Oscar race.
"We could see the momentum coming with the other awards shows – SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globes – so we are not totally surprised," said Frank Rodriguez, Fox Searchlight's head of domestic distribution. "But we feel we are at the top of our game."
The overwhelming number of nods for Fox Searchlight reflects the overall large number of art house films, many distributed by specialty divisions of major studios, receiving recognition at this year's awards.
Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Classics racked up 18 nominations to follow closely behind Fox Searchlight. This was the most nominations ever for the specialty label of parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The strong Oscar showing comes on the heels of a tumultuous end-of-the-year for the company following a hacking at Sony Pictures on Nov. 24. Hackers leaked employee information, pirated films and threatened moviegoers who wanted to see Seth Rogen and James Franco's comedy "The Interview."
But Michael Barker, co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics, said the hacking had minimal impact on its films including "Foxcatcher" (five nominations), "Whiplash" (five nominations) and "Mr. Turner" (four nominations). Julianne Moore also scored a best actress nomination for her role in the label's film "Still Alice."
"[The hacking] was a problem kind of day-to-day in dealing with the technology and how to communicate with people when it happened," Barker said. "We seemed to be passed it now and I don't think it hurt our campaigns or any of our films at all."
The only disappointment for Sony this year, Barker said, was "Foxcatcher" not getting a best picture nomination. Ultimately, however, Barker called the nominations gratifying. "We are so proud and happy," he said.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros.' "American Sniper," which was overlooked at the Golden Globes, scored six awards nominations. The Clint Eastwood-directed war drama debuted in December to a stellar $240,212 from just four theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave a total of 10 nominations to movies from Warner Bros., including two for "Inherent Vice," one for "The Judge," and one for "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." However, the studio's animated feature, "The Lego Film," was left out of the batch.
Indie label IFC Films scored eight nominations total, including six for best picture front-runner "Boyhood." The Weinstein Co.'s "The Imitation Game," starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, was also nominated in eight different categories.