Oscar: An Overnight Sensation : MGM/UA Forecasts Box-Office Thunder for ‘Rain Man’

Times Staff Writer

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 on Thursday, distributors of their films scrambled to capitalize on the earning potential of those 13-inch-high statuettes. And 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 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 an additional $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 U.S.,” said Barry Lorie, MGM/UA’s senior vice president of marketing. Since its release Dec. 16, the film has grossed $135.6 million here.


For the losers, of course, post-Oscar season is a different story. Orion’s “Mississippi Burning,” which has grossed only $30.5 million in the United States, could have used the boost a major award would have brought. Charles O. Glenn, Orion’s executive vice president of marketing, wouldn’t comment on whether that film’s showing had dashed the studio’s hopes of a wider release. But he noted that one or more major Oscar awards “would certainly enhance the film’s position in the marketplace.” Although it received seven nominations, “Mississippi Burning” walked away with just one Oscar, for best cinematography.

MGM/UA isn’t likely to release “Rain Man” 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 an advertising blitz on TV and in newspapers.

Confident of success, MGM/UA and Paramount--whose film, “The Accused,” earned Jodie Foster the best actress award--timed their foreign releases to coincide with Oscar season. Last 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 media interviews in their language. So far, the film has grossed $26.4 million at foreign theaters.

Here in the United States, where the film grossed more than $30 million after its release last fall, Paramount plans to re-release “The Accused” in 11 Los Angeles area theaters.