Best Picture Award Nets Best Payoff


Backers of Oscar-nominated films can expect more than a glittery statue and the applause of peers if their movie wins the industry’s top prize.

Veteran industry-watchers say the best picture award usually inspires millions of dollars in box-office sales and boosts the price a movie can command in the home video and cable television markets.

The annual Oscar telecast historically attracts the second-biggest audience of the year after the Super Bowl. ABC said commercial time for Monday’s night’s show was sold out at $600,000 for each 30-second ad, twice the price on a top regular program in prime time.

While awards are given in 23 categories ranging from costumes, screenplays and songs to best actor and actress, industry experts say the prize with the biggest box-office payoff is best picture.


“That’s the one that really counts with the public,” said Barry Reardon, president of distribution at Warner Bros. “The others just don’t bring them out.”

Emanuel Gerard of the investment firm Gerard Klauer Mattison said the award was like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for infrequent moviegoers, who rely on it for guidance in that rare visit to the big screen.

This year’s best picture nominees included two independently distributed films, “Howards End” and “The Crying Game,” which had each logged less than $20 million at the box office as of the nominations on Feb. 17.

The other three nominees for best film were handled by major Hollywood studios and featured big-name stars--"A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore; “Scent of a Woman” with Al Pacino, and “Unforgiven” with Clint Eastwood.

Howard Suber, a co-chairman of the film and television producers program at UCLA, said the best picture Oscar typically adds $10 million to $20 million at the domestic box office alone.

Suber estimated foreign audiences contribute nearly half of a film’s total revenue, and probably are more susceptible to influence by the Oscar tag because they don’t recognize as many big name U.S. stars.

The award is also a plus when movies are sold to pay TV or on videos, said Richard Jewell, professor of film history at USC.

Once a movie gets into the video stores, its competition changes from current films to virtually every movie made.

“It is worth much more in a sale to cable or to video rental stores if you can put ‘Academy Award-winning’ on the label,” Jewell said.