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Oscar Nods Give 'Slumdog' A Box Office Bump

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Oscar Nods Give 'Slumdog' A Box Office Bump

Oscar Nods Give 'Slumdog' A Box Office Bump

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

That flurry of Oscar nominations paid off for "Slumdog Millionaire" artistically, to be sure, but also where it really counts in Hollywood, and of course, that's at the box office. Last weekend, the movie soared into the top five on the weekly box office charts for the first time. That's partly because of those 10 nominations it got and also, because theater owners had bet big on what's called "the Oscar bump," more than doubling the number of screens showing "Slumdog." Our movie maven, Bob Mondello, is here to break down the bump. Which bets paid off, which didn't? It sounds like we're going skiing. Hi, Bob.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BOB MONDELLO: Hi, it's good to be here.

LYDEN: So I understand the inauguration also had an impact on the bets this year?

MONDELLO: That's right, and that's because the nominations are usually announced on a Tuesday, but this year, there was an Inauguration that got in the way, and while politics doesn't very often interfere with what Hollywood is doing, this time, they decided to bow to President Obama. And so what they did was they announced them on Thursday. Well, that doesn't give the theater owners enough time to book pictures for Friday. So, they had to guess as to what was going to win Oscar nominations.

LYDEN: Hmm. So, they had to actually use their imaginations. How did those guesses pan out?

MONDELLO: Well, pretty badly in some cases. A lot of people guessed that "The Dark Knight," the Batman movie...

LYDEN: With Heath Ledger.

MONDELLO: Was going to get nominated, everybody was talking about it was almost guaranteed to be nominated for Best picture, did not get a nomination. And so 350 theaters booked it and it didn't do very well. And then a lot of people guessed "Revolutionary Road," which was again, supposed to do really well at the top end of the Oscar nominations, and it didn't. And it raised theaters alot, but it's per-theater average, in other words, how much it takes in on each screen...

LYDEN: Mm hmm.

MONDELLO: Went way down, basically because it did not get the nominations. And so not everybody succeeded with this.

LYDEN: All right. Well, I've got the envelope right here and I'm going to ask you…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Which films got the biggest Oscar bump?

MONDELLO: Well, predictably enough, it was all the ones that actually got nominated for best picture. "Slumdog" did really well, as we've said. It doubled the number of theaters and it did not dilute the audience per theater very much. "Benjamin Button" went up slightly but it's all - it's getting played out now. "Frost/Nixon" went from 100 theaters to a thousand and halved its per-theater take. "Milk" and "The Reader" did OK. "The Reader" actually - 50 theaters dropped it because it wasn't expected to get nominated for best picture. And so its per-screen average went way up, and the theaters that got it dropped it must be feeling really stupid at the moment.

LYDEN: Can you rebook them?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Well, I assume they will this week. I predict it will go up markedly.

LYDEN: So, beyond best picture, do best actress and actor nominations also make a difference? It seems as if they do.

MONDELLO: Well, they make a slight difference. "Doubt" got lots of those acting nominations. It went up slightly per screen. "The Wrestler" went wide and its average dropped a little bit. Yes, it helps, but it doesn't help nearly as much as best picture.

LYDEN: I know there are people that can do this much better than I, but what's the lesson that we draw from all this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Well I think basically, it is that Oscars are really only designed to punch-up box office. They are a device for publicity for major movies. The Hollywood studios spend a lot on these prestige movies that they don't really expect to do all that well at the box office, and then they give themselves awards for having been so brilliant, and that is suppose to pump up the box office and it usually does. Interestingly, they've been timing it differently lately because movies earn so much more money very quickly in theaters these days that they've moved the Oscar nominations closer and closer to the end of the year and they've moved the show itself closer and closer to the Oscar nominations so there's a shorter window. The bump has to happen very quickly.

LYDEN: Hmm. Sounds like a big bump.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: You know, there should be a new category, the cashbox award because of always searching Oscar favorites, the reigning number one film right now in any of them it's Paul Blart "Mall Cop," one of the worst-reviewed films and movies according to people like you.

MONDELLO: (Laughing) Well, that's true, and not only was it not well reviewed, but it stayed at number one for two weeks running now. The rule of thumb in January is that any picture that gets up there is going to stay there because everything else that comes out against it is going to be worst than it is. So, that's basically what's happening, it'll stay up for a couple of weeks and then it will fade away into...

LYDEN: The sequel.

MONDELLO: Maybe not (laughing) you know, that's probably true, isn't that sad? Yes.

LYDEN: Well, Bon Mondello you remain our movie champ, you could have been a contender. Thanks for stopping by.

MONDELLO: (laughing) Thank you so much.

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