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'Departed' Cleans Up at Oscars … and on DVD

26 Feb, 2007 By: Gregg K. Thomas A.

(L-R): Director Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon on the set of The Departed.

For all the talk of Oscar gold, this year the best picture winner will have to look to DVD to see a payout.

As of the weekend, Warner Bros. Pictures' best-picture winner The Departed had grossed $131.6 million at the domestic box office and picked up an additional $146.7 million internationally. But because the movie hit DVD shelves in the United States Feb. 13, it's not in a position to take anything more than a cursory bow in the form of further theatrical engagements.

In years past, most of the major nominees were still in theaters during awards season, meaning a best-picture win could result in a significant boxoffice bump. Last year's winner, Lionsgate's Crash — a May 2005 release that hit the video shelves the September prior to the Oscar ceremony — suggested a new pattern had arrived.

For the 10 years before Crash, setting aside 1997 winner Titanic, the average increase at the domestic box office after a best-picture win was 12%, or $18.8 million. With Crash, the bump was all about added DVD sales (a special edition of the film hit DVD soon after the win). Because of the timing of its DVD release, Departed is even better positioned to take advantage of its four Oscar wins, which also include best adapted screenplay, best editing and Martin Scorsese's long overdue Oscar for best director.

As far as the theatrical life of this year's best picture contenders went, being nominated wasn't just an honor, but also an opportunity for some of the smaller films to raise their box office profile. The five best-picture nominees saw their domestic box office take increase by more than $9 million between the nominations Jan. 23 and the Feb. 25 ceremony.

But, the returns varied significantly. Fox's Little Miss Sunshine, which already had picked up $59.59 million by the time it was nominated, had to settle for picking up a little loose change. Departed, which had been in theaters for 16 weeks by the time of the noms, boosted its domestic grosses from $121.7 million to $131.6 million. Paramount Vantage's Babel, which had a more difficult time finding its box office footing, saw its domestic gross climb from $23.7 million to $33.8 million. Miramax's “The Queen, taking full advantage of Helen Mirren's awards-season success, soared from $25.6 million to $52.9 million — with an added purse of $17.3 million, it was the biggest beneficiary of the nominations. Warner's Letters From Iwo Jima, which still was in limited release when the noms came down, rose from $2.4 million to $12.8 million.

By Oscar night, though, three of the films had migrated to video.

Little Miss Sunshine has been out since December; the day after it received its four Oscar noms, sales rose by 60% to 200% in retail stores nationwide, according to Fox. The film won two Oscars, for best original screenplay and best supporting actor for Alan Arkin.

Departed bowed at No. 1 on the national DVD sales as well as rental charts the week of its Feb. 13 release. Consumers bought more than 3 million copies of the two DVD versions — a single disc and a two-disc special edition — in its first week in stores, on the high end of what a film with a box office gross of about $130 million typically sells.

Babel, a third best picture nominee, came out Feb. 20 and is expected to easily top the sales and rental charts for the week. The film won for best original score.

What 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment spokesman Steve Feldstein calls an “Oscar bump” isn't uncommon in the home entertainment industry. Last year, Crash, which like Sunshine this year was the only best picture contender to be available on DVD when the nominations were announced, saw a significant bump in sales in the ensuing days even though it had been out for nearly five months. Lionsgate also used Crash's DVD availability to fuel its Oscar campaign, sending 130,000 screeners to awards voters, including all 100,000 SAG members.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment scored a coup in 2004 and again in 2005 when it released best-picture nominees Lost in Translation and Ray a few weeks before the Oscars. Lost in Translation wound up scoring big in theaters as well as on home video, while Ray finished 2005 as one of the year's 10 top DVD sellers, with sales of more than 6.5 million units — far more than is typical for a film in its boxoffice range.

Other Oscar winners from 2006 on DVD or slated for release include:

  • The Al Gore global-warming missive An Inconvenient Truth won for best documentary feature and best original song. Paramount Home Entertainment released the DVD in November.

  • Marie Antoinette, on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, won for best costumes.

  • Buena Vista Home Entertainment's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest won for best visual effects.

  • 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release The Last King of Scotland, which won best actor for Forest Whitaker, April 17 (prebook March 21).

  • Warner Home Video's Happy Feet, due on DVD March 21, won for best animated feature.

  • Buena Vista Home Entertainment has reportedly slated The Queen, winner of best actress for Helen Mirren, for DVD April 24.

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