The Surprising Strength Of 'Philomena'

Feb 27 2014, 8:50pm CST | by

The Surprising Strength Of 'Philomena'
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

Most Profitable Oscar movies

Most of this year’s Oscar hype has been around three movies: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and American Hustle. Sunday night, expect lots of envelopes to have names of people who worked on these three movies tucked inside.

Films like Nebraska, Her and Philomena are in the just-be-glad-you’re-here berth of Oscar nominees. No one expects them to win much. Their unglamorous stars will be witty on the red carpet (or weird, in the case of Her’s Joaquin Phoenix) and they will smile and clap politely when they are mostly passed over for awards.

But the producers of at least one of those movies can leave the Dolby Theater in Hollywood knowing that award season has given their little film a very serious boost. I’m talking, of course, about Harvey Weinstein and Philomena.

The British film from comedian Steve Coogan and director Stephen Frears stars Judi Dench as a working-class woman whose son was taken from her when she was young. She enlists the help of a cynical journalist (Coogan) to find her son in America. The film is based on a true story.

I sat down today and looked at the production budgets and worldwide box office of all of the nominated films. I did a simple ratio, dividing the box office by the production budget, to see which films were the most profitable. This isn’t a true measure of profit. Studios spend a lot of money on marketing and that’s not included in the production budget. Oscar films can often earn much more money on home video because many of these smaller movies work almost as well on a home theater as in the multiplex.

I was surprised to see Philomena come up at the top of my list. With a worldwide box office of $85 million, the $12 million movie earned 708% of its production budget at the box office.

That means the film has been extremely profitable. Expect Coogan, Dench and Weinstein to all earn some nice back end money on the film.

Will that help Philomena when it comes to winning awards? Probably not. Even Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar machine isn’t strong enough to overwhelm Gravity and 12 Years. But it does mean the film has benefited from an important part of Oscar season – free advertising.

The second most-profitable film on the list is Gravity. With a budget of $100 million, this sci-fi flick was a huge risk for Warner Bros. There is basically one actor in effects-heavy nail biter. Although the finished product is a marvel of modern film making, Warner Bros. would have had every reason in the world not to go ahead with the film after hearing the pitch.

Thank goodness they did. Audiences showed a lot of love to Gravity. The film brought in $703 million at the global box office. According to The Hollywood Reporter, star Sandra Bullock stands to earn $70 million from the film. Gravity is the front runner to win Best Picture and director Alfonso Cuaron is the man to beat in the Best Director race. The film shows that big budgets aren’t always a bad thing.

Ranking third is 12 Years a Slave. The film is poised to give Gravity a run for its money on Sunday and many people suspect it will walk away with the Best Picture statue. The tough film, about the horrors of slavery, cost $20 million to make and has earned $128 million at the global box office. Several Oscar wins could seriously boost the film’s home video potential. While it might be difficult for many people to sit down to a movie that they know is going to be so brutal, the Oscar sheen is enough to get people to at least press play.

Follow me on Twitter at DorothyatForbes.

Join us while we live tweet the Oscars Sunday night at #ForbesOscars

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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