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Oscar nods will boost ''Chocolat'' and ''Crouching Tiger''

The Academy’s recognition will translate into more ticket sales

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Juliette Binoche, Chocolat

This year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees are due for sizable financial rewards. Though ”Gladiator” and ”Erin Brockovich” broke the $100 million mark last spring, and are already huge sellers on video and DVD, the coveted Oscar acknowledgment could help newer releases ”Chocolat,” ”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and ”Traffic” double their profits in the coming months. ”If a film has yet to reach the mainstream, a Best Picture nomination usually accounts for up to 50 percent of total revenues,” Robert Bucksbaum of tracking firm Reel Source tells EW.com.

The movie that will get the most help from its Oscar nod should be Miramax’s ”Chocolat,” which has had to contend with mixed critics’ reviews. The modest, $25 million budget romance — starring Johnny Depp and Best Actress nominee Juliette Binoche — has grossed about $27 million in its 10 weeks of release.

But on Feb. 16, three days after the nominations were announced, the distributor expanded the film from 1,078 screens to 1,500 in an effort to cash in. ”If ‘Chocolat’ didn’t get the nomination, it would be out of theaters in a few weeks,” says Bucksbaum. ”Now, it’s going to have legs well into March, and depending on how many awards it gets, all the way up until summer of this year.” Analysts say the film’s total gross could be $55 million or more.

The Best Picture nomination will also be a boon for ”Traffic” ($71 million gross so far) and ”Crouching Tiger” ($60 million) — two critically hailed films that aren’t traditional blockbusters. (”Traffic”’s a dark, politically tinged narcotics drama, while ”Tiger” is a martial arts romance.) Both films now appear to have the momentum to reach the $100 to $120 million mark. ”’Crouching Tiger’ has already been able to transcend its foreign language status because it’s such a good movie people are telling their friends about it,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. ”But now this is the ACADEMY saying this is a potential Best Picture winner. Suddenly, that puts it into a whole new category.”

Meanwhile, movies like Cameron Crowe’s rock flick ”Almost Famous” and the English heartwarmer ”Billy Elliot” are less likely to benefit at the box office from their multiple nominations because their recognition came in non- Best Picture categories, says Dergarabedian. ”Famous,” a critical favorite but a box office disappointment, received four nods, including Best Supporting Actress nominations for Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand.

Still, that doesn’t mean an acknowledgment won’t bode well for the individuals. ”For Kate Hudson, who’s just starting her career, it means so much,” says Bucksbaum. ”Her name will never be Kate Hudson again. From now on, in the press it’s always going to be ‘Academy Award nominee Kate Hudson,’ which means a lot for her career and her paycheck.” So much for being ALMOST famous.