Oscar films are poised for box office bounce. ''Mystic River,'' ''Monster,'' and ''Barbarian Invasions'' have the most to gain

By Gary Susman
Updated March 02, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

The Oscars are over, but now the winners will really start to take home the gold. The publicity value of being nominated can add 25 percent to a movie’s box office, and winning can add even more. While some of the winning films, including the sweep-tastic ”Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” will see only a modest bounce at the box office, others are poised to capitalize on their victories Sunday night.

The movies that will be helped the most are the grim, serious dramas that appear to be downers but now have the Academy’s stamp of approval. They include ”Mystic River,” which had already boosted its box office by 25 percent during the month since the Oscar nominations were announced on Jan. 27. (As of Monday, it had grossed $82.5 million.) ”Monster” has done even better, percentagewise; it’s earned $27 million since its late December opening, $20.5 million of that since the nominations. Look for the distribution whizzes at Newmarket (the indie firm that’s also behind the blockbuster release of Mel Gibson’s ”The Passion of the Christ”) to capitalize on Charlize Theron’s Best Actress win with a ”Monster”-sized increase in the number of screens this weekend. Also expanding will be the talky Foreign Film winner, ”The Barbarian Invasions,” which has earned $7.5 million in North America to date; Miramax plans to add 60 percent more screens this weekend (a total of 131), Variety reports.

Even ”Return of the King,” whose theatrical life in North America has nearly run its course (it’s earned $364 million to date and more than $1 billion worldwide), still expects to milk the Oscar publicity by expanding from 1,112 theaters to 2,000 this weekend. Overseas, where the movie recently surpassed ”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” to become the second highest-grossing film of all time ($663.1 million; ”Titanic” is tops with nearly twice that), New Line still expects Oscar buzz to propel the movie past the $750 million mark.

Other nominated movies that didn’t fare as well at the podium are still getting an Oscar bounce from home entertainment buyers. According to Amazon, pre-orders for the DVD of ”Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” jumped from No. 27 to No. 5 after the ceremony. (The video comes out on April 20.) And while neither of the nominated songs from ”Cold Mountain” won, their performances during the show helped boost sales of the soundtrack, sending its Amazon ranking from No. 30 up to No. 2.