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Oscar nominees 'Moonlight,' 'Manchester' will screen in more theaters – do Oscar nods help bottom line?

Multiple best picture nominees will be screening in more theaters now that they've received Oscar nods. Can awards season attention help a film's box office success, too?

'Moonlight' stars Alex Hibbert.
David Bornfriend/A24/AP
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Films including “Moonlight” and “La La Land,” both of which received multiple major Oscar nominations including nominations for best picture and for some of their actors, will screen in more theaters following the Academy Award nominations announcement. Will the attention from the Oscars benefit their box office results?

Several of the movies nominated for the best picture Oscar will be appearing in more theaters in the future. “Moonlight,” which received a limited release on Oct. 21, will expand the amount of theaters in which it’s screening on Jan. 27. Also increasing the amount of theaters where moviegoers can find them will be “La La Land,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “Arrival,” all of which were nominated for best picture.

Studios are of course considering the financial implications of a plan like this, and so they are likely guessing that more moviegoers will be aware of these films after they received Oscar nods and will want to seek them out. 

Can receiving Oscar nominations help a movie that would otherwise perform on a small scale at the box office?

Variety writers Dave McNary and Brent Lang are guessing that films such as “La La Land,” “Moonlight,” and “Lion” (also a best picture contender) will see an increase in revenue after the Oscar nods.

“Oscar nominations can be worth their weigh in gold,” Mr. McNary and Mr. Lang wrote. “…For art films, Oscar attention can turbocharge ticket sales.”

However, the movies that are nominated for the best picture Oscar are often ones that gross less than the biggest Hollywood hits. For example, last year’s best picture winner, “Spotlight,” came in at number 62 for the ranking of the highest-grossing films released in 2015 domestically.

The nominees last year did include box office hits such as “The Martian,” for example, which was the eighth-highest-grossing film of the year domestically. 

But the winners are often the lesser-grossing films, as pointed out by Fortune writer Chris Lee last year following the win by “Spotlight.” “In recent years, the statuette has gone home with lesser-seen movies, often from off the mainstream radar – offbeat or 'prestige' titles that captured the imagination of Academy voters if not the American public – to the near-total exclusion of big budget Hollywood blockbusters,” Mr. Lee wrote. 

And “Spotlight” actually made more at the box office than the best picture winner the previous year, “Birdman.” A recent exception to this was 2013 best picture winner “Argo,” which was also the twenty-second-highest-grossing film of the year, grossing more than $136 million domestically.

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