Low-Budget Films "Picture" Oscar Gold

Oscar Award Statue
Oscar Award Statue

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its Oscar nominations this morning, beginning a month-long period of speculation on who will win what. But today’s nominations show evidence that there are already some big winners: low-budget movies from the specialty divisions of major studios. Julia Boorstin closed out “Power Lunch” with a look at who might already be an Oscar winner – even before the awards are handed out.

Boorstin noted that of the five nominations for Best Picture, all but one (Warner Bros.’ 'The Departed') had budgets well below $50 million. The other contenders for the top category are ‘The Queen,’ released by Miramax; ‘Babel,’released by Paramount Vantage; Warner Bros. and Dreamworks’ 'Letters From Iwo Jima' and Fox Searchlight’s ‘Little Miss Sunshine.’

And just a nomination will greatly help these lower-budget films at the box office and in DVD performance. Tuna Amobi, an analyst at Standard & Poors, says the Oscar nods help raise public awareness for films that wouldn’t typically play to a broad audience.

Another note from this morning’s nominations: Paramount garnered the most nominations for its films with nineteen. And while it didn’t get a widely expected nod for ‘Dreamgirls,’ it could help parent company Viacom gain traction after a rough year (CEO Tom Freston left the company and Paramount finished fifth for studio market share). Although it is still unlikely that it could help the company’s stock price, according to David Miller of Sanders Morris Harris. He says if Paramount does well at the Oscars it could account for a “mild uptick” in DVD sales but it probably won’t “move the needle” on the company’s overall bottom line.

If there’s one thing this morning’s nominations showed, it’s that the years of the big box office smashes translating into Oscar gold could be over (think Titanic and Lord of the Rings). And if some of these smaller films do indeed pick up statues and their box office and DVD performances get a lift, we can be sure studios will take notice – and maybe cut down on the big budget popcorn flicks in favor of more low-budget films.