(Adds details on release of ‘Darkest Hour’ paragraph 9)
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Only one movie will take home the best-picture Oscar at Sunday’s Academy Awards, but several contenders have capitalized on their nominations by banking tens of millions of dollars over the past month at worldwide box offices.
Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” a 20th Century Fox drama about press freedom, has enjoyed the biggest boost, adding roughly $91 million, or 63 percent of its total, since it was named one of nine best picture nominees on Jan. 23.
Fantasy romance "The Shape of Water," from Fox arthouse division Fox Searchlight, follows with $72 million, or 65 percent, according to data from Box Office Mojo (tmsnrt.rs/2E1pwi3)
The Oscar bounce is no accident. Movie studios execute carefully crafted release strategies and marketing campaigns touting the nominations, hoping to draw audiences to theaters at a time when they have plenty of choices to stream at home.
“The Shape of Water” debuted in a limited number of theaters in early December. The weekend after Oscar nominations were unveiled, Fox Searchlight more than doubled the locations showing the film, and the movie scored its highest three-day tally on its way to $111 million total.
The studio also spent $2.7 million to run TV ads on late-night talk shows and drama series such as NBC’s “This Is Us,” according to data from analytics firm iSpot.
With three best-picture nominees, Fox leads all studios in post-nomination grosses with nearly $231 million.
It is unclear how much the Oscar publicity drives ticket sales, but studio executives say it clearly helps, particularly for arthouse films that appeal to smaller audiences than blockbusters like “Jumanji” that were playing at the same time.
“Audiences can only go to see so many films,” said Duncan Clark, president of distribution for Comcast Corp’s Universal Pictures International. “They are going to be steered to the ones with the highest profile.”
Universal planned months ahead to keep historical drama “Darkest Hour” in theaters during January and February, expecting it would be an Oscar contender, Clark said. Universal released the movie in international markets while its Focus Features division distributed the film domestically.
“Darkest Hour” has garnered about $58 million since the nominations, and the studio is aiming to add to that total in Japan, where it is timing the release to the elevated profile of the film’s Japanese makeup artist. Kazuhiro Tsuji, who has been praised by star Gary Oldman for transforming him into British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, won a BAFTA for the work and is nominated for an Oscar.
“Darkest Hour” opens in Japan in March and has earned $136 million so far, just behind the nearly $146 million total for “The Post.”
“They’ve done very well for low-budget films, helping projects that might often be limited to modest arthouse runs become successful in the mainstream,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst for BoxOffice.com, said of the movies still in theaters.
But none has come close to the two highest-grossing nominees. World War Two drama “Dunkirk” rang up $525 million while horror movie “Get Out” took in $255 million.
Those movies, however, were released early in 2017 and left theaters long before the Oscar nominations. They may still benefit from bigger sales on DVD and streaming video through outlets such as Amazon.com Inc, which is promoting nominated films to customers this week.
Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler