By Hammad Zaidi | March 4, 2014

Welcome to Going Bionic #201, also known as our 2014 post-Oscar edition. The recently completed 86th Academy Awards offered few surprises, but one thing it did offer is a tremendous amount of hope to smaller films. That’s because seven of the final eight awards of the evening were handed out to smaller films. In fact, of the “elite eight” awards only one was given to a big budgeted studio film, when Alfonso Cuaron won for directing Gravity. The other seven main Oscars, i.e. Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay, all went to modestly-budgeted films that were initially released on very few screens, before they went wide after creating a groundswell of critical interest.

Today we’re going to analyze the box office strength, or lack thereof, of the smaller films that nearly swept the biggest awards at the 86th Academy Awards. We’ll also discuss an interesting trend these films share, and how this “trend-in-common” affects the present and future of independent cinema. So, let’s take a look at this year’s golden little guys.

12 Years A Slave
Oscars Won: Best Picture, (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers), Best Supporting Actress, (Lupita Nyong’o) Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley).

Steve McQueen’s $20 million dollar budgeted historical epic was released by Fox Searchlight in 19 theaters on October 18, 2013. The picture made $923,715 from those theaters, which is a $48,617 per screen average. However, when the film went wide onto 1,144 screens, it earned $6,675,731 on its first “wide” weekend, which is a per screen average of only 5,835. The film made $50,260,000 domestically, and another, $89,900,000 internationally, giving it a grand total of $140,160,000 worldwide thus far. This film, like the other Academy Award winners this year, should enjoy a hefty gain at the box office, as well as other ancillary outlets, in the coming weeks.

Dallas Buyers Club
Oscars Won: Best Actor, (Matthew McConaughey) Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto), Best Makeup and Hairstyling, (Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews).

At $5 million, Dallas Buyers Club was the smallest-budgeted film of this year’s major winners. Focus Features released this film on nine screens over the weekend of November 1, 2013, $260,865 was earned on those initial nine screens, giving Dallas Buyers Club a per screen average of $28,985. Then, when the picture went wide, it earned $2,687,157 on 666 screens, giving it a weak $4,035 per screen average. The film (so far) has earned $25,318,000 domestically, and only $6,000,000 internationally, giving it a worldwide total of $31,318,000.

Blue Jasmine
Oscar Won: Best Actress (Cate Blanchett).

Sony Pictures Classics released Woody Allen’s latest gem on six screens over the weekend of July 26, 2013, earning $612,064. That’s an astonishing $102,011 per screen average. When the picture went wide, it earned $3,972,687 on 1,283 screens, which is a $3,096 per screen average. However, Blue Jasmine has earned a healthy $33,303,963 domestically and $61,600,000 abroad, totaling $94,903,963 worldwide; pretty great for a film with a reported budget of under $18 million.

Oscar Won: Best Original Screenplay (Spike Jonze).

Warner Brothers’ $23 million dollar budgeted film was released on six screens on December 18, 2013. The film earned $260,382, giving it a $43,397 per screen average. The film went on to make $5,383,775 on 1,729 screens on its first “wide release” weekend, lowering the per screen average to $3,114. Her went on to make $24,604,000 domestically, and $6,241,342 overseas, giving it a box office total of $30,845,342.

And the Trend Shared Amongst These Oscar Winners is….
These Oscar-winning films did not cross over to mass audiences. 12 Years a Slave did modestly domestically, and Blue Jasmine did fairly well internationally, but overall, all four of these cinematic gems struggled to capture the attention of mass audiences, and of course, their box office dollars.

However, these films did pretty well collectively. With an average budget of $16,500,000 and average worldwide gross of $74,306,876, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Blue Jasmine and Her have blazed a path toward for other modestly budgeted films to get serious looks from major studios. In fact, of the four, only Her has to breakeven financially, and that status should change quickly, given the bump in income the film is about to receive after its Oscar win.

What All This Means
Simply put, indie filmmakers and their smaller budgets, will be taken more seriously by studios this year, and beyond. So, now your biggest problem won’t be to serve up a smaller film to a major studio, it will be to get them to agree to work with you on that smaller film! But, life wouldn’t be interesting if we didn’t have a few hurdles to jump, right?

I thank you for lending me your eyes once again, and I look forward to borrowing them once again next Tuesday. Until then, I hope you have a great week! I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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