This time of year, critics and Hollywood insiders tend to ask whether the Oscars still matter, pointing out that the awards often don't reflect popular taste and the ceremony's television audience has shrunk in recent years. What does it mean that Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Ben Affleck didn't receive Best Director nominations this year, while their movies were all nominated for Best Picture and they were all nominated by the Directors Guild?
The Academy's choices may not seem meaningful to everyone, but they matter from a monetary standpoint. Hollywood studios depend on awards shows to help certain movies at the box office, which makes up for losses in the production of others and makes room for creative risks.
"Most of the nominees for the 2012 awards stand out significantly from typical blockbusters," said Agata Kaczanowska, an entertainment industry analyst at the market research provider IBISWorld. "Out of the nominees, winners tend to be lower-budget movies that have experienced a larger monetary boost for the Academy Award nomination.”
Over the past five years, Best Picture winners had an average budget of $17 million and earned an average of $82.5 million at the box-office — with more than half of the box office sales happening after the Oscar nomination, according to the IBISWorld report. That's an average box office haul of 485.6 percent of each movie's budget.
The waves of moviegoers who buy tickets for Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning films may be one reason studios release buzzy films towards the end of the year.
A Best Picture nominee gets an average box office boost of $6.9 million, according to a 2001 analysis by Randy Nelson, professor of economics and finance at Colby College. If it goes on to win the Oscar, it can expect a bump of $18.1 million.
"It is, categorically, a financial benefit, if your film is still in release," Eric Fellner of Working Title Films, which produced Les Misérables, told CNN on Thursday. He added that the studio will be "spending money to advertise the fact that the film is opening [in Europe], and that it got this many nominations." (It got eight, including Best Picture.)