This is an increase from years past. In 2010, seven of the 10 nominated films were shown locally; in 2009, only one of the five nominees was shown here; and in 2008, three of the five nominations were shown (the Academy doubled the size of the nomination list beginning with the 2010 awards).
Because of the area’s smaller population and the limit of 12 screens at the theater, smaller art films are usually not shown in Oxford, said Doug Whitford, the film buyer for Southern Theaters, the company that owns the AmStar 12.
“With limited screens, we can’t afford to put (smaller films) on screen, knowing it would do less than the gross we got out of a larger market,” he said recently in a phone interview.
That’s why the AmStar 12 missed out on this year’s best-picture nominees The Kids are All Right and Winter’s Bone, which grossed $20.8 million and $6.4 million in the United States, respectively, according to Box Office Mojo. Both films also had limited releases — The Kids Are All Right was shown in 994 theaters across the United States, and Winter’s Bone was shown in 141.
One film that typically wouldn’t get shown in Oxford but did was the drama 127 Hours, about a rock climber who amputates his own arm after he is trapped by a boulder. That film opened in 916 theaters domestically, and the AmStar usually only gets films released in more than 2,000 theaters.
“The Fox Searchlight salesperson was more aggressive at pushing the film,” Whitford said, explaining that Black Swan, which is a box-office hit, is distributed by the same company. “127 Hours got theaters they normally wouldn’t have, but they made a special pitch.”
The King’s Speech, which is a likely winner for best picture and is nominated for 11 other Oscars, only opened locally Friday despite its large distribution at 2,584 theaters domestically.
The movie, which opened in limited release at the end of November, was not made available to the AmStar 12 from the distributor until late January, Whitford said. The company wanted to put it in a slot where it could play for “a while,” which pushed the opening back until Friday. Showing the movie any sooner left the chance that it would get bumped off by a more commercially appealing movie, such as Justin Bieber: Never Say Never or the new Adam Sandler movie Just Go With It.
“This is one that should have opened three weeks ago, but we didn’t want to take it off after just a week,” Whitford said.
Grand Theater would love to screen all of the Oscar-nominated films, but in the case of The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone, it just wasn’t feasible. By the time the nominations were announced, both films were already released on DVD, Whitford said.
“I like it when a film is nominated that still has theater life, like The King’s Speech,” he said.
Despite the many blockbusters on the best-picture list, movie ticket sales decreased 5.2 percent from 2009-10, according to Box Office Mojo. The decline, however, has been masked by increased ticket prices, especially for 3-D movies.
“I think last year was the worst in a long time,” said AmStar General Manager Chris Luker. “But I think our attendance is a little better than nationwide (statistics).”
Luker said all of the mainstream movies on the best-picture list had good attendance, as expected, but the attendance for True Grit was a surprise.
“No one expects a Western to do well,” he said. “True Grit was huge.”
The awards ceremony airs tonight at 7 on ABC.
Deirdre Long is entertainment editor of The Star.