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April 15, 2013

Post Oscar-Nomination Box Office Performance for Actors/Actresses

Getting an Oscar nomination is good for actors’ and actresses’ careers, right? Well, yes, but as the following graphs show, it doesn’t necessarily increase box-office visibility in the years after the nomination, relative to the year of the nomination. Furthermore, it looks like the year following the nomination shows a significant drop in box office (especially for male actors – dropping by over 35%), before they fully capitalize on their boosted brand in the second year. This means that if you are a producer looking for a star, you should wait until the evening that Best Actor nominations are announced, pick up the phone and get those actors’ agents – because the following year is going to be one of peak brand strength for the actor, but also of low visibility of the actor, meaning you will have to deal with much less competition for viewer attention from other projects he/she is involved with. If you wait for the second or third year post-nomination, there will be an inflation of exposure of that star. Also, if you wait for the fourth year post-nomination – you’re back to low visibility, but that’s probably because the Oscar effect has worn out.

This graph is based on 100 Best Actor/Actress Academy Award nominations between the years 1998-2008 (50 males, 50 females), their average box office performance during the year of nomination (baseline = 100) and their box office performance 1, 2, 3, and 4 years post-nomination. There is definitely a pattern.

You could claim that without the nomination the shelf life of the talent’s career would have been shorter and that is a valid point that should be investigated further. But my point here is that an Oscar nomination for Best Actor/Actress is worth three more years of similar box-office visibility. Of course there are outliers (like Johnny Depp, who tried to screw up my pretty graph with crazy box office numbers), but on average, this is the situation.

Note: “Box office visibility” refers to the involvement of a talent in projects and how much they ended up being worth at the box-office. Indeed, this is not a highly accurate gauge, because it does not differentiate between lead roles and supporting roles, but when averaged over 100 stars, the above patterns emerged. Sure, Judi Dench was not the lead in the Bond movies she took part in after her Oscar nominations in 2001, 2005 and 2006, but the Bond box-office numbers are a relevant gauge of her exposure, because the truth is I remember her frowning as Bond’s Boss, much more vividly than as Mrs. Henderson, so I don’t think supporting roles should necessarily weigh less.

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  1. Idea: check out the box office performance of an actor/actress on the year he/she is nominated vs. the expected at that point of his/her career based on historic trends. Could be that the drop in year 1 is just caused because the actor hits a high on the year of the nomination, and the goes back to normal…

    • You are completely right, but the point here is that the first year post-nomination is an opportunity to recruit the actor/actress at an optimal time. In the future, I will do a more rigorous comparison to past trends. I would also love to figure out a way to compare the career trajectory of an oscar nominated talent vs. a talent that didn’t get a nomination, but that’s a bit tricky.

  2. Brand power – because after an Oscar nomination, everyone is looking for these stars. Low visibility – because there is a significant drop (especially for male actors) in box office, which I use as a (not perfect) gauge of visibility. Intuitively, they should indeed be related – but in the other direction: I would expect these stars to be snatched for projects right away, but it turns out there is a window of one year where you can get them before an inflation of performances starts undermining the point of hiring them as crowd drawers.

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