We’re all wrecked that we have to wait another four months to see Shutter Island. But there’s no reason to have our faith shaken in the quality of the movie or the Oscar system itself. Indulge me for a rare lengthy analysis.
Everything we can tell from the trailer, have seen in the script and know from the promos tells us Shutter Island is a tight slice of noir neurosis that cranks the tension tighter as it shivers toward twisty Hitchcockian shocks on a dark and stormy night. But sadly after yesterday‚Äôs announcement of the film‚Äôs postponement, we now know Scorsese taking Oscar night by storm is not part of next year‚Äôs forecast. The reasons offered by Paramount yesterday at first sounded weak, but now that our outrage has settled into depressed resignation, let’s try to look at the economics more objectively.
A day later, as we stop gasping and start grasping for a better explanation, we can take a deep breath and look back to a recent template for comparison. As luck would have it, there‚Äôs a helpful historic echo still reverberating from Scorcese‚Äôs last masterpiece, The Departed.
For the sake of discussion, let‚Äôs say the casting of DiCaprio, Ruffalo, Kingsley, von Sydow, Haley and Williams amount to star power roughly equivalent to the talents of DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Sheen, Walhberg and Farmiga. Let‚Äôs also agree that an adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane is at least as prestigious as a remake of a Hong Kong cult classic.
Even a novice Oscar-watcher might blindly predict that a cast ever-so-slightly less hip and a script ever-so-slightly more corny might not bode so happily for yet another ‚Äúreturn to his roots‚Äù for Scorsese. Especially since the roots of The Departed were intertwined in the venerated clay of Goodfellas (6 Oscar noms), while the roots of Shutter Island are tangled up in the gnarlier sands of Cape Fear (2 Oscar noms). Trust me, in February you‚Äôll find the comparison is justified. (For the record, I think all these movies are superb ‚Äì I just don‚Äôt think they‚Äôre all created equal.)
Now let‚Äôs assume Paramount did nothing better or worse than follow Warner Bros‚Äô playbook for The Departed. Shutter Island was to have opened on October 2. That‚Äôs only 4 days off from the 3rd anniversary of the premiere of The Departed in 2006. Hailed as a triumphant return to Scorsese‚Äôs forte, the gangland epic, audiences flocked to The Departed. It racked up a very respectable box office over the next several weeks, reaching a cool $121 mil by the week of Jan 23, ‚Äô07 ‚Äì the week it was nominated for 5 Academy Awards.
But then what happened? The movie‚Äôs theatrical run was done, the DVD was out within days. Between the day the Oscar nominations were announced, and the night The Departed won Best Picture, Best Director and 2 other Oscars, The Departed earned another $10 mil. But after all those millions of FYC ads were spent winning those well-deserved Oscars, how much more did The Departed earn at the box-office? $579,018. It looks cooler on a chart:
Can you say, ‚Äúlaw of diminishing returns‚Äù? Look no further for a reason for the February release date: For an already successful movie, there‚Äôs simply no appreciable return on the FYC investment. A movie like Shutter Island is going to earn what it earns, regardless of how many little Oscar clipart figurines the ad men can cut-and-paste onto newspaper ads in January.
The Oscar effect is still in effect, but it works for some movies more effectively than others. Movies like Milk and The Reader needed the Oscar-winning boost to put them in the black, and I couldn‚Äôt be happier that they were able to do so. But if you really want to see an example of the best way to parlay nominations into larger denominations of cash, check out the Oscar effect for Slumdog Millionaire:
(source: boxoffice mojo)
2/3‚Äôs of Slumdog‚Äôs earnings came after its 10 Oscar nominations were announced. Any budget Fox Searchlight allotted for an Oscar campaign was money well spent.
As much as many of us stood strongly behind Benjamin Button, it must have been disheartening for Paramount to spend millions and millions on Oscar ads last year, only to see those efforts rewarded for art direction, visual effects, and make-up. Especially for such an expensive project, where the break-even point is harder to reach, I’m sure someone in an corner office was wishing they had a few of those millions back.
Paramount’s figure of $60 million for marketing yesterday can’t mean that was all earmarked for an Oscar campaign. But even assuming it’s a fraction of that, where’s the advantage for them in an Oscar push for a film that’s not likely to repeat what The Departed achieved? It might be callous, but therse are tough times. My instinct about Shutter Island is that it’ll be a thunderous thrill-ride, but Scorsese’s Oscar lightning isn’t likely to strike twice.
‚ÄúBut Ryan!‚Äù some will cry (and I do love it when you whimper), ‚ÄúWhat about Eastwood‚Äôs back-to-back string of nominations?‚Äù And I‚Äôll say, ‚ÄúFluke. Sentimental anomaly. Mistake.‚Äù Besides, Marty isn‚Äôt Clint (Thank God.) In fact, as Gran Torino proved, even Clint isn‚Äôt Clint every time out of the gate. We should accept that, and be thankful neither one of them is Ron.
We know by now that not every Oscar movie is great — and, more importantly — not every great movie is Oscar material. Why should this matter so much to movie lovers or even Oscar lovers (those pervs). As Sasha said many times about our adopted caped crusader last summer: the Oscars need The Dark Knight more than The Dark Knight needs Oscars.
Finally, let’s look ahead to what Paramount has lined up for 2010.
* Shutter Island ‚Äì February 19
* Iron Man 2 (co-produced with Marvel) – May 7
* Shrek Forever After (distributor only) ‚Äì May 21
* Footloose – June 18
* The Last Airbender – July 2
* Oobermind (distributor only) ‚Äì November 5
(note that Shrek Forever and Oobermind are Dreamworks productions. Paramount is the distribution partner.)
Maybe there are other hidden gems we haven’t heard about on Paramount’s slate. Or perhaps by sinking our hopes this year, they’re counting on Scorsese’s latest to be their sunken treasure for next year — a booty of Oscar gold not buried, but simply stashed away like a castaway on Shutter Island.