Paramount, Sony score big in Oscar nominations

LOS ANGELES Tue Jan 25, 2011 5:27pm EST

The water tower at Paramount Pictures Studios, a division of Viacom, Inc. is pictured in Los Angeles, California July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The water tower at Paramount Pictures Studios, a division of Viacom, Inc. is pictured in Los Angeles, California July 29, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Paramount Pictures garnered 20 Oscar nominations on Tuesday, edging out Sony Pictures to lead Hollywood's studios in Academy Award nods, which could help boost some nominees' box office and DVD sales.

Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc, outgunned the competition with the Western "True Grit," which claimed 10 Oscar nods, and the studio punched up another seven nominations with boxing drama "The Fighter."

The studio also gained three nods for distributing the DreamWorks Animation SKG animated movie "How to Train Your Dragon" and the Marvel Entertainment flick "Iron Man 2."

Sony Pictures Entertainment, a unit of Sony Corp, and its film divisions, claimed 17 nods in the annual contest for Hollywood bragging rights and promotional muscle.

An Oscar nomination can help increase ticket sales by over one-third by winning headlines that capture moviegoers' attention. Moreover, films that have finished their box office runs but are just now selling on DVD see their sales jump due to added promotion.

While that general rule will hold true for leading nominee "The King's Speech," released by privately held Weinstein Co., and other films still in theaters, one twist to this year's Oscar race is several nominees already have been big hits, unlike recent years.

"Really, all of these films that are up for best picture are box office successes, and you don't often see that," said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations Co.

Three movies nominated for best picture on Tuesday have already surpassed $100 million at U.S. and Canada box offices. That pack is led by Disney/Pixar's "Toy Story 3" which sold over $415 million in tickets in those markets.

"Inception" has raked in $292 million. Western "True Grit" is at nearly $140 million and still climbing, and Facebook film "The Social Network" has made a strong showing with $95.4 million in domestic theaters.

Compare that to 2009's ceremony when only one film, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," had cracked the $100 million mark in domestic theaters when Oscar nominees were announced.

RETURN OF THE WEINSTEINS

Paramount's "True Grit" and "The Fighter," which are still playing in movie theaters, are poised to gain more ticket sales from the Oscar limelight, box office watchers said.

But Weinstein could see an even greater boost for "King's Speech," as it widens distribution to capitalize on Oscar buzz and promotion.

Run by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob, the company has 13 nominations including 12 for "King's Speech." The Weinsteins, who led Miramax Films until 2005, timed the release of "King's Speech" to capitalize on nominations, Bock said.

"This is what they've been trying to do for years and haven't really been able to do since Miramax, and this may be that film that takes them back to the promised land," he said.

Sony Pictures Classics, a unit of Sony Pictures, is also banking on Oscar buzz for several films yet to gain wide release, including best animated nominee "The Illusionist."

"Audiences will be very curious about it, and it's a very high quality film and there's no doubt (the nomination) is going to have real impact at the box office," said Michael Barker, co-chief of Sony Pictures Classics.

Tying for 12 nominations each were: Warner Bros, a unit of Time Warner Inc; News Corp's Fox divisions; and Walt Disney Co, which includes its Pixar Animation unit.

(Editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman)

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