Oscar-nominated movie companies aren't always good investments, but Lions Gate ( LGF) is looking like the little studio that could. Attention will inevitably swirl around its Oscar contender Crash leading up to Sunday's awards ceremony. But it's the company's tight focus on making cheap, good movies -- along with a substantial film library -- that is helping it stand out from the crowd. As the largest independent studio, with a market cap of around $1 billion, the Canadian-bred film producer has emerged as a feisty presence at the box office despite its low-budget ways. Crash, for example, cost just $6 million to make and has grossed over $83 million in worldwide box office revenue. It also has seen DVD revenue of $40 million. Fans say that kind of success is no accident. Unlike the megastudios -- Time Warner ( TWX)-owned Warner Bros., Viacom ( VIA)-controlled Paramount and Dreamworks Animation ( DWA) -- the success of Lions Gate's films largely determine the fortunes of the company, making the investment thesis a little clearer for Wall Street. Warner Bros. and Paramount put a lot of cash down on their movies for production, printing and advertising. The expectation is that the costlier films will become profitable after their box office run, in the so-called DVD and pay TV windows. Lions Gate, on the other hand, sees returns on a successful film almost immediately. "Most studios don't rely on making money in the theatrical frame," says Sanders Morris Harris analyst David Miller, who rates Lions Gate a strong buy. Miller doesn't own Lions Gate. Sanders Morris Harris does some corporate financing work for the studio. So to a large extent, Lions Gate rises and falls in the market largely on the performance of its latest box office release. When a Lions Gate movie stumbles out of the gate, as two did in the fall, the marketing budget is quickly pulled, but the damage is done. Where a larger studio can absorb a couple of misses without much notice, Lions Gate is more exposed.