Movie theater chains don't often get a chance to own one of the Academy Award-winning films that play in their movie houses. AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC) - Get Report and Regal EntertainmentGroup (RGC) may soon get the chance.
The two companies, which operate the two largest chains in the country, jointly own the four-year old Open Road Films studio that distributes the film Spotlight. The film, about the 2001 investigation by Boston Globe reporters that uncovered sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic Church priests in Boston, is widely expected by Hollywood insiders to be one of the films nominated for an Academy Award on January 14.
The glittery awards ceremony will be held on Feb. 28, but nominees reap big rewards just by being nominated. The box office take for 21st Century Fox' (FOX) - Get Report Fox Searchlight's film Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), last year's winner, jumped by 44%in the five weeks between its nomination and getting the golden statue.
Spotlight, whose stars include Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Live Schreiber, was released on Nov. 6 and generated $20.3 million in domestic ticket sales as of Dec. 13, according to the tracking service Rentrak.
Open Road has been pulling out all the stops to collect some extra money for its corporate parents. Between early November and late December, the studio will host an unusually large number of special screenings of Spotlight for Academy voters.
Open Road scheduled 31 screenings during those six-weeks for Academy members from Hollywood to New York, Paris, London and even Barcelona. Spotlight director and writer Tom McCarthy made the rounds for Q&As at the larger gatherings, including one in San Francisco hosted by Phil Bronstein, former executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and chairman of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
A "holiday desert reception" was offered on Thanksgiving morning to Los Angeles Academy members, according to Open Road's invitation.
On Dec, 9, the Boston Globe announced a $100,000 fellowship that would be funded by Open Road, along with film financiers Participant Media and First Look Media. The fellowship would be awarded to a reporter or team of journalists to pursue an in-depth investigative piece with the opportunity to be published in the Globe.
The Spotlight campaign is being managed by AMC and Regal by an Oscar veteran who has managed winning efforts in the past. Tom Ortenberg, Open Road's chief executive, orchestrated the 2006 campaign for the film Crash while a top executive at Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) that resulted in one of the biggest surprise winner's in recent Oscar history.
Should it be nominated, Spotlight won't be nearly as big a surprise. The film has already been nominated for Golden Globe and Screen Actor Guild's top film awards. Those awards are usually a precursor of an Oscar nomination.
That ought to beef up ticket sales. But theater executives no doubt are hoping for one more big show from Spotlight. And the guys who run the cineplexes likely will be in the front row when that happens.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.