Oscars Mean $$$ for Stars, Films, Studios

March 23, 2001 -- In addition to glitz, glamour, and a taste of glory, the Academy Awards can provide something more: a huge financial windfall for films, movie studios and stars like Julia Roberts and Russell Crowe.

Roberts, the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Erin Brockovich, already earns a cool $20 million per picture. The 33-year-old star first joined the club of actress earning a million dollars per picture after being nominated for an Academy Award in 1990's Pretty Woman.

Slideshow: Oscars, Stars, and Salaries

"She has both critical and commercial acclaim," says David Davis, an entertainment industry analyst for the investment bank Houlihan, Lokey, Howard and Zukin.

But Crowe, who has had a far lower profile for years before breaking through with Best Actor nominations for The Insider last year and Gladiator this time around, could find his reputation and earnings power further solidified by an Academy Award. Already the Australian has signed on to star in the upcoming movie A Beautiful Mind for $15 million.

"Your price tag naturally goes up," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. "It's the crown jewel of a career."

It marks a long and spectacular rise to stardom for Crowe, who in 1997 dismissed the idea of an eight-figure payday for making a movie: "If I get paid $10 million, that's the last bloody movie I'm going to make," he told a reporter for the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass.

Boost for Best Picture Nominees

At the same time, the films winning or even being nominated for key awards can expect to see a large increase in box-office revenue in the coming weeks.

Three of this year's Best Picture nominees, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Traffic and Chocolat remain in theaters, where the receipts have come pouring in since they were given Best Picture nominations in February.

Crouching Tiger and Traffic have both passed the $100 million mark in box-office receipts. The two films had earned $60 million and $71 million, respectively, when the nominations were announced. Chocolat has earned $56 million, with more than half of that coming since February.

"Those three films are not on the face of them mainstream films," says Dergarabedian. "These are the perfect sort of films to get this kind of boost."

"A victory could keep Chocolat in the marketplace for four to five more months and get it over $100 million," adds Davis.

Last year's winner for Best Picture, American Beauty, had earned $75 million by the time it was nominated in February 2000, but then rapidly hauled in another $55 million before finally being pulled from the theaters.

Studios Move to Cash in

And the studios themselves view the awards as more than just a chance to gain prestige. For many, pursuing Oscar nominations and victories is a sensible investment opportunity in a famously hit-or-miss business.

Often major studios will spend $5 million or more promoting a film as they push for Academy Award votes — in addition to the original marketing costs of the film — while hoping to see a payoff in the form of higher box-offices grosses.

"It's an expensive proposition, and if you don't win the best picture, that can hurt," notes Dergarabedian. "But you would be remiss not to try to get that win."

And for some studios, it's a valuable long-term investment. Miramax has seen its profile raised dramatically with a string of Oscar successes in the last several years.

"Miramax having that run of winners in the mid-1990s with The Piano and The English Patient had a big impact," says Davis.

Since then the studio has seen Shakespeare in Love — for which it ran an assertive Oscar-lobbying campaign — win the 2000 Academy Award, while Chocolat is considered a dark horse for this year's award. [Miramax and ABCNEWS.com are both owned by the Walt Disney Co.]

Which means the studio's initial Oscar successes have helped create attention for its later films.

"That run has put a stamp on Miramax to where it really became a brand," adds Davis.