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On January 14th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 2016 Oscar awards.  Speculation and predictions about which of the nominees will actually take home the coveted gold statue commenced immediately.

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Research in the Journal of Cultural Economics by Eva Deuchert, Kossi Adjamah, and Florian Pauly, however, indicates that, when it comes to the economic benefits of an Oscar nod, the nomination is almost as good as the statue itself.  The authors analyzed the box office revenues of movies released in the US between 1990 and 2000, including movies that were nominated and those that won in the most prominent Oscar categories: “Best picture,” “Best actor/actress in a leading role,” and “Best actor/actress in a supporting role.”

Not surprisingly, the authors found that Oscar nominations confer an immediate box-office advantage, particularly in the best picture and leading role categories:

A nomination in the categories ‘best picture’ or ‘best actor in a leading role’ increases the weekly box office revenue of the following weeks by more than 200%, while a nomination for ‘best actress in a leading role’ increases weekly box office revenue by almost 150%.

Interestingly, however, especially given how much money studios spend lobbying for their cast and their movies, it’s not clear that an Oscar win results in much more additional revenue. But there is one exception: a win results in substantially larger box-office revenues than a nomination in the “best actress in a leading role” category.

“Our analysis of the ‘Oscar effect’ on revenues suggests that while the awards have a positive effect, the main box office effect is generated primarily by the nominations,” the authors concluded. “A possible explanation for this finding would be that people take the Oscar nominations and awards as a signal, but they go to the movies more often so that they pick not only the winner but also the other nominees (even if they might regard the award-winning movie as the best).”

As Oscar season heats up, studio executives might want to keep in mind one final piece of advice from Deuchert, Adjamah, and Pauly: “Our analysis indicates that the investment in Academy Awards once the nominations are out is less profitable than expected by the industry.”

Sometimes it really is nice just to be nominated.


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Journal of Cultural Economics