LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One studio's demise was
another's good fortune at the Academy Awards Sunday as Fox
Searchlight took top honors with "Slumdog Millionaire," a film
that was at one time destined to go straight to video.
The Indian drama about an unlikely quiz-show winner picked
up eight Oscars, including best picture -- the first time the
arthouse wing of Rupert Murdoch's 20th Century Fox film studio
has won the top honor.
"Slumdog Millionaire," which cost just $15 million to make,
was originally supposed to be distributed in North America by
Warner Independent Pictures. But the studio was shut down by
its Warner Bros. Pictures parent last May, leaving its slate of
films orphaned -- just like the young hero in "Slumdog."
Warner Bros. executives allowed the anxious filmmakers to
screen it for one other studio. They chose Fox Searchlight,
which had collaborated with "Slumdog" director Danny Boyle on
the 2003 horror movie "28 Days Later."
Fox Searchlight formally acquired the film in late August,
days before the movie's world premiere at the Toronto
International Film Festival. It has earned $98 million since
its North American release in late November, and has spent nine
of its 15 weeks in the top 10.
Recent history, however, has shown that there is little
Oscar bounce for a best-picture winner. Last year, "No Country
For Old Men" added $10 million, ending up with $74 million.
International distribution rights for "Slumdog" are
controlled by British film company Pathe.
Fox Searchlight, which did well at recent Oscar ceremonies
with such films as "Juno," "Little Miss Sunshine" and
"Sideways," was also a contender this year with "The Wrestler."
But that film lost out in its two categories. "Slumdog
Millionaire" received 10 nominations overall in nine
categories. The studio is a unit of News Corp.
HOW STUDIOS FARED
Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, followed
with five wins. Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures, which
led the studios with 23 nominations, ended up with four.
The studios partnered on leading contender "The Curious
Case of Benjamin Button," which took home three Oscars, having
been nominated for 13 awards.
"Benjamin Button" -- has earned about $176 million at the
worldwide box office. But it cost about $150 million to make,
and is far from turning a profit.
Warner Bros. also received a pair for "The Dark Knight,"
which earned $1 billion worldwide and is already out on DVD,
while Paramount got an additional award for "The Duchess."
Two studios scored two awards each: the Weinstein Co., the
struggling studio formed by the two founders of Miramax Films,
won its first Oscar hardware with "The Reader" and "Vicky
Cristina Barcelona"; General Electric Co's Focus
Features won two for "Milk."
All three films were largely ignored at the North American
box office. "The Reader" has earned $23.2 million to date and
"Milk" $28.2 million. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" recently came
out on DVD after a $23 million run.
Walt Disney Co won a single Oscar, thanks to the
expected animated feature win for its Pixar cartoon "WALL-E."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)
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