Michael Jackson bought the best picture Oscar for Gone with the Wind for $1.5 million. An anonymous bidder picked up the award that Orson Welles won for writing Citizen Kane for $862,000.
If you follow the rules and give the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences a chance to buy it back? They're offering a flat rate of $1. But to figure out what an Oscar is really worth, you must start by winning one.
So let's say that you’re hanging out with some friends at 6 a.m. one morning in January, and you get word that, yes, you’re nominated for an Academy Award. You might start thinking about what designer you’ll wear, or who to mention in your acceptance speech. You might also start thinking about money. Big money.
"There’s definitely a boost to getting nominated for Best Picture. Just getting nominated is [linked to] about a $23.2 million in box office revenue," says Agata Kaczanowska, an entertainment industry analyst with IBIS World.
And that boost doesn’t even count box office revenue from abroad or DVD sales down the line.
After the nominations come out, audiences usually go to see as many movies as they can before Oscar night. That means producers put their film into as many theaters as possible to keep up with the surge in demand.
Jim Berk is the CEO of Participant Media, one of the production companies behind the Academy Award-nominated film Lincoln. For him, awards season gives good work a longer life in theaters.
"It’s a way to market the film. People think it’s a campaign to win; it’s really a campaign to get exposure for the film," Berk says.
That exposure brings prestige to the films’ directors and stars, and cash for the producers. Tom O’Neil runs the awards tracking site, GoldDerby.com.
"The payoff can be huge. How much money do you think The King’s Speech would’ve made in theaters if it hadn’t been for the Oscars? It ended up with $414 million worldwide."
But it’s the smaller films that stand to gain the most. According to industry analyst Kaczanowska, the smaller the budget, the bigger boost the Oscar stage provides. By that measure, Beasts of the Southern Wild stands to gain the most from the Oscar bump this year.
For an individual, an Oscar nomination can unlock more work, and more Oscars. Marc Malkin is senior editor for E! Online and E! News.
"You look at someone like Jennifer Lawrence. She had a tiny career before Winter’s Bone. She gets nominated for Winter’s Bone. She becomes the hottest in Hollywood. She gets X-Men then she gets Hunger Games. Then she gets Silver Linings and she’s nominated again," Malkin says, adding, "There’s no doubt that that Winter’s Bone nomination completely changed her career."
An Oscar nod can improve the fortunes of everyone involved in a movie – even those with less glamorous roles.
Ziggy Kozlowski is the director of publicity for Block Korenbrot, a Hollywood PR firm. He recalled reading an interview with actor Jason Bateman, who played a supporting role in Juno, and said he got a lot of work from its Oscar run, even though Bateman wasn't nominated.
"You have all these studio executives seeing the film and thinking to themselves, oh yeah, we should get somebody like Jason Bateman," Kozlowski says. So there’s money, exposure, and of course, validation.
"These are people that have fame, money, everything in the world that you’d think that they want. But what they really really want is the approval of their peers," says O'Neil of GoldDerby.com
In addition, studies show that Oscar winners actually tend to live longer. Donald Redelmeier is a physician and researcher at the University of Toronto who’s looked at the longevity of Oscar nominees and winners.
"Winning an Academy Award in acting was associated with about a 3- to 4-year gain in life expectancy," he says.
For comparison’s sake, Dr. Redelmeier looked at it like a public health question. What would it take to boost the average lifespan that much for all people?
"If you cure all cancers in all people for all time, you add about 3.5 years to life expectancy in North America," says Redelmeier.
However, that winning effect appears only to help directors and actors. The habits that often keep writers going — late nights, coffee and cigarettes — might lead to a golden statuette, but doesn’t guarantee that final Oscar bump.