Lincoln vs Argo and the big-budget blitz: how Hollywood is throwing millions at race for Best Picture Oscar

Studios behind two leading contenders for Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony are both estimated to have spent around $10m on their campaigns

Los Angeles

Their billboards tower over the streets of Hollywood, their broadcast spots clog the commercial breaks between primetime TV shows, and their print advertisements fill the pages of almost every Los Angeles-based publication.

In its hometown the Oscar race is unavoidable, and, just like last year’s US Presidential rivals, this year’s nominees for Best Picture are expected to contest the most expensive awards campaign in history.

The studios behind Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage drama Argo and Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic Lincoln, the two leading contenders for Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, are both estimated to have spent around $10m (£6.4m) on their campaigns. In 2010, The Hurt Locker beat Avatar to Best Picture after spending $5m, but this year’s race is close, and Warner Bros (Argo) and Disney (Lincoln) both have sizeable war chests.

Members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, for example, were given four Lincoln-themed books – including a Civil War-era recipe book – ahead of the Critics’ Choice Awards, at which the film went on to win prizes for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Score. Universal sent the same set of voters an iPod shuffle containing the Les Misérables soundtrack.

Subscribers to industry journal The Hollywood Reporter recently received a free glossy, promo magazine for Silver Linings Playbook, as well as a “making of…” DVD. Elizabeth Gabler, the president of Fox 2000 Pictures, told the Los Angeles Times that her studio had made a “substantial” financial commitment to its awards campaign for Best Picture contender Life of Pi. “I know it’s as much as we’ve ever spent,” she said. The film’s director, Ang Lee, is one of the favourites for Best Director.

“The 2013 race was wide open for a long time,” said Jon Weisman, the awards editor for Variety, “whereas last year it boiled down to The Artist and The Descendants very quickly, and the year before that to The King’s Speech and The Social Network. That didn’t happen this year until the last few weeks. So perhaps more spending needed to be done to narrow the race.”

The beginning of the Oscar arms race can be traced to 1999, when producer Harvey Weinstein was said to have spent $15m on an advertising assault that brought him a Best Picture award for Shakespeare in Love, blowing away Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. This year Weinstein hopes to cause another upset with Silver Linings Playbook.

The spending may sound ludicrous, but a boost from the Academy can send a film’s box office soaring. Slumdog Millionaire had grossed $44m when it was nominated for Best Picture in 2009. After it won that Oscar (and seven others) it went on to earn $377m worldwide.

Much of the cost of an awards campaign goes on the lavish DVD packages sent to voters to persuade them to watch the films in contention. Then there’s the cost of transporting and accommodating the filmmakers as they perform promotional duties. Television and billboard advertisements can cost six figures. A full-page advert in The Hollywood Reporter costs around $25,000, but the cover of Variety can be up to $80,000.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there