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16 April 2024

Fox Searchlight's gamble on Slumdog Millionaire pays off

By Reuters

One studio's demise was another's good fortune at the Academy Awards yesterday as Fox Searchlight took top honours 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 (Dh55m) 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 $98m 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 $10m, ending up with $74m.

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.

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 $176m at the worldwide box office. But it cost about $150m to make, and is far from turning a profit.