Movie Article

What's an Oscar worth?

The benefits of winning an Oscar -- As new winners, Kevin Costner, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Bates, and Joe Pesci will get more than just a statuette

When Kevin Costner accepted the Best Picture Oscar for Dances With Wolves at this year's Academy Awards ceremony, he recited a heartfelt litany of folks who would always remember that moment: his family, his Native American brothers and sisters, the people he went to school with. While he was at it, he should have also mentioned his accountant. Scrape away all the sentimentality, vanity, and occasional moments of genuine emotion that surround the ritual Oscar dance and what remains is a hard core of financial calculation. While most of us simply dropped a buck into the office Oscar pool, Hollywood spent as much as $1 million per picture wooing Academy voters. And now that the votes are in, to the victors belong the spoils.

PROFITS: Historically, the less money a movie has made before winning a Best Picture Oscar, the more it stands to gain. Even before it won seven Oscars, Dances With Wolves was a phenomenal success ($136 million). And though David Forbes, Orion Pictures' distribution president, predicts that the movie's Oscar win will attract at least $30 million more, Dances, having played so long, has already done the bulk of its business. Nevertheless, the weekend following its win its box office was up 44 percent.

FAME: For Best Actor Jeremy Irons, the value of an Oscar is not so much financial as it is strategic. Although his portrayal of Claus von Bülow dominates Reversal of Fortune, he was forced to take second billing to Glenn Close. Though an established leading man, Irons was not considered a star. The Oscar should remedy that. Already, he has completed work on Steven Soderbergh's Kafka, and he's rumored for the title role in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula.

FORTUNE: As 1990's Best Actress, Kathy Bates still has to prove she is more than a one-shot movie diva; otherwise, she could follow in the footsteps of 1984 Best Actor F. Murray Abraham — a noted stage actor whose compelling work in Amadeus failed to lead to a major movie career. Bates, though, is determined to prove her versatility. Since Misery she has completed two films: Hector Babenco's At Play in the Fields of the Lord and a South African drama, The Road to Mecca. And even before the award was announced, she had signed for two more roles: the romantic comedy Prelude to a Kiss and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, starring opposite Jessica Tandy. ''I'm not talking financial structures,'' says Bates' agent Susan Smith, ''but she's a happy girl.''

SUCCESS: For Joe Pesci, Oscar validation as Best Supporting Actor in GoodFellas underlines his newfound popularity following his widely seen turn as one of the bungling burglars in the blockbuster Home Alone. Already he finds himself graduating into starring roles, as a sleazy landlord in the newly completed The Super and as the title character in the comedy My Cousin Vinnie.

CAREER JOLT: The runaway success of Ghost had already revived Whoopi Goldberg's career, so her Best Supporting Actress Oscar is so much icing on the cake. The hit movie led Paramount Pictures to sign the actress to an overall deal.

CALLING THE SHOTS: While his Best Director Oscar doesn't mean Kevin Costner will have carte blanche, he can be assured of a respectful hearing. First, though, he's back to being an actor for hire. He's already starred in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and he's about to begin shooting Oliver Stone's inquest into the JFK assassination.

Originally posted Apr 12, 1991 Published in issue #61 Apr 12, 1991 Order article reprints