'Monster's Ball' to get Oscar bounce

Halle Berry's best actress award should translate into box-office gold

— Halle Berry's triumphant run toward an Academy Award already has brought big commercial success to "Monster's Ball," a low-budget, gritty film that's anything but a feel-good crowd-pleaser.

With Berry's emotional best-actress win Sunday, the film now is positioned to take in millions more at the box office.


AP Photo

Halle Berry stars as Leticia Musgrove and Billy Bob Thornton is Hank Grotowsk in "Monster's Ball," directed by Marc Forster. Berry won a best actress award Sunday for her role.

Typically, only best-picture winners capitalize in a big way after the Oscars as the awards attention draws in new viewers and repeat customers.

But wins by Berry and Denzel Washington of "Training Day" � the first time black actors took both lead-performance Oscars � overshadowed the best-picture victory of "A Beautiful Mind."

The first black actress ever to win for a lead role, Berry also piqued moviegoers' interest with her weepy, joyful acceptance speech.

"I can't think of another time when the best picture wasn't the focus of the Academy Awards. It was almost like an afterthought to Halle Berry," said box-office analyst Robert Bucksbaum of Reel Source Inc. "She's probably the hottest actress in the business right now based on her performance and that speech."

Distributor Lions Gate Films timed the release pattern of "Monster's Ball" to the film's Oscar prospects, having it debut in New York City and Los Angeles in late December, holding it to a handful of theaters through early February, and then widening it to 350 theaters just before last month's nominations.

Shot for about $4.5 million, "Monster's Ball" has grossed just under $20 million domestically. With Berry's Oscar, Lions Gate is adding 150 theaters next weekend, giving the film its widest release yet at about 700 cinemas.

The film should hit $30 million when its run ends, said Tom Ortenberg, Lions Gate president.

"We are fortunate enough to be right in the middle of the film's release, where a best-actress win, and particularly one as emotional as the one last night, can do the most good," Ortenberg said Monday. "Halle's win last night is coming at exactly the right point in the release campaign."

Berry stars as a death-row widow who becomes involved with her husband's executioner (Billy Bob Thornton).

The film besieges viewers with tough-to-bear misfortunes early on before turning toward an intimate, racially charged romantic drama.

The Oscar attention also bodes well for the video release of "Monster's Ball," which is scheduled for June 11, Lions Gate announced Monday.

"The spotlight on Berry spills over onto the movie," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Here's this small movie where a lot of people were saying, 'I've never seen this movie or never even heard of it.' Now they're saying, 'I've got to see this movie."'


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