You hear a lot of talk by pointy-headed box office types about the coveted "Oscar bump" -- the extra bit of staying power provided by a slew of Oscar nominations. The theory is simple: people want to see good movies, and take Oscar recognition -- Best Picture in particular -- as a surefire signal that a movie is worth seeing. (Not everyone is as cynical as the rest of us.) Going on this assumption, theaters keep nominated films playing longer (or even bring them back), people are inspired to go see them, and everybody wins. But what impact does a Best Picture nomination actually have on a movie's bottom line? In an article they ran a couple days ago, Slate thinks it has the answer: $6,663,508.

The way they came up with that number is mildly eyebrow-raising. They looked at box office numbers for the four weeks before and after the Oscar nominations were announced each year, tracking both the Best Picture-nominated films and other "movies that mattered" -- movies they deemed to be "in the running," or otherwise significant. The nominees made, on average, just over $1 million more in the four weeks after the announcement than before, and the other films made, on average, just over $5 million less. Combining those numbers gave Slate their magic figure. What do you think of this methodology? It's fairly thoughtful, but it also seems a bit circular: much like The Simpsons' theory that alcohol is both the cause of and solution to all of life's problems, box office staying power is often cited as a prerequisite to, and result of, a Best Picture nomination. I think you have to discount Slate's figure a bit by the fact that, on average, the nominees would have had more stamina over the eight weeks than the non-nominees anyway. Sadly it's hard to come up with a precise number since of course we don't know how much, say, No Country for Old Men would have made after the Oscar announcement had it not been nominated.

A good example: this weekend -- the one immediately following the announcement of the 2008 noms -- Slumdog Millionaire saw a nearly 80% box-office boost (and added over 800 screens in a move that certainly preceded the Academy's Thursday announcement). Look what a Best Picture nomination can do, right? Except that last weekend, Slumdog gained nearly 55% without the benefit of any Oscar noms. So I think you have to account for the fact that some of that vaunted nominee staying power is independent of the Oscar nominations, and is rather a result of the word-of-mouth and popularity that garnered the nominations to begin with.