- Associated Press - Monday, February 28, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Without the colossus “Avatar” in the mix, the Weinstein brothers resumed weaving their spell over the Oscar awards season and spinning critical acclaim into box office gold.

“The King’s Speech” reaped the biggest benefit from ticket sales among the 10 contenders for best picture _ $57 million _ since it garnered 12 nominations a month ago.

Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the backers of the movie through The Weinstein Co., previously rode nominations for “The English Patient” to a global gross of $232 million in 1997 as the heads of Miramax, where they pulled in 17 best picture nominations and four wins.

This year, the tale of a stuttering English monarch became the first best picture they have won as heads of The Weinstein Co. since starting it in 2005, but it fit a pattern they have well helped establish.

The Oscars proved again that good taste has its rewards.

Released in just four theater locations in late November, “The King’s Speech” grew through critical acclaim and smaller awards to play in 1,680 locations in the U.S. and Canada on Jan. 21, four days before the Oscar nominations. The studio bumped the count to 2,557 immediately after.

The movie’s take nearly doubled, rising from $58 million in ticket sales to $115 million through the weekend of the Oscars over a period in a movie’s life that usually finds box office receipts dwindling quickly. It’s now made $221 million in theaters worldwide.

“You’ve got to give them credit,” said Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “Once something catches on with both the critics and word of mouth, it starts to morph. … They’re good at it.”

The Weinsteins’ campaign got another boost on Friday, when the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board granted a more tame PG-13 rating to an alternate version of “The King’s Speech,” in which many of the F-bombs have been muted. The original got an R rating for the multiple swears unleashed by King George VI, played by Colin Firth, while he struggles to overcome his speech problem.

The rating means more families will consider taking their children to see it, substantially widening the audience. The decision was unprecedented in the ratings system’s 43-year history because the board granted a waiver of a 90-day waiting period meant to prevent confusion in the marketplace.

The ruling allows the studio to immediately replace the R-rated version with the PG-13 version as long as it does so in one fell swoop.

Oddly, some viewers will end up seeing a movie that is slightly different from the one the Academy members voted on.

The edit irked Firth, who told reporters backstage he didn’t support the change _ even for the sake of children.

“You know, it does distress me to hear that language bawled in the ears of my kids. So I don’t take that stuff lightly. But the context of this film could not be more edifying, more appropriate,” he said. “It’s about a man trying to free himself through the use of forbidden words … So I think the film should stand as it is.”

Overall, the Oscar bump this year was in line with recent years.

The 10 nominees for best picture this year hauled in $131 million between the nominations and the weekend of the broadcast this year, compared to $156 million last year, when “Avatar” was nominated for best picture, although it didn’t win. (All but $32 million of last year’s bump fed the James Cameron spectacle.)

In 2008, when “Slumdog Millionaire” won, the five best picture nominees pulled in $106 million from the nominations to the weekend of the show.

This year’s bounty was more balanced.

“True Grit” from Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures brought in an additional $29 million on its way to $167 million, “Black Swan” from News Corp.’s Fox Searchlight brought in another $20 million to hit $104 million and Paramount’s “The Fighter” roped in $17 million more for $90 million so far, according to Hollywood.com.

Smaller winners included Fox Searchlight’s “127 Hours,” which gained an extra $7 million for $18 million total, Sony Corp.’s “The Social Network,” which added $1 million to its $97 million gross, and Roadside Attractions’ “Winter’s Bone,” which scraped in $228,330 more for almost $7 million.

Other movies, including “Inception” from Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., “The Kids Are All Right” from Comcast Corp.’s Focus Features and “Toy Story 3” from The Walt Disney Co., were already out of theaters by the time the nominations were announced, although they are likely to help DVD sales.

“There was not an overriding, overshadowing blockbuster like there was last year with ‘Avatar,’ ” said Hollywood.com’s box office division president, Paul Dergarabedian. “That gave the opportunity for these Oscar contenders to become blockbusters.”

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