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Oscars 2016: 1 Huge Winner Has Already Emerged

By Tim Beyers - Jan 30, 2016 at 8:42AM

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As higher costs crimp the profit potential of this year's Best Picture field, one studio stands out among its peers.

The Martian leads an impressive field of Best Picture nominees with a better-than-24% box office profit margin as of this writing. Credit: Twenty-First Century Fox.

Oscar season us back, which means it's time for my annual look at the most profitable films among the Best Picture candidates.

Why do this? Two reasons. First, Oscar nominees enjoy a box office tailwind that other films don't, and second, because, as an investor, I like knowing which studios are putting small sums to best use. Right now, no one is doing better in that regard than 21st Century Fox (FOXA).

Nominee (by date of release)Studio DistributorWorldwide GrossEstimated Box Office ProfitMargin %
Mad Max: Fury Road Warner Bros. $375,836,354 ($22,081,823) (5.88%)
The Martian Fox $598,178,512 $144,089,256 24.09%
Bridge of Spies Disney $160,760,412 $20,380,206 12.68%
Room A24 $7,953,680 ($3,523,160) (44.30%)
Brooklyn Fox $27,539,321 ($1,230,340) (4.47%)
Spotlight Open Road $33,836,349 ($13,081,826) (38.66%)
The Big Short Paramount $87,413,841 $1,706,921 1.95%
The Revenant Fox $223,649,136 ($90,675,432) (40.54%)
TOTALS N/A $1,515,167,605 $35,583,803 2.35%

Sources: Box Office Mojo, BoxOffice.com, The-Numbers.com, author's estimates.

A history of winning
Observant investors will notice that Fox distributed three of this year's Best Picture nominees, while Sony, Universal Pictures, and perennial contender The Weinstein Company didn't get a single nod.

All three have done well in the past, but Universal has to be the most telling omission from that group. The Comcast (CMCSA 1.06%) unit dominated the 2015 box office with 21.3% of U.S. grosses recorded last year. Only Disney (DIS 2.44%) got close -- yet its 19.8% share was almost entirely due to the record-breaking performance of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Fox, for its part, grabbed 11.3% of the U.S. box office last year. How much of that $1.3 billion gross is due to become profits isn't entirely clear at this point. But as the table shows, the studio is well positioned: The Martian is already a huge winner, Brooklyn doesn't need much of a bump to reach the black, and The Revenant beat all comers in its fourth weekend of domestic release. A long, profitable run for that film seems likely.

Fox is going for its second consecutive Best Picture win. Last year, Birdman took home the top honor. Credit: Twenty-First Century Fox.

And what might all this mean for the business and the stock? More than it did last year, when the studio produced two nominated films: The Grand Budapest Hotel, and eventual winner Birdman. Both films were profitable in a year in which the Fox Studios segment reported $1.445 billion in operating income, S&P Capital IQ reports, a 6.4% increase over its fiscal 2014 total. Fox stock is down about 24% since the onset of the summer movie season last May. The S&P 500 is off just under 10% over the same period. Don't be surprised if the equation reverses after Fox reports earnings next month.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Which film do you think will take home Best Picture? Which studio would you invest in? Keep the conversation going in the comments section below.

Tim Beyers owns shares of Walt Disney. Tim Beyers has the following options: long January 2017 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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