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Profit projections for best picture films still far cry from top grossers

In cinema, critical favorites are rarely the most popular movies, and the 2017 Academy Awards will not likely break that trend.

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Looking at the highest grossing films of 2016 once again turns up a dearth of nominees. From "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" to "Captain America: Civil War" and "Deadpool," none of the highest-grossing films of the year are in the running for best picture.

But there still are plenty of benefits for the studios creating award-winning films. The marketing upside of putting the coveted Oscar profile on the advertising materials alone can drive sales.

Nominated films still in theaters will run longer and enjoy increased admissions as audiences decide to see for themselves if the movie lives up to its hype. Nominated titles also tend to have better shelf lives after their theatrical run, paying dividends in streaming deals, DVD sales and digital downloads for years to come. "La La Land," the highest-grossing film on the Academy's latest nominee list, is only the 24th highest-grossing film that opened last year, according to Box Office Mojo.

However, creating a film that appeals to a large audience tends to be more lucrative than creating a film that appeals to critics. For instance, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" was despised by critics, netting a "rotten" 27% on Rotten Tomatoes, but audiences made it the eighth-highest grossing title of the year.

In another example, Walt Disney Co. and its studios Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm delivered a record year in 2016, becoming the first studio to collect more than $7 billion in ticket sales. Disney's studios boasted five of the top 10 highest grossing films of 2016, as well as No. 11 and No. 13. Yet not a single Disney film made it to the best picture list.

Where "Rogue One" saw a total gross of about $521.0 million, top-grossing nominee "La La Land" collected a comparatively modest $109.0 million. Still, "La La Land" is poised to cut a sizable profit, with an estimated profit margin of 40.8%, the highest of the nine films in the running for best picture, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence projections. By contrast, critical darling "Hell or High Water" was one of the lowest-grossing films on the best picture nominee list, and it is not likely to cut a profit at the turnstiles. Meanwhile, "Manchester By the Sea" turned out a modest profit of 12.1% but captured headlines as the first film backed by Amazon Studios to be in the running for best picture. Roadside Attractions partnered with Amazon to distribute the film.

For some studios, even if audiences do not turn out in droves for the box office event, an Oscar nomination — or better yet, an Oscar win — can make it all worthwhile.