With December is just around the corner and award season seriously heating up, it’s worth taking the time to stop and consider one of the little discussed but important factors leading to a Best Picture nomination: box office.
When the almost 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences get passionate about potential nominees they usually weigh the artistic merits and their personal reaction to the material first. However, don’t discount that the film’s grosses don’t weigh into their votes. This is the movie industry mind you and Hollywood loves to reward those who have put money into everyone’s pockets — especially when it’s a film they feel represents the best of “commercial” cinema.
Historically though, the past decade has only one movie which has ended its lifetime gross under $20 million and still been nominated, Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima.” That foreign-language drama found only $13 million in theaters in 2007. In general, however, the lowest grossing pictures have been in the $28-32 million range. A few examples this century include “The Reader,” “The Insider,” “Capote” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” (even more telling though is that none of these films won the top prize). This financial equation only complicates a season where the nomination pool has been expanded to ten films. Does it matter with a group that big or did it only matter when there were just five? Keep that in mind while look at the latest lifetime grosses for some expected and possible nominees this year.
“Up” – $293 million
“Inglourious Basterds” – $120.3 million
“Precious” – $32.4 million
“The Hurt Locker” – $12.6 million
“A Serous Man” – $8.1 million
“An Education” – $5.6 million
“Bright Star” – $4.3 million
“The Road” – $2 million
“Star Trek” – $257 million
“District 9” – $115 million
“The Blind Side” – $100.2 million
“Julie & Julia” – $93.9 million
“Where The Wild Things Are” – $74.8 million
“The Informant!” – $33.2 million
*Estimates as of Nov. 30
Upcoming Releases: “Up in the Air,” “Invictus,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Last Station,” “Nine,” “Avatar,” “A Single Man,” “Crazy Heart,” “The Young Victoria”
There are a couple of curious items you can gauge by the results so far.
– Taking into account their individual critical acclaim, “Basterds” and “Precious” appear to be much closer to locks for nods than many pundits will predict publicly.
– Some, including Movie City News’ David Poland (who has to be given credit for advocating the box office factor in the past), are suggesting “Hurt Locker” could be the consensus Best Picture winner. Considering Summit Entertainment has no plans to re-release the picture, it would be the lowest grossing winner since “Annie Hall” found $38 million in 1977 (which is $133 million adjusted to inflation. Should Summit be worried about landing a nomination let alone winning? Let’s just suggest that maybe some of that “New Moon” money can go to good use.
– Already weeks into their runs, “An Education” and “A Serious Man” don’t appear to be headed toward significantly larger grosses, but could get bumps with Golden Globe and SAG nods not to mention year-end critics awards. And at this point, they may need it.
– The idea of films such as “District 9” or “The Blind Side” making the ten isn’t so far fetched when you take into account their strong theatrical returns along with their already passionate supporters.
– Smaller releases such as “A Single Man,” “The Last Station” or “Crazy Heart” could leapfrog into the ten if they over-perform at the box office.
The irony when discussing this, of course, is last year the Academy ignored “The Dark Knight” even though it was a critic’s and audience favorite as well as the second highest grossing feature of all time. That omission was just one of the reasons why the field was expanded to ten nominees (but a big one). Will the Academy ignore the opportunity to praise the moneymaking favorites as well this year? We’ll find out more as the tea leaves become clearer over the next few months. Check back as Awards Campaign updates this list throughout December and January to track the new contenders.
Do you think box office still is a factor in the Best Picture race? Share your thoughts below.