Oscar voters, moviegoers seem to agree -- for once
Posted January 1, 2013
LOS ANGELES - Oscar has been dismissive of public tastes of late, but he may be taking his cues from everyday moviegoers this year.
Several films expected to be serious contenders for February's Academy Awards already are cleaning up with the public, a reversal of recent years, when lesser-seen dramas have claimed Hollywood's top prize.
Among this year's heaviest hitters - Steven Spielberg's biopic Lincoln and Ben Affleck's Iranian hostage drama Argo - already are surprise blockbusters. Lincoln has taken in $132 million, and Argo has earned $109 million. And both pictures probably will see a box-office boost if they earn best-picture nominations.
Other expected contenders are also scoring with audiences. The musical Les Misérables and Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti Western Django Unchained, both of which hope for some academy attention when Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 10, had strong opening weekends.
Les Mis, starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, has taken in an eye-popping $67 million since its release Christmas Day. Django, starring Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, has earned a surprising $63 million since its debut the same day. Both are likely to crack $100 million, and analysts expect nominations for both films.
"It's a nice convergence of events," says Jeff Bock, chief analyst for industry trackers Exhibitor Relations. "You've got movies that the critics really like and that the public is flocking to. This is what we hope for in the movies."
Of course, that doesn't mean the academy has caught commercial fever. In the past decade, Oscar has given its top prize to smaller-scaled films, including 2007's No Country for Old Men, which took in $75 million, and Crash, which collected just $55 million in 2005. The war drama The Hurt Locker, which took 2009's best-picture Oscar, made $17 million, the lowest-grossing best-picture winner on record.
"The Oscars aren't supposed to be a popularity contest, but box office can affect their decisions, and here we may see tastes aligning," Bock says.
Here's a look at some of this year's expected awards contenders, and how they have fared with the public:
• Momentum: Huge. Despite a 2½-hour running time, Spielberg's story of Lincoln's push for the 13th Amendment has been a box-office shocker, nearly ensuring a best-picture nomination.
• Momentum: Strong but slowing. Argo was the first serious Oscar contender to make a dent at the box office, and its entry into the nine-digit club (not to mention the rave reviews) probably will be plenty to earn it a nomination.
• Momentum: Big and building. The musical stunned analysts by collecting more than $30 million its first three days in theaters, and its pace hasn't slowed. Analysts consider a nomination a shoo-in.
• Momentum: Healthy and growing. Tarantino's ultra-violent films can dissuade some academy members, but Django could be on track to challenge 1994's Pulp Fiction, which earned $108 million and seven Oscar nominations, including best picture and a win for best original screenplay.
Silver Linings Playbook
• Momentum: Slow but picking up. This $21 million David Russell film wasn't on many year-end lists, but the drama crossed $27 million this weekend and is earning a reputation as the little art-house pic that could.
Life of Pi
• Momentum: Little. Ang Lee's 3-D adaptation of the popular novel is on the bubble with many analysts. The film collected a solid $85 million, though it cost $120 million.
Zero Dark Thirty
• Momentum: Undetermined. This film by The Hurt Locker collaborators Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal has scored strong reviews and early awards. The story about the hunt for Osama bin Laden has yielded a solid $1.4 million since its limited release in two cities Dec. 19 (it opens wide Jan. 11).
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