Steven Spielberg's drama 'Lincoln,' starring Daniel Day-Lewis, has received popular and critical acclaim.(Photo: David James, DreamWorks/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)
LOS ANGELES -- Oscar has been dismissive of public tastes of late, but
he may be taking his cues from everyday moviegoers this year.
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.
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
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.
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:
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
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
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).