Oscar Beat: Box Office, Best Picture, and GRAVITY

     October 19, 2013


Though it’s only October, we’re already in the thick of awards season.  We’ve seen frontrunners emerge from the fall festival circuit, and now some of the year’s potential heavy hitters are starting to open in theaters, providing some hard data for the all-important “audience reception” factor in the Oscar race.  Gravity emerged as a potential frontrunner for a number of awards—including Best Picture—when it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, Venice, and Telluride earlier this year, and now the film can add “box office hit” to its resume, as the pic opened to a record-breaking $55.5 million in its first weekend and only dropped an incredible 21% in its second weekend.

In today’s edition of Oscar Beat, we examine the importance of box office in the Oscar race and what this means for Gravity and the other awards contenders going forward.  Additionally, I update my predictions to reflect movements in the recent weeks.  Hit the jump to read on.

titanic-leonardo-dicaprio-kate-winsletWhen looking at the Oscar race, it’s always important to take into account box office results.  Statistically speaking, a healthy box office total bodes well for a film’s chances.  In fact, in the past 15 years only four Best Picture winners have grossed less than $100 million at the box office, with The Hurt Locker taking the cake as the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner of all time* with a mere $17 million.

This doesn’t mean that Oscar voters only choose successful films for Best Picture, but the Academy does appear take into account how strongly a film hits the zeitgeist.  Movies like Titanic and Forrest Gump saturated pop culture in the 90s, and the Academy took notice.  Consequently, Gravity has taken the top one spot at the box office two weekends in a row with spectacular numbers, and the film is already being parodied on Saturday Night Live.

As Gravity is on pace to take in a rather hefty box office total, the film’s Oscar chances are looking quite good.  Consider this: if Gravity had opened to dismal box office numbers, despite stellar reviews out of the festival circuit and nearly unanimous critical acclaim the film would have taken a bit of a hit with regards to Oscar.  It’s tough for any film to remain at the forefront of Oscar voters’ minds when it opens as early as October, but disappointing box office numbers for a big studio film like Gravity can go a long way to making the film feel forgettable.  Coupled with its critical response, the strong financial success of Gravity is another box to check off on its way towards Oscar.

gravity-sandra-bullock-2Another film that may be benefitting from the box office bump is Paul GreengrassCaptain Phillips.  The pic was singled out as a serious awards contender after it screened to an incredibly positive response at the New York Film Festival, and though it was overshadowed by Gravity a bit in its opening weekend, the film had a strong debut with $26 million.  Subsequent weekends will show how steady Captain Phillips holds, but the R-rated pic skews more heavily towards the adult crowd, so the pic could definitely have strong legs.

Obviously, box office isn’t everything.  Films like The Artist and The English Patient still managed to win the top Oscar prize without breaking the $100 million box office mark, and the massive grosses of Avatar and Inception failed to push those nominees into the winners circle.  But it is important to take box office into account when analyzing the Best Picture field, and Gravity’s strong performance is a good sign for the film’s Oscar chances.  Will it win Best Picture?  It’s still too early to make that call, but it definitely has a shot.

*Adjusting for inflation, of course.

Click over to Page 2 for an updated predictions list and a rundown of the movements in the Oscar race over the past few weeks.

Page 2

While we still have plenty of potential awards contenders yet to be seen, a number of other contenders have finally screened for critics, thus giving us a better idea of the Oscar field.  Below is a rundown of the recent movements in the race, followed by an updated predictions list.

Movers and Shakers

the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-ben-stillerGravityUP – A record-breaking opening weekend box office, an astonishing hold in week two, and near-unanimous positive reviews lock Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful pic in for Best Picture nomination and make a serious case for an eventual win.  Best Director and Best Actress nods are extremely likely as are Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Sound Design/Editing.

The Secret Life of Walter MittyDOWNBen Stiller’s next directorial effort raised eyebrows with its Forrest Gump-esque debut trailer, but the film finally premiered at NYFF to a rather muted response from critics.  It may be potential crowd pleaser for general audiences, but the consensus seems to be that the film is a non-starter with regards to Oscar.

HerUP – Director Spike Jonze’s futuristic love story also premiered at NYFF, and emerged a possible “critical darling” contender in the Best Picture race.  Though one could argue the film may be a bit too strange for the Academy’s taste, they’ve shown plenty of love to Jonze and his offbeat stories before with nods for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.  Annapurna Pictures plans to go all-out with its campaign, even pushing Scarlett Johansson for a Best Supporting Actress nod in her voice-only role.

Captain Phillips UP – Not only does Tom Hanks have a strong shot at a Best Actor nod for his harrowing portrayal of the titular character (particularly in the final 20 minutes), but newcomer Barkhad Abdi could very well find himself in the Best Supporting Actor race.  Additionally, Paul Greengrass is a contender for Best Director.

her-joaquin-phoenix-5FoxcatcherDOWN AND OUT – Right after a truly fantastic trailer leaked online, Sony Pictures Classics decided to delay Moneyball director Bennett Miller’s new film to 2014 in order to give the filmmaker more time to finish the pic, officially putting it out of this year’s Oscar race.

NebraskaUP – Though it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, Alexander Payne’s latest effort was very well received during its NYFF screening, launching June Squibb into the Best Supporting Actress conversation and solidifying the film’s chances in the other major categories.

RushDOWN – This one seems to have left the Oscar race as quickly as it entered.  Though Daniel Bruhl is still a contender for Best Supporting Actor, the pic’s lackluster box office and Gravity dominating the October conversation may render it too forgettable for larger consideration come voting time.

All Is LostUP – Also screening at NYFF was director J.C. Chandor’s survival film, which showcases Robert Redford as literally the only actor onscreen.  Response was positive, putting both Redford and Chandor in the midst of the Oscar conversation.

12 Years a SlaveDOWN – While still a serious frontrunner in the major categories, Steve McQueen‘s masterwork has received a small bit of criticism after screening for critics nationwide. Moreover, Michael Fassbender has announced that he won’t be campaigning for an Oscar this time around, so the actor won’t be as prominent on the awards circuit later this year.

Enough SaidUP – Writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s lovely character-centric dramedy has enjoyed very positive reviews, and while some at TIFF found the film to be too light for serious consideration, support is growing around campaigns for James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus‘ lead performances.

The Monuments MenUP – Though some had pegged George Clooney‘s WWII film as more of a commercial picture, the film’s most recent theatrical trailer plays up the film’s more dramatic moments and “art is important” angle, which should sit well with the Academy.


the-monuments-men-george-clooney-matt-damonBest Picture


1. Gravity
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. Captain Phillips
4. American Hustle
5. The Monuments Men
6. Nebraska
7. Saving Mr. Banks
8. Inside Llewyn Davis
9. The Wolf of Wall Street
10. August: Osage County

Major Threats

11. All Is Lost
12. Labor Day
13. Lee Daniels’ The Butler
14. Her
15. Blue Jasmine

Best Director

1. Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
2. Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
3. Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
4. David O. Russell, American Hustle
5. Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis

captain-phillips-tom-hanksMajor Threats

6. Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
7. George Clooney, The Monuments Men
8. J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost
9. Spike Jonze, Her
10. Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine

Best Actress


1. Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
2. Sandra Bullock, Gravity
3. Judi Dench, Philomena
4. Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
5. Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Major Threats

6. Amy Adams, American Hustle
7. Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Color
8. Kate Winslet, Labor Day
9. Nicole Kidman, Grace of Monaco
10. Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha

Best Actor


1. Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
2. Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
3. Robert Redford, All Is Lost
4. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
5. Bruce Dern, Nebraska

nebraska-bruce-dern-june-squibbMajor Threats

6. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
7. Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
8. Christian Bale, American Hustle
9. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
10. Joaquin Phoenix, Her

Best Supporting Actress


1. Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
2. June Squibb, Nebraska
3. Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler
4. Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
5. Margo Martindale, August: Osage County

Major Threats

6. Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
7. Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
8. Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
9. Carey Mulligan, Inside Llewyn Davis
10. Lea Seydoux, Blue Is the Warmest Color

jared-leto-dallas-buyers-clubBest Supporting Actor


1. Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
2. Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
3. Daniel Bruhl, Rush
4. Tom Hanks, Saving Mr. Banks
5. Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Major Threats

6. Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
7. Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
8. Josh Brolin, Labor Day
9. James Gandolfini, Enough Said
10. Matthew McConaughey, Mud

Sound off with your own thoughts on the upcoming Oscar race in the comments section below.


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