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.

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