For the first time in, like, forever most of the Oscar frontrunners for Best Picture have either made $100 million or are barreling towards that as we speak. Box office for “adult fare” has been off the charts this year and IS THE STORY of 2012. Any reporter not talking about the money and Oscar this year is not doing his or her job; much of the complaints over the past several years is that Oscar movies don’t make money anymore. Well, they’ve already made a shitload of bread, this, BEFORE Oscar nominations.  I myself have never seen a year like this one and I think it has a lot to do with the big studio movies stepping up and providing, for once, really great movies again.

1. Lincoln – at an astonishing $143 million, Lincoln has now topped both The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire, and if it wins Best Picture it will be the highest grossing since Return of the King in 2003. How far can Lincoln go? It’s hard to say but Oscar nominations will certainly give it a bump.

2. Argo – at $110 million, Argo is still hanging in there and can only benefit from nominations. Whether it can catch Lincoln remains to be seen.

3. Django Unchained – at $106 million, Django clocked in at number two in its second week of release and looks to be a very strong earner.

4. Les Miserables – at $103 million its earned enough coin now not to be called a flop, no matter what happens to it.  Will it get to $150? $200? No one knows yet what this film’s fate will ultimately be.

5. Life of Pi – at $91 million, Life of Pi is proving that strong word of mouth really can drive box office even without any well known stars.  It’s a wondrous film and one that people “out there” are talking about.

That could be your Best Picture five but there are still two that are playing in limited release making hard core bucks while doing so:

1. Silver Linings Playbook – it’s at $34 million and still in only 745 theaters but word of mouth will keep ticking that upwards and all it needs is one big win (like the PGA or SAG ensemble) to drive that baby northward.

2. Zero Dark Thirty – it’s only at $4 million but its per theater average is off the hook, $45 thousand this weekend.

The real box office story this year, other than all of these $100 million babies in the running, is Lincoln. For a movie that was supposedly “a history lesson” and “homework” and “boring” to the target demo it sure is leaving everything else in the dust. At least so far anyway. Les Miserables and Django Unchained might pass it, since they zoomed to $100 mil in just two weeks.

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  • Eric

    I don’t see why everyone’s shocked that Lincoln’s at $143+, I projected it ending up with $180 back when the trailer was released–the pedigree of the makers outweighed the subject matter and any perceived “minuses” against it.

    The only real surprise for me is Life of Pi’s gross. I expected it to bomb.

    I also expect Zero Dark Thirty to do modest business when it goes wide this week. The controversy around it has probably turned it sour against mainstream audiences.

  • Filipe

    I don’t really understand the surprise of the strong box office performance of Lincoln, it’s a Spielberg-directed film with very high reviews about one of the most important presidents and probably the most beloved one in American history. Daniel Day-Lewis and the strong supporting couldn’t hurt either.
    Yes, it’s “boring”, “history lesson”, but that doesn’t mean people won’t be seeing either.
    Dances with the Wolves, a much more boring film made $184 million(!) in 1990, so $180 million for Lincoln is on reach too.

  • desmond

    ‘Life of Pi’ Crosses $300 Million Overseas, Nears $400 Million Worldwide

    overseas box office no.1 this weekend ($60.1 million from 65 foreign markets ), overseas no.10 of 2012 :


    imdb rating : 8.3
    matacrtics user score: 8.2 (one of the highest)

    ‘Pi’ is a real crowd pleaser.

  • Umm Sasha, have you already forgotten 2010?? The nominees that year had way bigger box office. Inception, Toy Story 3, The King’s Speech, True Grit, Black Swan…

  • Joe Clinton

    I never considered how uniformly well all the big contenders were playing. SLP would seem to have among the broadest appeal. It is interesting how Mr. Weinstein tightened the reigns on its release pattern. I think a combination of 5 or so Oscar nods, and a few Globes will see its numbers increase substantially.

  • PJ

    SLP is getting massive and long awaited nationwide expansion over MLK Jr. holiday weekend. After JLaw wins GG and during her hosting of SNL. Perfect storm is a-brewing….

  • Sasha Stone

    THese movies will all likely pass all of the movies in 2010, even True Grit. Lincoln has already passed The King’s Speech.

  • Well, there’s still Toy Story 3($415 million) and Inception ($292 million)!

  • rufussondheim

    I don’t know how anyone could say the controversy will hurt ZDT’s box office. The public doesn’t care. I’ve not heard one peep from the mainstream masses about this “controversy.”

  • Radich

    Today we had a segment in a very famous TV show in Brazil, called Fantastico, talking about Lincoln and the brazilian reporter interviewed Spielberg and Day-Lewis. Those junket interviews. Here is already being talked about as the frontrunner. The newspaper owned by the same TV company which produces Fantastico, had a front page interview with Spielberg today also.

    I don’t know how much it will end up making in the US, but I believe overseas they want a generous piece of the pie as well. We just need to see if the International audience will endure 2 and half hours of mostly old man talking inside dark rooms. Lincoln will be out by the end of the month here, if I am not mistaken.

    When I saw it for the first time in NYC, I really thought it wouldn’t be so successful at the BO, even with all the pedigree attached to it. Well, I was wrong and here we are. Oscar for BP or not, is already a success. This is what counts, as far as I am concerned.

  • Curtis

    Looks like Django will give Lincoln a run for its money. Should end its run with 160. It’s been holding great since opening day and this weekend number proved that it will be around for while.

  • Sarah con

    Wait wait wait. Django past les Mis. I thought Les Mis made more on opening day. At the rate Lincoln and Django will be the top 2 in terms of Boxoffice.

  • Think like a David

    Who would have that the two movies about slave would be the two highest grossing Oscar contenders. Never thought a 3 hour hard R western would have a shot at 150+. Sandy Hook who

  • Joe Clinton

    Pj – Good to know, thanks. I fiured Jennifer’s SNL stint was part of the master plan. I’m a huge fan, and I know this film will have wide appeal.

  • Mohammed

    Lincoln is impressive. But it has to cross 414 million to beat The King’s Speech. And that one had a budget of 15 million. I can’t see it having that much appeal outside the US.

    Zero Dark Thirty will probably do a bit better than The Hurt Locker. But I’m betting that it’ll be the weakest among the best picture contenders.

    The good thing is that quality movies (ZD30 excluded) is making money. It’s a good thing, specially on a weekend when Chainsaw 3D is Nr 1.

  • Sasha Stone

    But it has to cross 414 million to beat The King’s Speech

    I don’t go by international box office – that’s a whole different game and not reflective of an Oscar frontrunner. If you look at the tops of the international box office it’s a giant pile of shit, for the most part, with a few great ones here or there. Lincoln is never going to be that “plug and play” international hit – it just ain’t going to be that movie. But I have never really looked at international for the past 14 years. If we wait for international hit we’re going to have to settle for vanilla time and time again. I hope the Oscars don’t go that way. Slumdog, The Artist, The King’s Speech were totally “plug and play” but that didn’t make them great – it just made them easily accessible in any language. Lincoln is not one of those.

  • Chris

    I have to say that Django is the most impressive. Who would have that an R rated western with hardcore killer at Xmas time would have made this much. Right now it’s on track with True Grit so that means 170 is in play. Nobody predicted that.

  • Mohammed, Sasha is clearly talking about domestic grosses, not worldwide ones.

    Globally, the highest Best Picture nominee will most likely be LIFE OF PI.

  • Chris

    Killing not killer

  • Reno

    How can they have weekend box office tallies when Sunday’s not over yet in western USA? Don’t the 8 pm, 9 pm & 10 pm screenings count?

  • JP

    Lincoln’s box office is phenomenal. There’s no possible comparison between it and Dances With Wolves or True Grit, for example. It’s totally based on bright long dialogues. I’m not a big fan of Dances but True Grit is a great film, but it’s a much easier one to sit through. Lincoln is Spielberg, it has the reviews, it is about Lincoln but it’s not an easy film to sit through and that’s what will make it the champion. People were expecting it to be a good emotional tearjerker full of patriotic and not that special dialogues (aka The King’s Speech). And it’s not. It’s different. Spielberg did the best film he could and a a film totally out of his comfort zone, just like Scorsese did with Hugo last year.

  • Don John

    So it’s safe to say Django and Lincoln will be the biggest two in terms of Boxoffice. I don’t see les closing the gap and Zero Dark Thirty will not cross 150. Looks like people wanted to see te 1850s on the big screen.

  • Hawkeye

    “Les Miserables – at $103 million its earned enough coin now not to be called a flop, no matter what happens to it.”

    It was already making profit domestically five days after its release ($67 million on a $61 million budget). It was never in danger of being a “flop.”

  • The Japanese Viewer

    Side note:

    Wow. . . the title photo. . . .

    I haven’t seen Spielberg’s LINCOLN just yet but every time I spotted the still pictures taken from the film in random, here (Awards Daily) and there (other sites), I just couldn’t help feeling great impacts by the super duo Kaminski* and the maestro (Spielberg) himself.

    What a sight! You could virtually pick any of the stills in random and they’ll just turn out to be optically marvelous.

    My gut feelings they have already felt bad for Mr. Deakins* (No Country, [The Big Lebowski: not nominated for the respective category but I LOVE THE FILM AND EVERYTHING IN IT!], True Grit, Shawshank, etc.) given how many time he’s missed it (the Oscars) so far. [Hyperbole: In truth it remains to be seen assuming both of them* will be nominated for the category this year.]

    (Bottom line: Kudos to both Kaminski and Deakins for their illustrious contributions to the film industry.)

  • John

    Lincoln’s box office is great. But I think the story is Django with its controversial subject matter, running time, and R rating. Dragon Tattoo had all of that and made no where near what Django is doing.

    I also think that 2010 is slightly more impressive. Toy story 400+, Inception 292, True Grit 171, The Kings Speech 138, Black Swan 107, Social Network 95 or so, ditto that The Fighter. That was 7 with 95 or higher.

  • SallyinChicago

    How much did Avatar haul in? $760Mil worldwide and it did. not.win.that.year.

    Boxo don’t mean a thing when it comes to Oscar. But I don’t put anything pass Speilberg who is campaigning harder than Weinstein for a win.

  • Danemychal

    Mohammed, you really think ZDT is only going to make as much as The Hurt Locker? Thanks for the Laughs, dude. It has made $4 mil in 5 theaters and expands on Friday. THL made $17 mil total. Do the math…

  • Jerry

    Say what you will about the film but Lincoln’s got this box-office prize on lockdown. For a hard R-rated violent film about slavery Django is making unexpected bank and Les Miz is hanging in there. However both Django and Les Miz are going to slow down when Zero Dark Thirty goes wide this weekend with guns blazing. Which means those two films won’t beat Lincoln in the end. I see Django stopping at $150-160 and Les Miz $140.

    >Zero Dark Thirty is going to make anywhere from $23-30 Million this coming weekend and hold court in the top 3 for weeks and weeks. The over-played torture controvesy is nothing but free advertising. It makes people curious to see what the big deal is. controversy sells-there is no such thing as bad press only press. This film will cross $100 Million in 2 weeks and may be the film to give Lincoln a run for it’s money.

  • mileshigh

    Comparing box office from 2010 isn’t fair. True Grit, Black Swan, and Kings Speech opened or expanded to a wide release on Christmas Day. Sasha is right, this is unprecedented. Ive been talking about how adult audiences are under served for a while now!

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Sally, Avatar did that Domestically and almost 2,8B Worldwide.

    It was already making profit domestically five days after its release ($67 million on a $61 million budget). It was never in danger of being a “flop.”

    Nope. If we’re being generous here, any big budget film has to make at least double its budget (in worldwide sales) before it starts to make profit. I would say that Lincoln is now making profit after almost two months in release. It is being released worldwide later this month. Les Mis is now at 170M worlwide, so it is making profit, but not based on North American BO.

    Sasha doesn’t want to think about Worldwide BO, but the studios do. That is what usually decides whether or not a film is a flop. It’s very rare that a film like Lincoln could have done this in America alone. Life of Pi (the most expensive Oscar BP nominee with maybe Skyfall) would have been a huge flop if overseas incomes didn’t happen. But worldwide Django Unchained might pass Life of Pi. Les Mis, I don’t think so. Lincoln, definitely not.

    In our medias we ALWAYS talk about international numbers, I am one of the few who bothers to look at North American numbers as well. And Americans DO talk about global figures, otherwise we wouldn’t have read news about Skyfall’s 1B when 296M Domestically is not that big a news.

  • Michael Lewis

    This movie awards/box office period reminds of years ago when quality movies won over both the moviegoers and the critics, where art and commerce intersect successfully. Remember the Gone With The Winds, the Godfathers, even the Lord of the Rings? I agree with you, Sasha, when you say the major studios finally stepped up their game and for once have produced really great movies. What amazes me is how many Oscar-winning/nominated directors are represented this season: Tom Hooper, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Kathryn Bigelow, Sam Mendes, Robert Zemeckis, along with David O. Russell, Ben Affleck (Oscar-winning screenwriter), Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, among others?
    And I haven’t even started on the new, fresh talent represented by 2012’s indie hits! No matter what the outcome will be when the Oscar Nominations are announced this week, the Motion Picture Academy truly has an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Let’s celebrate!

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Maybe the subject of slaves is what Americans really wanted to see. Tarantino said in a recent interview that USA has mostly closed its eyes on atrocities that took place there whereas Americans had no problem telling other countries to face their ugly pasts. And other countries often have. I mean Germans, if any people, really want to talk about their history.

    Tarantino also said that he almost wanted to shoot certain scenes outside USA (somewhere like in Brazil), because he thought it would be too hurting.

    Apparently, based on Box Office, this is the part of US history that you want to know more about. Now, go make a great film about the prison camps where Japanese immigrants were thrown during WWII. Come See the Paradise was not a good film.

  • PJ

    Where are those projections for Zero Dark Thirty coming from Jerry? RS says high teens.

  • rufussondheim

    I’m sorry, but Django Unchained is as much about slavery as Moonrise Kingdom is about Wilderness Survival skills. Sure, it’s involved, but it’s a side issue.

    Tarantine apparently doesn’t remember Roots. Between 40% and 50% of all Americans were watching Roots AS IT AIRED in 1977. That’s Super Bowl type percentages.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Everybody knows Roots, we are talking about movies, not television. And those ratings really tell you that people want to learn more about this subject.

    And it seems to me that to tackle this subject you still have to go the route slightly off the road. Tell the story in an entertaining fantasy way or about white people talking about freeing them. Amistad was too much in the face, though not a very honest Screenplay in the first place.

  • Bball_Jake

    This year is dissapointing because great blockbusters like TDKR, Prometheus, The Hobbit, and Skyfall wont get Best Picture nominees. This will be the first year when i will make a top ten, and i’ll have more movies that didnt get best pic nods, than movies that did.

  • Zach

    It’s great that so many Oscar contenders are doing well — that there are so many highly anticipated, popularly appealing major studio pics in the race. But just to be bitchy, I think 2010 was a better year in terms of quality. Unfortunately, the least distinguished film won (OK, TKS is probably better than TKAAR and 127H). But that slate of films is so impressive. Too bad Django, Les Mis, SLP (for me at least), and Flight (another strong performer), as well as Hobbit and TDKR, disappointed in quality, while Argo and Pi had built-in limitations.

    Django, Argo, Zero. All these movies with Os. Bigelow. Looper. Bradley Cooper. O. Russell. Tarantino. Leo DiCaprio. Melissa Leo in Flight. Doona Bae. Where was Oprah?

    Is it an Italian thing? Woody’s To Rome with Love?

    I think I inhaled too much.

  • Zach

    I left out De Niro. (The Academy should follow suit.)

  • Hawkeye

    “Nope. If we’re being generous here, any big budget film has to make at least double its budget (in worldwide sales) before it starts to make profit.”

    Not sure where you’re getting this from, unless we’re talking about an advertising campaign that doubles the budget and is not included in the budget figure. Otherwise, Les Mis was already quite successful very early on (maybe not five days after, but it’s certainly not just happening now) and Lincoln was quite successful within a month, and that’s just domestic. Adding in the foreign numbers, Les Mis has made an outstanding amount of profit. It’ll be interesting to see if Lincoln performs well in the foreign markets.

    Life of Pi would certainly be called a flop based on domestic numbers alone, but Skyfall? I highly doubt the studio would call that a domestic flop.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Of course, advertising, it costs tens of millions ON the budget. Plus, theater chains take their own percentage. This – in short.

  • tonyr

    It makes me laugh how little everyone here knows about box office analysis, including Sasha to an extent. Lincoln will remain the top earner and gross over 170m. Django will make at least 160m. Les Mis will make 150m at most, unless it wins Best Picture (which I pray doesn’t happen and I doubt it will), then it could go higher. Life of Pi will cross 100m when all is said and done, and Zero Dark Thirty probably won’t reach the heights of the aforementioned films, but it’ll do very well for itself (I’m thinking 60-80mil).

    Foreign numbers matter to studios, but not to Oscar campaigns. This year is definitely better than 2010. Inception and TS3 don’t count since they were summer tentpoles that made money regardless of Oscar buzz.

  • Hawkeye

    “Of course, advertising, it costs tens of millions ON the budget. Plus, theater chains take their own percentage. This – in short.”

    But a film like Les Mis or Lincoln having an advertising budget of tens of millions? I’m doubting that quite a bit. If they did, then the campaigns were terrible. Now something like The Hobbit (and maybe Skyfall), I would believe had that much for a campaign because the ads were EVERYWHERE.

  • Tarantino apparently doesn’t remember Roots. Between 40% and 50% of all Americans were watching Roots AS IT AIRED in 1977. That’s Super Bowl type percentages.

    He actually spoke about watching “Roots” in his interview with Charlie Rose recently. http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/12704

  • Tero Heikkinen

    “But a film like Les Mis or Lincoln having an advertising budget of tens of millions?”

    Films with 60-70M budget definitely adds tens of millions in advertising, a huge film like Skyfall or The Hobbit adds an easy 100M, and often more than 150M. For example, and this is an extreme example, one (just ONE) 30-second spot during Superbowl is nearly 5M spent. Les Mis and Lincoln surely had TV spots.

  • Koleś

    “Flight” – $92,491,000
    Solid reviews, Denzel showing up for every nod he needs to, WGA nod. Missed out PGA, but I still think it might make the cut for the BP list at the Oscars.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    The posters, stand-ins, cost of prints (which is considerably cheaper in this digital age) etc… are never included in the budget of the film. Prints alone easily used to add 10M, but I don’t know about the costs of today.

  • Zach

    OMG, you can’t say either Lincoln or Les Mis didn’t have big advertising budgets. Those spots are playing nonstop. I dreamed a dream of time gone by…

    What Tarantino said about Roots was fucking douchy. Shit like this makes me wonder if he’ll be shut out completely.

  • Hawkeye

    I’m still very much doubting that it adds all that much, especially given that they’re not particularly “big” movies (compared to The Hobbit or Skyfall). I would guess Les Mis and Lincoln got $10 or $20 million at the most. Les Mis I saw one TV spot for, but it was always the same quick one (“The critics are raving…”). Lincoln I never saw anything for, so if they did have tens of millions, it’d be interesting to know where that money went, because it didn’t seem to go towards promoting the films.

  • Zach

    I don’t know, I saw a Lincoln spot as recently as yesterday, and I haven’t seen Hobbit or Skyfall commercials since they were released. It’s like, once opening weekend passes, everyone knows to see it.

  • Mohammed

    Sasha: I’m of the same mind as Tero on the box office (US vs International). The international market is where profit is made, and if China continues building so many d*** cinemas as it has been doing over the past years then the international market will become even more important.

    DaneMichael: Clearly you didn’t read my comment. I said that ZD30 will probably do a bit BETTER than The Hurt Locker. But my overall bet is that it is gonna be the one among the frontrunners with the lowest box office take.

  • Jay

    Wow Journey 2, The Vow, Safe House, Prometheus, Taken 2, Cowboys and Aliens, Just Go With It, Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 also made 100 million.

  • Mohammed

    PS: Years earlier I believed box office mattered. But when the academy sh**** on Avatar that theory went out of the window. An action movie that no one saw beat out another action movie that almost everybody saw. The only thing that matters is to be in a position to scratch enough peoples back and be in a position to return the favour. Unless one believes Spielberg and Streep have so much talent that he and she merit all those almost yearly nominations.

  • mecid

    you have also consider that Lincoln’s max theater count wa 2293. It did 144 million (counting) in less than 2500 theaters. It is really impressive. Plus it had (has) strong competition.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Lincoln went its own way, regardless of the competition. Some films do that.

  • Elenion

    I don’t think Argo is in the process of catching Lincoln at the moment. Currently, Lincoln is some 30 M ahead and is outgrossing Argo by more than 6:1.

  • Danemychal

    Mohammed – you can bet ZDT will make AT LEAST $50 million. That’s more than a little better than THL’s $17 mil.

  • Bob Burns

    very happy that the studios worked past the indie=quality/studio=popcorn rut of the past ten years or more….

    the Les Miz box office story will be international. guessing it goes to $300M.

  • SallyinChicago

    About Django:
    Tarantino also said that he almost wanted to shoot certain scenes outside USA (somewhere like in Brazil), because he thought it would be too hurting.
    ^^ One Brazil movie that comes to mind is City of God, which I thought would be Americanized. I wouldn’t be s bit surprised if Tarantino grabbed that movies and remade it into an American movie.

    Tarantine apparently doesn’t remember Roots. Between 40% and 50% of all Americans were watching Roots AS IT AIRED in 1977. That’s Super Bowl type percentages.
    ^^ Slate did an excellent comparison to QT’s Django and Fred Williamson “Ni**ga Charley trilogy” and I swear, QT got his ideas from watching those movies….I’m surprised that Fred hasn’t popped up and asked for credit!

    And it seems to me that to tackle this subject you still have to go the route slightly off the road. Tell the story in an entertaining fantasy way or about white people talking about freeing them.
    ^^ I read something interesting on another message board….that the use of the N**ga word is now being used in clubs, with DJ’s openly saying the word over and over, and all ethnic peoples (white, Asian) screaming the word….the guy who posted the message said it angered him and he walked out

  • SallyinChicago

    What Tarantino said about Roots was fucking douchy. Shit like this makes me wonder if he’ll be shut out completely.
    Lewis Gossett walked out of Django after 20 minutes…so he said.

    Sasha, I love your site, but you gotta get an edit button! and a Preview before we post button! 🙂

  • Kane

    0D30 was nearly sold out in a large theater I attended on Friday night. It was unbelieveable!

  • tipsy

    Ok, so Skyall is already dismissed as Oscar nominee or what? With SAG and PGA boost it should be in top 10.

    Also, why are Hobbit fanboys shoe-horning The Hobbit in every Best Picture conversation? The movie has the worst critical score and averige of all big blockbusters save the last Twilight (The Avengers, TDKR, The Hunger Games, Skyfall) and didn`t make any showing on Top 30 lists let alone Top 10 (unless you take MTV one seriosuly) and zilch success with precursors. Moreover, Skyfall is kicking its ass boxofficewise and all that without 3D.

    Finally, Oscars are going to celebrate Bond`s 50th Annuversary. It isn`t going to celebrate The Two Towers 10th Anniversary. Go figure.

  • I’m finding Hawkeye’s stubborness entertaining, all the while it is obvious Tero knows what he’s talking about.

    If you check Boxoffice.com, you’ll see Les Misérables had a 100 million TOTAL budget. According to Boxofficemojo.com, it actually cost 61 million. The difference comes from a single fact: Boxoffice.com includes marketing costs, while Mojo doesn’t. The studio spent nearly 40 million advertising the film.

    As for Lincoln, Boxoffice.com reports that its total budget is 88 million – which means the studio invested nearly 23 million on advertising/marketing alone.

    Marketing costs can be pretty big nowadays, especially for big blockbusters.

  • unlikely hood

    Les Miserables (2012), highest-earning movie musical ever. Oscars are just bonuses now.

    As for the rest of this post, Sasha doesn’t feel like putting it on the mainpage and I’m sure she’s right. This is for fans:

    Can Soccer Moms Once Again Pull Off The Impossible?

    Now is the winter of our full content. Well, it ought to be. We’ve got one of the most amazing crops of awards-worthy contenders in memory. At this point, it’s pretty much a fait accompli that Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, and Les Miserables will be nominated for Best Picture. Life of Pi is a somewhat safe #6, with Django Unchained not far behind. Just those seven films getting all that Oscar glory is, or should be, pretty darn cockle-warming.

    And yet, and yet…some of us keep asking questions. And the biggest one is: who else is going to make the Best Picture cut?

    If we were still playing by the five-nominee Best Picture rules that existed as recently as four years ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Instead the question would be which of the seven already-named films will be left out. But now we breathe a sigh of relief – or we think we do – that we can more or less rely on these seven. We tell ourselves that the Cold Mountain and Dreamgirls snubs of the past wouldn’t have happened in an expanded field. We may be kidding ourselves. But that’s a topic for another day.

    Today’s topic begins with: other than those seven, who is most likely to get in?

    Great cases are to be made for The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Moonrise Kingdom, Flight, and The Dark Knight Rises.

    However, today we make a case for another film – based on the recent past.

    Since the Best Picture-field expansion of 2009, the so-called experts have been, ahem, blindsided by exactly two films, one from 2009, one from 2011. In 2010, in a year where ten nominees were guaranteed, there was an almost-universally-agreed upon crop of 11 potential nods. Everyone pretty much knew the Top 8, and disagreement congealed around three others – Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours, and The Town. Everyone agreed that two of those three would make it; when The Town was left off, it surprised a few people, but was hardly in the nature of a blindside.

    The Blind Side and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were different. The experts told us no. The Academy told us yes.

    Granted, two films is a sample size of exactly two. Their respective rises to the Best Picture nominee ranks could have been highly random, contingent situations. But let’s see what these two films have in common anyway – with the goal of shedding light on this year.

    Both The Blind Side and ELIC are stories about the past decade. You could almost say they were both ripped from the headlines – granted, very different headlines. They hover near Lifetime-movie quality, and they meet most of the definitions of melodrama. Neither film shies away from a few harsh realities, and audiences may have even squeezed out a few tears, but both come to happy endings.

    Right, they both have Sandra Bullock. Well, she’s not on the ballot this year. But what about her type?

    At the core of The Blind Side and ELIC is a mother-son relationship. Specifically, the son – foster son in the case of The Blind Side – is forced to grow up rather quickly while missing a parent. The mother does her best to play the roles of both parents to the child, but she sometimes comes up short. The films show her doing her best, failing, experiencing child ingratitude, and then receiving some hard-won validation as the son finally seems to have matured beyond his years. If Dead Poets Society and Mr. Holland’s Opus were every teacher’s dream come true, it’s not crazy to suggest that The Blind Side and ELIC played on the guilt and fantasies of – yes – soccer moms. (The term “soccer mom,” now also called “hockey mom” in the north, dates from the 1996 election, and basically means suburban, middle-class mothers who give everything to their kids and are as likely to vote Democratic as Republican.)

    Does any film this year meet these “criteria”? Yes, one does. That one is called The Impossible.

    While you roll your eyes, remember: most Oscar “experts” aren’t soccer moms. Most critics don’t hear from a lot of soccer moms. Many awards bloggers seem barely aware of something that studio executives know – if soccer moms like a film, it doesn’t need to make $20 million in its opening weekend. Because as a group, soccer moms wait for their friends’ word-of-mouth, and they’re happy to turn up at the theaters for the right film’s fourth or fifth or sixth weekend (unlike, say, horror fans). They may not post on internet boards like this one. They may not make a big fuss on chat shows. But they are probably the reason that The Blind Side and ELIC gob-smacked the experts three and one years ago. (Had The Help and ELIC not siphoned so many #1 votes, Bridesmaids might well have been a BP nominee last year.)

    Perhaps Beasts of the Southern Wild – also ripped from the last decade’s headlines – is also in the soccer mom wheelhouse. Perhaps. But the main parent isn’t a mom. And though our lead child does eventually deal with a missing father, many of the other contours of the story are rather different. It’s far more of a poem than a standard melodrama. And let’s face it, Beasts has no stars in it, and thus is less likely to be watched by your Aunt Gladys driving her Suburban around Iowa.

    The Impossible is not exactly the “type” of The Blind Side and ELIC. It isn’t based on a best-selling book. It isn’t an American-set story, doesn’t star American actors, and the characters don’t even have American accents. The boy at the center of The Impossible does have a living father who wants to see him, and at the end, they are reunited. But then, there are reunions that conclude The Blind Side and ELIC as well – Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) with her family, and the grandfather (Max Von Sydow) with the grandmother.

    Despite Naomi Watts’ late surge, The Impossible is still improbable. Other films (like Master and Beasts) should have better odds. But isn’t that what they said three years ago, and last year?

    One thing is certain: after reading this, if The Impossible somehow gets a Best Picture nomination, you’re going to shrug your shoulders and say:

    “Soccer moms.”

  • Whatever the personal opinion anyone might have about the various movies involved, it is good to see movies with adults actually paying to go see them in a theater. Now the criterion shifts to making back their production costs if similar films are to be made. By that standard Lincoln and Les Mis are in good shape on domestic numbers alone while Django still has a long way to go.

  • phantom

    What is truly outstanding about Lincoln, that it has never been in more than 2293 theaters, most of the other contenders mentioned here started in around 3000 theaters. Had the studio started Flight in 3000 theaters, it would have had probably no trouble reaching 100M, either.

    Having said that, in my opinion, Life of Pi and Les Misérables are just as impressive as Lincoln from a Box Office point of view. I mean, when was the last time a one-man-show lacking star power OR a musical drama made this kind of money ? Both could reach 500M worldwide.

    And no, Sasha, I am still no LesMis-fan simply because I didn’t like the movie, but we cannot deny it is a GREAT Box Office success, divisive musical dramas even with built in audience (The Phantom of the Opera) simply don’t make this kind of money in the US. Fact.

    And let’s not rewrite history, Lincoln is no scrappy underdog or surprise sleeper hit, it was ALWAYS going to do well, what wasn’t expected that it will do THIS well. 100M US was expected from the moment the project was announced. The fact that it will end probably over 170M, just further solidifies it as the frontrunner. With the reviews, pedigree, BO and unblemished precursor-track record, it is basically untouchable now, its perception is basically perfect.

  • unlikely hood

    Tero – Have you seen 99 Years of Love? Recently made by TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting Service) – great long mini-series/film about Japanese Americans in concentration camps.

  • Nik

    Hawkeye: I think you should take a minute and actually just let Tero inform you. Because his numbers are pretty much right. Add to that the percentage of the gross taken by the theaters which he also mentioned (often close to 50%).

    A 100 million USD gross would usually give a profit on a film of between a 30-40 million USD production budget (depending on how large royalties of first dollar gross will have to be paid out to participants).

    So if Les Miserables total worldwide box office ended up at 100 million USD it would loose money.

    Worldwide BO has nothing to do with the Oscars. But with a declining dvd/bluray market it has everything to do with profitability for US product.

    And Sasha’s point is totally valid: The “adult oriented” films in contention this year generally have much stronger BO numbers going in to the nominations than in several years. Not like the 70’s for instance (you need to consider inflation to compare), but certainly way ahead of the last couple of decades. And she is totally right that this is down to the quality of the films.

  • Nik

    Les Miserables is nowhere near the biggest musical ever. It needs to earn about ten times its current gross in the US alone to compete with The Sound of Music for one. Compared to recent entries in the same genre it’s doing quite well. But inflation is the key here. You cannot compare 2012/2013 dollars 1:1 with 1965 dollars or even 2000 dollars. You might as well stop charging money at the box office and start charging apples instead. The first film to earn one apple would then be the biggest earner ever.

  • brendon

    It is a bizarre world indeed where we are shocked that a Steven Spielberg movie, at $13/ticket, can gross $143 million dollars.

  • Zach

    @SallyinChicago, my apologies. Should read: “What Tarantino said about Roots was ___________. ____ like this makes me wonder if he’ll be shut out completely.”

  • Dan

    The Departed made $289,847,354. So would Lincoln be biggest box office since Departed?

  • unlikely hood

    Many of you are hauling out final-tally numbers. But the right websites (imdb, boxofficemojo) can show you the box office pre-nominations. (You may have to google to find the relevant year’s nomination date.) By that standard, we’ve never had a year like this one.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Unlikely hood: No, I have never heard of it. Will check it out.

    Saw Django Unchained today and I’m a little underwhelmed by it. It is what Tarantino does best – recycling his own stuff originally borrowed or stolen (not influenced or inspired) from others. This never bothered me this much before. I’d still give it a 7/10, but he has made four better films (I count Kill Bill as one). The use of music (which is his forte) didn’t really work this time either. The songs felt forced to me. The film was half an hour overlong, so yeah, maybe the editor has to change for the next one.

    Now, that didn’t sound like 7/10? No? Good things were plenty, the two leads were perfect for their roles and DiCaprio in Supporting was great – I couldn’t take my eyes off that devilish character, and he really had fun with it. He also had the best lines, pretty much. People have said that Jackson steals the show, but not to me. It took a while for me to even start believing the old man shaky him. I did like the fact that Tarantino made a more linear film without chapters this time (showing some change) and that he actually understands drama a little bit.

    No Oscars for Tarantino this time, thank you. I think he still has another masterpiece somewhere, just lay off the revenge porn, we’ve seen it already. But of course he’s gonna make one more to complete a trilogy.

  • Hawkeye

    I was close with Lincoln. I guess they couldn’t afford that many ads with just $23 million. The only bit of marketing I ever saw was the trailer that I watched online. If Les Mis truly did have a $40 ad budget, I’d love to know how they spent it and why the film wasn’t promoted all that much. As for theater take, I’ve never heard of theaters getting 50% in the first few weeks of the film’s run. They eventually get that, but they tend to start much lower.

  • Hawkeye

    Interesting to see that Django Unchained had a total budget of $123 million, so about $23 million for advertising. Ads for that were all over the place. Is it just that some studios can do much better than others with the money?

  • I think he still has another masterpiece somewhere, just lay off the revenge porn, we’ve seen it already. But of course he’s gonna make one more to complete a trilogy.

    I’m up for Tarantino’s Goregasm. Takes place in Florida, November 2000.

  • Tero Heikkinen

    Well, Tarantino himself claimed that Django Unchained cost 75M to make. And it does look more like 75M than 100M, doesn’t it?

  • Well, Tarantino himself claimed that Django Unchained cost 75M to make. And it does look more like 75M than 100M, doesn’t it?

    He probably shouldn’t boast that he spent double the budget of True Grit to make a western 1/10th as good.

  • “The Departed made $289,847,354. So would Lincoln be biggest box office since Departed?”

    That DEPARTED gross you mentioned is global. This article is about DOMESTIC grosses.

  • keifer

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Lincoln” was boring – dull as dishwater. I learned absolutely nothing new about Lincoln the President that I didn’t know before. The title is misleading. It’s about the passing of the anti-slavery amendment. And Lincoln’s role in it is touched upon. But to title this movie “Lincoln” is very misleading.

    There is more creativity in the first five minutes of “Skyfall” (thank you, Sam Mendes!) than in the entire 2-1/2 hours of plodding, self-righteous “Lincoln”.

  • John

    Django seems to have everything. Outstanding reviews. 80 on Metacritic. 89 on Rotten Tomatoes. 87 BFCA. Outstanding word of mouth. Huge Boxoffice. 107 million in ten days looking at a 170 million total in the U.S. alone. What ever Tarantino is doing he needs to keep doing because Bastards and Django has giving his biggest sucess ever. I am very sure Killer Crow will be another hit for him. People love these kinds of revenge movies and nobody does it best like QT.

  • Janet

    John I agree. Django is one of QT best. I think that is why it’s in fire at the Boxoffice right now. Don’t fix it if its not broke. A 3 hour R rated western making this much money is crazy. Lincoln and Django are the story of the year. Both films got great reviews and is living beyond the hype.

  • Bud

    I understand how some have found Lincoln boring. Not enough splosions. But this film was alive and informative. I believe every person should see it if not for the lesson in history but for the incredible piece of film making it is. The political problems with ZDT and Django leave Lincoln as the best possible choice for BP.

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