Although reviews and a movie’s pedigree arguably play the most significant roles in the Oscar race, financial success is also a significant player. Just looking at the contenders to emerge so far this year, would Boyhood be the awards player, and arguably the Best Picture frontrunner, it is today if it had made only $2.3 million instead of the $23 million (and still counting!) it has made thus far? And would Chadwick Boseman be a Best Actor frontrunner if his James Brown biopic Get On Up had been a Walk the Line-esque hit instead of flopping its way to $30.6 million gross? Even if a movie has got the goods creatively, audience reception can play a large role in helping a studio decide whether or not a movie is worthy of getting the full awards push.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the box office for upcoming awards contenders opening over the coming month. Since the last two Best Picture winners opened in this month, it’s become more popular than ever as a launching ground for Oscar movies, so there are quite a few to cover, including a few movies that could win big…so long as audiences don’t straight-up reject them first.
How will it perform: Gone Girl is based on one of the biggest adult bestsellers of this young decade (selling over seven million copies worldwide), so expectations are high for the film’s box office. BoxOffice.com is predicting a mid-$20 million opening as of last Tuesday, but the film could go even higher than that. Reviews are strong, and a film aimed at adults, that means a lot. Marketing has also been fierce and very well-executed, so at this point everything seems to be going for it. Some well-versed box office trackers that I know think it can break $40 million opening weekend, but I’m splitting the difference between BoxOffice.com’s early predictions and those more optimistic ones, going with a $30-35 million opening. After that, good WOM (word-of-mouth) could carry the film far, for a final total in the $120 million range, making it the second-largest film of Fincher’s career.
Significance of its box office to its awards chances: High. With its current reviews, a box office breakout for Gone Girl ($160+ million total) could put it in serious contention for the win in various categories (including Best Actress and/or Best Picture), potentially positioning it as the populist choice this year if Interstellar disappoints. However, a disappointing run (a total under $80 million) could make the film fade quickly from the conversation, and put it in jeopardy of missing nominations in various categories (including Best Picture and Best Actress).
How will it perform: This is a tough movie to figure out, box office wise. On the one hand Bill Murray is a beloved actor who is so legendary that Harvey Weinstein was able to turn the day of this movie’s world premiere at TIFF into “Bill Murray Day,” and no one batted an eye. On the other hand, he hasn’t headlined a true box office hit since Groundhog Day. Murray does share the movie with current box office draw Melissa McCarthy, but her role in the movie isn’t large, and she isn’t playing the crass character type that brings audiences out to her movies. The film was the second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, but considering the Bill Murray Day tie-in, how reliable is that? Reviews are solid, and indicate that the movie will be well-received by the audience that finds it, but will that audience be big enough? The Weinstein Company has had an iffy year at the box office, and I’m predicting that to continue, with St. Vincent doing solidly, but ultimately finishing with a ho-hum $35 million.
Significance of its box office to its awards chances: Moderate-High. Although the amount I am predicting it to make right now is not enough to serious contend anywhere outside of the Golden Globes, a surprise breakout (say, $60-70 million total, or even more) could change its fortunes significantly, positioning it as one of Harvey’s top awards contenders, and jump-starting a Best Actor run for Murray. But that’s a big “could”.
How will it perform: Along with Boyhood, Whiplash was the clear breakout film of Sundance this year, winning both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic Competition. Its reception at following film festivals has been just as strong, receiving praise at Cannes and Toronto (as well as picking up another Grand Prize at the Deauville American Film Festival). Reviews are strong, the marketing is striking, and Miles Teller is an actor on the rise, so the stars are aligning for the film. The only thing is, Sony Classics rarely handles American indie crowd-pleasers like this, and are usually better with international films or mini-major American films (see: their recent success with Woody Allen). Can they push this film to be a true breakout hit? Right now I would tentatively put this at $11 million total, which should be enough to keep Simmons as a contender in Best Supporting Actor.
Significance of its box office to its awards chances: Very High. If SPC fumbles this, and it ends up being a box office non-event (say, under $5 million total), the studio has other films to worry about (Foxcatcher, Still Alice, Mr. Turner) and this will fall by the wayside. But if it can break out with audiences as much as it has with festival crowds, it could become a force to be reckoned with.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Oct. 17, Limited)
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Contending in: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, numerous tech awards
How will it perform: Another festival breakout, Birdman has enjoyed some of the best reviews for any film that has premiered this year, and has immediately positioned itself as a contender in multiple categories, including as a potential frontrunner in Best Actor. But how will mainstream audiences respond to it? A comeback narrative for Keaton could be appealing to audiences (especially if he emerges as the frontrunner), but the film could also end up being too weird to break out in wide release. A run similar to The Wrestler (another comeback film for a well-respected, self-reflecting actor, released by Fox Searchlight) strikes me as likely, so I would pin it at a $28 million total.
Significance of its box office to its awards chances: Low. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has never had much box office success (Best Picture nominee Babel is his only film to break $20 million domestically), but that hasn’t prevented every movie of his from getting at least one major Oscar nomination. So long as acclaim remains strong, the box office shouldn’t harm the movie much (although a breakout would, as always, certainly help it).
Men, Women & Children (Oct. 3 Limited, Oct. 17 Wide): After back-to-back financial, critical, and awards hits Juno and Up in the Air, director Jason Reitman suffered an awards and financial bust with Young Adult, and then a triple-bust with Labor Day last year. There were hopes that this film would be a return to form for Reitman, but reviews out of Toronto were mixed leaning towards negative, so that seems unlikely. Despite an all-star cast I’m expecting a middling $15-17 million total, and zero awards love outside of maybe a Razzie nom for Adam Sandler (they love that guy).
Fury (Oct 17 Wide): After years of having major Oscar contenders that they would eventually squander, it appears Sony Pictures is taking a year off, as this film, on paper, looks like their best contender by default. And although the film’s embargo hasn’t broken yet, early word isn’t strong. Still, with star Brad Pitt and a young ensemble of recognizable names, the film should at least open well before fading away, starting in the $20 million range before finishing with a respectable $60-65 million, positioning it as a Sound Mixing/Sound Editing contender a la Lone Survivor.
Nightcrawler (Oct. 31 Wide): Reviews have been quick to note that this movie might end up being too weird and dark for AMPAS, but the film was still one of the bigger critical breakouts of TIFF this year, and it’ll likely be one of the more acclaimed wide releases opening this month. Star Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t much of a draw, but he’s a recognizable name, so coupled with good reviews it could open solidly ($9-12 million) before fading away due to holiday competition, for a$25-28 million total. If it were to do even better than that, however, Gyllenhaal and reported scene-stealer Rene Russo could be dark horses in their respective categories.
[author image=”https://scontent-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/1000826_905133195637_1150756764_n.jpg” ]Jonathan Boehle is a contributor to AwardWatch and a moderator of the AW forums.[/author]