By Peter Knegt | Indiewire January 7, 2013 at 11:28AM
This Thursday morning, the Oscar nominations will be announced and we could be looking at a very significant best picture race, box office wise. Last year, only one of the 9 best picture nominees -- "The Help" -- grossed over $100 million, and only two more grossed over $60 million ("War Horse" and "The Descendents"). This year could blow those numbers away. Of the seven films most are assuming will end up being nominated for best picture ("Argo," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty"), four have already hit $100 million while the other three have possible to assured chances of doing the same.
Will it be the biggest lineup ever? Unlikely in terms of an overall combined number. It will be hard for any year to top 2009, when "Avatar," "Up" and "The Blind Side" helped bring the total gross of the best picture nominees to $1.5 billion. But that same year three nominated films grossed under $20 million ("An Education," "A Serious Man" and winner "The Hurt Locker").
So while there's no "Avatar" (or "Titanic" or "Toy Story 3," for that matter) in the race this year (though the $300 million "Skyfall" has a reasonable chance), it is quite possible that the seven films almost everyone is predicting will be nominated for best picture will all gross $100 million. Which would be unprecedented.
Both 2009 and 2010 saw 5 of the 10 nominees ending up with $100 million grosses. This year, it is certain 5 of the nominees will as well, and depending on how "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty" expand (and whether "Skyfall" ends up being nominated), it is feasible we could have 8 best picture nominees that pass the $100 million mark.
Here's how "the assumed 7 nominees" stand now, with projections as to where they could end up.
Current box office: $144 million
Potential final tally: Anywhere from $160-$190 million. The film -- now in its 10th week of release -- is showing incredible stamina (only in the weekend after Thanksgiving did it fall more than 33% week-to-week) and could get a substantial boost from Oscar nominations.
Current box office: $110 million
Potential final tally: The oldest of the seven (despite only being released in October), Ben Affleck's film could get a minor boost from Oscar nods, taking its total to $115-$125 million.
3. Django Unchained
Current box office: $106 million
Potential final tally: The sky's the limit as Tarantino's latest is still riding high at the box office in its third week. $160 to even $200 million is not out of the question (but hard to say).
4. Les Miserables
Current box office: $104 million
Potential final tally: $150 million+ seems assured, but it's slowing much quicker than 'Django.'
5. Life of Pi
Current box office: $91 million
Potential final tally: $105-115 million. Ang Lee's film has slowly but surely turned into a box office hit but has dropped out of the top 10 and should only receive a minor boost from Oscar noms (especially since it's not exactly the frontrunner to win -- and perhaps the most vulnerable of these 7 to get snubbed).
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Current box office: $35 million
Potential final tally: Hard to say as it hasn't expanded wide yet, but 8 weeks of limited release has been very impressive with word of mouth clearly building. Oscar noms will certainly help, and $70 million+ seems likely, with $100 million+ possible (especially if Jennifer Lawrence wins).
7. Zero Dark Thirty
Current box office: $4.5 million
Potential final tally: We haven't seen what this film can do outside very limited release, so it is the hardest to project. But huge early per-theater-averages suggest it could do very well when it goes wide the day after nominations are announced. Anything under $50 million would be a surprise, and it's got the right timing to go well beyond that. The least likely to join the $100 million club, but it's not out of the question.
Sign up HERE for Indiewire's Awards Season newsletter and receive a twice-weekly email roundup of our awards stories, hand-picked by our editors from across the Indiewire Network, plus additional coverage in the final run up to the Oscars.