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Box Office 2.0: Tracking The Awards Contenders

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | Indiewire January 5, 2010 at 3:55AM

The awards-hungry specialty box office clusterf**k that was December is officially only a memory. The vast majority of the films attempting to stand out amidst a dozen other generally major releases all went into the months with high hopes for both financial retribution and awards contention. It turned out that a lot of them would underwhelm, with "Nine" and "The Lovely Bones" in particular no longer in the running for many of the major categories, and struggling to hit $30 million despite massive budgets. James Cameron's "Avatar," as we know, is not having those problems. That box office phenomenon should tower high above its 9 fellow best picture nominees, and has slight potential to become the highest grossing film of all time, taking out Cameron's own "Titanic."
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The awards-hungry specialty box office clusterf**k that was December is officially only a memory. The vast majority of the films attempting to stand out amidst a dozen other generally major releases all went into the months with high hopes for both financial retribution and awards contention. It turned out that a lot of them would underwhelm, with "Nine" and "The Lovely Bones" in particular no longer in the running for many of the major categories, and struggling to hit $30 million despite massive budgets. James Cameron's "Avatar," as we know, is not having those problems. That box office phenomenon should tower high above its 9 fellow best picture nominees, and has slight potential to become the highest grossing film of all time, taking out Cameron's own "Titanic."

It's more than likely "Avatar"'s many Oscar nominations won't make much of a difference in terms of its box office. That part it already has covered. But for many other films, some Oscar love could be the financial push it needs. Slowly expanding December releases like "Crazy Heart" and "A Single Man" essentially need awards love to become profitable. So for this week's Box Office 2.0, let's take a closer look at the box office potential of 15 major awards contenders - from $1 billion worldwide grosser "Avatar" to $654,374 grossing "The Messenger."

Avatar
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Released: 12/18/09
Gross-To-Date: $352,114,898 (domestic, as are all listed grossed to follow)
Awards Outlook: Very good. Best picture and director nominations are essentially locked, and a slew of technical nods could make it the year's most nominated film. Expect 7 nods, but as many as 9 is possible.
Box Office Outlook: Awards or no awards, $500 million domestic is basically assured, and it's the first film to really seem to have a shot at taking out "Titanic"'s $601 million record. More over, it's playing like hotcakes overseas, and became the 5th highest grossing worldwide grosser in just three weeks. But a best picture nomination certainly can't hurt, and might help it chase that "Titanic" dream.

Crazy Heart
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Released: 12/16/09
Gross-To-Date: $702,188
Awards Outlook: Best actor and best original song are excellent bets. Beyond that, it's unlikely.
Box Office Outlook: It's been playing well in very limited release, but this film might need the awards hype surrounding star Jeff Bridges to keep going if it wants to turn into a true hit. If he ends up winning and Searchlight plays the release strategy right, $20 million seems like a reasonable expectation.

An Education
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Released: 10/09/09
Gross-To-Date: $7,883,524
Awards Outlook: Star Mulligan is a certainty for a best actress nomination, while best picture and best adapted screenplay are very good - but not 100% assured - bets.
Box Office Outlook: This film is playing almost exactly like last year's SPC release - and best actress hopeful - "Rachel Getting Married." It's never gone over 303 screens, but has managed $1,000+ PTAs in all 13 weeks of release and hasn't quite petered out. "Rachel" went slightly wider (and grossed slightly more at this point), but if it manages the best picture nod, and Mulligan ends up winning a Golden Globe (though sadly, Sandra Bullock could beat her to it), "An Education" could easily hit $15 million, a few million more than "Rachel."

The Hurt Locker
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Released: 06/26/09
Gross-To-Date: $12,671,105
Awards Outlook: Very good. Like "Avatar" (directed by the ex-husband of "Locker"'s Kathryn Bigelow), its in for picture, director (where it will likely win), and a bunch of technical categories. With lead actor Jeremy Renner and its original screenplay also contenders, "Locker" could end up with 6 or 7 nominations.
Box Office Outlook: $12,671,105. It's on DVD. But that's exactly where this film could make its money, especially if Bigelow wins.

Inglourious Basterds
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Released: 08/21/09
Gross-To-Date: $120,540,719
Awards Outlook: Surprisingly quite good. In a month this film has become a sure-fire contender in many categories - including picture, director, supporting actor and screenplay. Its artistic and technical hopes make it "Avatar"'s biggest threat for the final nomination tally. Could do as little as 6, as much as 10.
Box Office Outlook: $120,540,719. Oddly enough, the film that turned out to be Harvey & Co's big awards contender is the one that doesn't really need the attention. But like "Locker," it should help DVD sales that already would have been quite potent.

Invictus
Distributor: Warner Brothers
Released: 12/11/09
Gross-To-Date: $30,586,445
Awards Outlook: Decent, especially considering how little buzz it has. Best picture and actor look good, while director, screenplay and supporting actor are also possible.
Box Office Outlook: It could probably push $50 million, but this film is already such a non-starter with audiences that I wonder if - like "Frost/Nixon" last year - big love from Oscar won't really mean much in the way of box office.

The Last Station
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Released: 01/15/10 (had qualifying run in December)
Gross-To-Date: $0 (unreported qualifying run)
Awards Outlook: Actress and supporting actor look very good, but it's the one film that is hard to gauge since it hasn't really been released yet.
Box Office Outlook: Two high profile acting nominations will be a huge help, and perhaps opening after everything else will help it get attention. It's a pretty small film, though, so $7-10 million would probably be enough to make a lot of people happy.

The Lovely Bones
Distributor: Paramount
Released: 12/11/09 (opens wide in January)
Gross-To-Date: $383,101
Awards Outlook: Stanley Tucci for best supporting actor but that could very well be it.
Box Office Outlook: Not good. It cost $100 million to make, was tepidly reviewed, and won't get a best picture nomination. $30 million is about as much as anyone should hope for.

The Messenger
Distributor: Oscilloscope
Released: 11/13/09
Gross-To-Date: $654,374
Awards Outlook: Has there ever been a best picture nominee that has grossed under $1 million? Some are predicting it's the one to sneak in, though even if it doesn't... supporting actor is assured and supporting actress is quite possible.
Box Office Outlook: This a tiny film from a very new distributor that's highest grossing film ever is $800,000 grossing "Wendy & Lucy". Even one major nod and $1 million+ in grosses would be a big step forward for Oscilloscope.

Nine
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Released: 12/18/09
Gross-To-Date: $13,745,956
Awards Outlook: This cookie is crumbling fast. Best picture is not at all a sure thing, and neither are the film's two best acting nod bets - Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz. Technical and artistic nominations could still give it 4 or 5 nominations, but that's not going to sell tickets.
Box Office Outlook: For this $85 million production, some sort of last minute rally for some major nominations would be a dream. But even then it probably couldn't manage $50 million. The buzz has died, and likely so has "Nine."

Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Distributor: Lionsgate
Released: 11/05/09
Gross-To-Date: $43,492,192
Awards Outlook: It might not be the frontrunner it was when it came out, but "Precious" still looks quite good for best picture, actress, supporting actress and screenplay nominations.
Box Office Outlook: Some love from Oscar should push "Precious" over the $50 million mark, but not much farther than that (for a more extensive take on "Precious"'s box office, click here).

A Serious Man
Distributor: Focus Features
Released: 10/02/09
Gross-To-Date: $9,190,505
Awards Outlook: Screenplay is a sure bet, while the expansion to ten nominees makes "Serious" a good bet for a best picture nomination. Though that should be about it.
Box Office Outlook: $15 million is probably the ceiling for this film, making the Coens' lowest grossing film since 2002's "The Man Who Wasn't There." But considering it might be their least marketable film in quite some time, that's not a huge disappointment.

A Single Man
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Released: 12/11/09
Gross-To-Date: $1,731,649
Awards Outlook: Colin Firth is a lock for best actor, and supporting actress and screenplay are decent bets.
Box Office Outlook: It's done OK in its limited release so far, but the Weinsteins are going to have to really rally with it to get "A Single Man" to $10 million.

Up
Distributor: Disney
Released: 05/29/09
Gross-To-Date: $293,004,164
Awards Outlook: Like recent Pixar films, "Up" should do quite well with the obligatory animated feature category, as well as screenplay and a few technical categories. What it could very well also do is land a best picture nod, the first film to do so since 1991's "Beauty and the Beast." Though this is not a sure thing just yet.
Box Office Outlook: $293,004,164. It's been on DVD for a while. Awards will probably make the least difference with this film, but the prestige of the being the second animated film nominated for best picture is priceless...

Up In The Air
Distributor: Paramount
Released: 12/11/09
Gross-To-Date: $44,374,918
Awards Outlook: Very good. Picture, director, screenplay, actor and two supporting actress should make "Up In The Air" the film with the most high-profile nominations.
Box Office Outlook: "Air" should nab the kind of nominations that really do help box office, and is still new enough to benefit from it. $100 million is not out of the question.

"Box Office 2.0" is a weekly column by indieWIRE Associate Editor Peter Knegt. Check out the previous editions:

Box Office 2.0: The Biggest Stories of the 2009 Indie Box Office
Box Office 2.0: "Broken Embraces" and the Cannes '09 Crop
Box Office 2.0: What Happens To "Precious" Now?
Box Office 2.0: The Curious Case of "Orson Welles"
Box Office 2.0: Fall Winners and Losers
Box Office 2.0: Assessing 2009's Dox Office From "Capitalism" to "The Cove"
Box Office 2.0: Two Notable DIY Releases That Opened In "Precious"'s Shadow
Box Office 2.0: Snap Judgements & Great Expectations





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