Film buffs who like to complain that the Academy Awards only favor art-house titles that most mainstream moviegoers avoid will have to come up with a new gripe: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will unveil Oscar nominations Thursday morning, and they are poised to single out a slate of movies that have made a killing at the box office.
The favorites for best picture nominations at the 85th Academy Awards are all doing booming business -- unlike 2010 best picture winner “The Hurt Locker,” which grossed $17 million domestically. Last year's victor, “The Artist,” took in a mediocre $44.7 million, while 2011's "The King's Speech" was more successful but only had reaped $57.3 million when nominations were announced.
This season, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” considered the Oscar front-runner, has grossed more than $144 million, Ben Affleck’s “Argo” has sold $110.1 million in tickets, “Les Misérables” has passed $103 million, and “Life of Pi” should soon eclipse the $100-million mark. “Zero Dark Thirty” is still in limited release but is off to a strong start in just 60 theaters.
At least five films will be nominated for best picture, but the category could contain up to 10 contenders depending on how nominations ballots are cast.
While it’s a longshot to join the best picture race, “Skyfall” — the highest-grossing title in James Bond history with global ticket sales in excess of $1 billion — could collect several nominations.
That’s not to say there aren’t some smaller productions looking to get in on the Oscar fun. In addition to best picture favorites “Lincoln,” “Argo,” “Life of Pi,” “Les Misérables” and “Zero Dark Thirty” (which was independently financed but released by Sony Pictures), the independent or lower-budgeted contenders include “The Master,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
The most suspense surrounding this year’s awards is whether any movie can derail “Lincoln.” If it wins the best picture Oscar, Spielberg’s biography of the 16th president would bring the Walt Disney Co. (which distributes the live-action movies made by Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios) its first-ever trophy in that category.
Yet “Lincoln,” like Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” has polarized audiences more so than Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” which leaves the Middle Eastern drama in the best position to stage an upset.