Awards Contenders Perform Well

Last year was noteworthy because six out of the nine Best Picture nominees grossed over $100 million and a seventh (Zero Dark Thirty) was right there with $95.7 million. Usually, the Academy gets criticized for recognizing films most people didn’t see, but that certainly wasn’t the case in 2012. As we geared up for 2013’s awards season, many wondered if this year’s players could continue the trend. While we may not see six $100 million nominees this year, the films being considered are posting solid numbers.

October saw the release of Gravity, which grossed an astonishing $254.5 million domestically and will finish the year as one of 2013’s top ten highest grossing films. Also coming out that month was Captain Phillips, which hung in there despite the presence of Gravity and made $104.2 million. Both films had star power and Gravity enjoyed the added bonus of being a “must see in the theater” experience. It’s little wonder why these movies performed as well as they did.

December brought about three more awards contenders – and while it’s too early to say if all of them will reach the $100 million milestone, they are all off to solid starts. David O. Russell continued his commercial hot streak with American Hustle. At the time of this writing, the caper has grossed over $60 million and will have a lot of staying power over the next month. Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street started out lower than expected, but still posted a healthy opening total ($34.3 million since Christmas) and Saving Mr. Banks rebounded over the holiday weekend and has now made $37.8 million. If both of these films maintain strong legs, they could theoretically end up in the neighborhood of $100 million.

There are two more contenders that are getting a nationwide release on January 10 – Her and Inside Llewyn Davis. Both have been doing well in limited locations so far. The Coen brothers’ folk-music drama has grossed $4.6 million in 161 theaters while Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance has made $1.5 million at 47 theaters. With buzz slowly building for both, it’s conceivable that they have respectable domestic totals when they expand early in 2014.

Studios are probably thrilled with the turnout for these Oscar-contending films because typically, they cost considerably less than their blockbuster counterparts to produce. Captain Phillips had a budget of $55 million and American Hustle cost “only” $40 million to shoot. That seems like a hefty total, but compared with 47 Ronin’s $200 million price tag, it’s the preferred alternative. A lower production budget increases the chances a film turns a profit, and with moderately budgeted awards dramas getting audience appeal, big studios like Sony and Warner Bros. will continue to green light similar projects instead of committing hundreds of millions to a CGI-fest action movie.

Audiences seem to be making a statement with their wallets, rejecting the vapid and overproduced movies such as Lone Ranger and After Earth while embracing well-crafted films like Gravity and American Hustle. With many people on tight budgets, they have to be conscious on what they spend their hard-earned money on – and that extends to the multiplex. The last few years have shown that if your film is well-written, well-acted, and well-directed, audiences may very well buy a ticket for a rewarding movie experience.

What do you think the overall impact of 2013’s box office will be? What were some of the biggest trends you noticed? Let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90.

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