The Oscars: Could Big Box Office Put ‘Juno’ Over the Top?

Photo illustration: Everett Bogue
Photos: iStockphoto, Fox Searchlight, AMPAS

Those Oscar bloggers and commentators who have given Juno a shot in this year’s Best Picture race make a number of different cases: that feel-bad movies like There Will Be Blood and No Country might split the vote, letting Juno in as a feel-good dark horse; that the Academy likes a movie whose message is tidy and neat; that the guilds no longer represent the whims of the Academy. But the piece of evidence everyone continually repeats in making the case that Juno might beat No Country for Old Men: Juno is the only one of the nominees that’s a box-office hit, with $125.5 million earned so far. The Academy loves hits!

But does it? We’re not exactly gurus, but we do have a subscription to Box Office Mojo, so we went through the past fifteen years of Best Picture nominees to answer the question: How much does a film’s box office affect its chances in the Best Picture race? That is, if you’re the Best Pic nominee whose box office is the highest at the time of the awards, does that give you a better chance to win?

The answer? It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t help as much as you’d think. Certainly being the worst earner of the five nominees will kill you; none of the past fifteen Best Pictures were in last place in the box-office race on Oscar night. Sorry, There Will Be Blood and your $32 million gross!

On the other hand, of the past fifteen Best Picture winners, five have been the box-office champ among the nominees on the date of the awards: Forrest Gump, Titanic, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and The Departed. So that bodes well for Juno, right? Nope! Because it turns out the place to be is second place. Eight of the past fifteen Best Picture winners were the second-most successful of all nominees:

Unforgiven (beat A Few Good Men)

Schindler’s List (beat The Fugitive)

Braveheart (beat Apollo 13)

The English Patient (beat Jerry Maguire)

Shakespeare in Love (beat Saving Private Ryan)

A Beautiful Mind (beat The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Chicago (beat The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

Crash (beat Brokeback Mountain)

And guess which film, with a current box-office gross of $61.3 million, is in second place among this year’s nominees? No Country for Old Men, that’s which one.

The Oscars: Could Big Box Office Put ‘Juno’ Over the Top?