Oscar front-runners "Argo" and "Lincoln" have already blown past box office projections and, with the awards season kicking in, are positioned pick up more steam this week.
Disney plans to expand Oscar front-runner "Lincoln" into about 200 more theaters this weekend, after the nominations for the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Wednesday and Golden Globes on Thursday.
"Argo," Ben Affleck's Iran hostage thriller, has made $103 million for Warner Bros since opening on Oct. 12. "Lincoln," director Steven Spielberg's saga of the 16th U.S. president's fight to abolish slavery, will pass that mark in the next few days. That means both films are around $40 million above analysts' pre-release projections, and they're still counting.
"It's an achievement," Exhibitor Relations senior analysts Jeff Bock told TheWrap. "Truly adult fare doesn't hit $100 million that often."
Both movies are very well-reviewed and received "A" CinemaScores from moviegoers. The teams the behind "Argo" and "Lincoln" have done a good job of turning awards heat into multiplex business so far, and Disney plans to turn it up this week.
"'Lincoln' is doing bigger business than Disney and DreamWorks could have hoped for," Fandango movie correspondent Dave Karger told TheWrap, noting that "Lincoln" has been among the top three sellers at the online movie ticket site since it went on sale in November.
"And it's no coincidence that they're going wider with the movie immediately after the SAG and Globe nominations. They know the movie is a shoo-in for multiple nods," Karger said. "I bet they've already created mockup newspaper ads saying "Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture!'"
Warner Bros. will stand pat with "Argo" until January, waiting for the Oscar nominations on Jan. 10 before expanding theaters. The difference is that "Argo" has been in theaters for nine weeks, while "Lincoln" is going into its sixth. "Argo" peaked at 3,247 theaters in its second week, on Oct. 19, and is down to 917 theaters now. "Lincoln" has stayed at about 2,015 since Thanksgiving.
And Warner Bros. will swallow up more than 4,000 available theaters when it rolls out Peter Jackson's latest epic "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" on Friday.
Of course several likely Best Picture contenders -- Universal's "Les Miserables," the Weinstein Co.'s "Django Unchained" and Sony's Kathryn Bigelow film "Zero Dark Thirty" -- have yet to open. Analysts project domestic grosses of more than $100 million for the first two, both of which debut on Christmas Day. Another potential Best Picture nominee, Ang Lee's "Life of Pi," is heading in that direction. It's done more than $60 million at the domestic box office in a little more than three weeks, and is doing even better overseas with $105 million.
It is well-documented that there is no direct correlation between box office and Oscar success. Bigelow's 2009 movie "The Hurt Locker" is Exhibit A. It beat out "Avatar" for Best Picture despite a domestic total of $17 million, compared to the $750 million total for James Cameron's 3D epic.
Plenty of blockbusters -- "Forrest Gump," "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings" -- have taken home the big prize. And 20 of the past 34 Best Picture winners have made $100 million or more at the box office, suggesting Academy voters can appreciate a film that resonates with a mass audience.