How Greta Gerwig’s Billion Dollar ‘Barbie’ Could be First Box Office Champion Oscars Winner Since ‘The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ – Variety

Awards Circuit Column: It’s been 20 years since the highest earner won best picture — will ‘Barbie’ end the drought or is ‘Oppenheimer’ too difficult to beat?

Barbie” triumphed at the box office. Can it conquer the Oscars too?

If history is any guide, it may have to settle for the adoration of audiences over the acclaim of awards voters. The Academy has nominated some recent commercial juggernauts for best picture — last year “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick” made the cut. But it tends to hand out the top prize to movies that hail from the art house, not the blockbuster part of the business. In fact, it’s been 20 years since the highest-grossing domestic film was also the best picture winner. That last happened with 2003’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which took all 11 categories in which it was nominated.

ReadVariety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

Can “Barbie” beat the odds and follow Frodo and company to the Oscar stage when the final award of the night is called out? It certainly has a compelling narrative on its side. For one thing, its director, Greta Gerwig, is the first solo female filmmaker to helm a billion-dollar-grossing movie. It’s also earned praise for its witty, feminist sendup of the popular toy line, as well as its creative risks. Not many summer movies include a reference to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and end on the line, “I’m here to see my gynecologist.” From the candy-coated cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto to the effervescent performances of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, there’s plenty for Academy members to get behind. There’s almost no universe in which “Barbie” doesn’t receive a lot of good news when nominations are announced in January.

That said, I’ve been tracking the race professionally for two decades, and I’ve been conservative about predicting if Academy voters will endorse nontraditional movies as their overall favorite. But maybe I’m too cautious. After all, for every down-the-middle pick like “Green Book” or “The King’s Speech,” there are also inventive winners such as “The Shape of Water” and last year’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

BARBIE, from left: Emma Mackey, Simu Liu, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Kingsley Ben-Adir, 2023. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Given that the most recent victor involved hot dog fingers and multiverses, the idea that “Barbie” might be crowned best picture is well within reason. Indeed, it wasn’t always this way. In the Oscars’ first 50 years, 12 box office toppers took home the big prize: The first was 1929’s “The Broadway Melody”; the last was 1976’s “Rocky.”

The next year saw the arrival of “Star Wars,” which helped usher in Hollywood’s blockbuster era. While George Lucas’ space opera landed a best picture nom, it didn’t win. From there, the trajectories of Oscar honorees and box office behemoths began to deviate. Only four of the highest-grossing films since 1977 have bagged the most coveted statuette — “Rain Man” (1988), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Titanic” (1997) and “Return of the King.” A common thread is that each captured the cultural zeitgeist (sound like “Barbie”?).

Admittedly, we’re in the early days of the season (especially after the SAG-AFTRA deal), but with attainable tangible wins in technical categories, particularly production design, costumes and original song, it also has major races in play with screenplay and supporting actor (Gosling). Any movie would love for that type of early projected awards promise. With nine best picture titles, Warner Bros is tied for the third most with three other studios – 20th Century Studios, MGM and Universal Pictures. A tenth would have it stand independently behind Paramount Pictures’ 11 and Columbia Pictures’ 12.

The buzz also bodes well for Gerwig in the director’s race. Seemingly destined to contend for the screenplay category with co-writer Noah Baumbach, her bid to win the affeections of the Directors Branch has been debated among pundits and industry analysts for months. As a previous nominee for “Lady Bird” (2017), and an arguable snubbed filmmaker for “Little Women” (2019), some feel her inclusion will be undeniable for AMPAS voters. “How can you deny the billion dollar movie?,” one studio executive from a rival studio told Variety back in August. “I think that race [best director] is over, but that’s just me.”

For added drama, factor in the inevitable “Barbenheimer” showdown, where the pink flick will likely face off against Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” (2023’s third-highest earner) in several key races. That’s a clash of the titans that should equal ratings heaven.

In that case, everyone’s a winner.

Read the latest prediction updates below, and check out the first glimpse at what the SAG Awards could bring as well. Early projected winners are marked with red asterisks (***).

Best Picture
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“May December” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Origin” (Neon)
“Past Lives” (A24)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Greta Gerwig — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Jonathan Glazer — “The Zone of Interest” (A24)
Cord Jefferson — “American Fiction” (MGM)
Christopher Nolan — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
Martin Scorsese — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper — “Maestro” (Netflix) ***
Leonardo DiCaprio — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Colman Domingo — “Rustin” (Netflix)
Cillian Murphy — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Jeffrey Wright — “American Fiction” (MGM)

Best Actress
Lily Gladstone — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Sandra Hüller — “Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon)
Carey Mulligan — “Maestro” (Netflix)
Margot Robbie — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Emma Stone — “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures) ***

Supporting Actor
Robert DeNiro — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Robert Downey Jr. — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Ryan Gosling — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.) ***
Charles Melton — “May December” (Netflix)
Mark Ruffalo — “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Penélope Cruz — “Ferrari” (Neon)
America Ferrera — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Julianne Moore — “May December” (Netflix)
Da’Vine Joy Randolph — “The Holdovers” (Focus Features) ***

Original Screenplay
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features) ***
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“May December” (Netflix)
“Origin” (Neon)
“Past Lives” (A24)

Adapted Screenplay
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.) ***
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Animated Feature
“The Boy and the Heron” (GKids)
“Elemental” (Pixar)
“Nimona” (Netflix)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures) ***
“Wish” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Production Design
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures) ***
“Wonka” (Warner Bros.)

“Ferrari” (Neon)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Saltburn” (Amazon MGM Studios)
“The Zone of Interest” (A24)

Costume Design
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (Lionsgate)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures) ***

Film Editing
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Makeup and Hairstyling
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“Ferrari” (Neon)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Marvel Studios)
“Maestro” (Netflix) ***
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

“Ferrari” (Neon)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“The Zone of Interest” (A24)

Visual Effects
“The Creator” (20th Century Studios)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Marvel Studios)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)
“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” (Paramount Pictures)

Original Score
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Origin” (Neon)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Society of the Snow” (Netflix)

Original Song
“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot” (Hulu/Searchlight Pictures)
“I Am” from “Origin” (Neon)
“Better Place” from “Trolls Band Together” (DreamWorks Animation)
“This Wish” from “Wish” (Walt Disney Pictures)

Documentary Feature
“20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS)
“American Symphony” (Netflix)
“Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Magnolia Pictures)
“The Mission” (National Geographic)
“They Shot the Piano Player” (Sony Pictures Classics)

International Feature
“Perfect Days” from Japan (Neon)
“The Taste of Things” from France (IFC Films)
“The Teachers’ Lounge” from Germany (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Society of the Snow” from Spain (Netflix)
“The Zone of Interest” from U.K. (A24)

Animated Short
“Ashkaska” (Distributor TBA)
“Backflip” (The New York Times Op-Docs)
“Once Upon a Studio” (Walt Disney Pictures)
“Peter and the Wolf” (HBO)
“Way Better” (Distributor TBA)

Documentary Short
“The ABCs of Book Banning” (MTV Documentary Films/Paramount+)
“Between Earth and Sky” (POV Shorts)
“Camp Courage” (Netflix)
“Deciding Vote” (The New Yorker)
“The Last Repair Shop” (Searchlight Pictures)

Live Action Short
“The After” (Netflix)
“The Old Young Crow” (Distributor TBA)
“The Shepherd” (Walt Disney Pictures)
“A Strange Way of Life” (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Troy” (The New Yorker)

Top 3 Nomination Leaders Tracking (Film)

  1. “Oppenheimer” — 13
  2. “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” — 11
  3. “Poor Things” — 9

Top 3 Nomination Leaders Tracking (Studios)

  1. Netflix — 17
  2. Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures — 13
  3. Warner Bros. — 12

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