Oscar Wannabes Contend for Box Office
In a season with no single front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar, major contenders Million Dollar Baby and Hotel Rwanda expanded successfully this week, while Sideways, Finding Neverland and The Aviator consolidated their bases and Kinsey was flaccid in its near nationwide release.

Likely Best Picture nominee Million Dollar Baby jumped from nine theaters to 109 and rang up $1.9 million over the weekend for a promising $17,618 average per site, lifting its total to $3.1 million. Distributor Warner Bros. will roll out Clint Eastwood's $30 million drama to over 1,500 theaters on Jan. 28—after the Oscar nominations are announced on Jan. 25. That would pit recent history against its chances to win—the last time a Best Picture winner wasn't in national release prior to nominations was The Last Emperor in 1987.

The Aviator, the $110 million drama about Howard Hughes, descended 34% to $7.5 million at 1,867 sites over the weekend, reaping a solid if uninspiring $42.8 million in 24 days. By comparison, director Martin Scorsese, star Leonardo DiCaprio and Miramax's last collaboration, Gangs of New York, took in $7.3 million in its same frame and had $47.1 million on its way to $77.8 million. Miramax's Oscar bait of last year, Cold Mountain, made $7.9 million on its same weekend for a $55.3 million tally en route to $95.6 million. Gangs of New York was nominated for 10 Oscars, but won none, while Cold Mountain was shut out of Best Picture altogether. At its current pace, The Aviator likely would need to win Best Picture to fly past the $100 million mark (and become Mr. Scorsese's highest grosser to boot).

Fox Searchlight continues to have Sideways set on simmer until Oscar nominations are announced, following which it will widen to over 1,200 theaters. Over the weekend, Alexander Payne's $16 million comedy eased 11% to $1.9 million for $25.1 million in 80 days of limited release, bolstered by innumerable kudos from critics.

After soft business throughout December, Finding Neverland is sprouting some much needed legs. Miramax's $25 million drama about Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie dipped 13% over the weekend to $2.3 million for a modest $27.9 million total in 59 days.

Expanding from seven to 105 theaters, Hotel Rwanda booked $1.2 million over the weekend at 105 locations, averaging a solid $11,154 per site, bringing its total to $1.7 million. Currently playing in 23 markets, distributor United Artists will open the movie in 16 more on Jan. 14.

Moviegoers would rather laugh at sex in Meet the Fockers than examine it thoughtfully if Kinsey's performance is any indication. Fox Searchlight's drama about influential sex researcher Alfred Kinsey had a major expansion to 588 theaters over the weekend, but failed to arouse much interest, earning $841,093 for a paltry $1,430 average per site. Its Best Picture chances are dwindling as Searchlight stable mate Sideways keeps getting fawned upon. To date, Kinsey has amassed $7.8 million.

The Woodsman, a drama with Kevin Bacon as a pedophile, collected $141,019 at 34 venues, averaging a choppy $4,147 per site, and has made $381,528 through its third weekend of limited release. Distributor Newmarket is trying to repeat the success it had last year with Monster, the serial killer drama that garnered an uglified Charlize Theron a Best Actress trophy, but that picture had done nearly four times the business at the same point.

Beyond the Sea is more De-Lovely than a Ray of box office light in the music bio stakes. The Kevin Spacey-directed musical drama about crooner Bobby Darin won't get around much anymore as moviegoers sent it up the lazy river with just $3.4 million to date from 383 venues.

New Line attempted to breathe new life into Birth, the Nicole Kidman drama that was stillborn two months ago. Re-launching at 453 theaters over the weekend, the movie made $242,185, averaging a mere $534 per site, for a grand total of $5.0 million.


• 2004 Oscar Hopefuls

• Academy Awards Box Office