When the Academy announced that it would extend its Best Picture nominees from five to ten, it was clearly in reaction to last year's failure to nominate The Dark Knight and a recognition of how more popular movies needed to be in play in order to boost interest in the Oscars. Last year's nominees were the least-attended on record at nomination time, but, this year, the nomination of Avatar alone more than tripled their cumulative gross.
The Best Picture nominees in order of gross are Avatar, Up, The Blind Side, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Up in the Air, Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man and An Education. Five movies grossed over $100 million (three of which were blockbusters) and five movies grossed less. The nominees run the gamut from all time blockbuster Avatar's $595.8 million to specialty release An Education's $8.8 million.
All told, the ten Best Picture nominees have grossed $1.5 billion thus far, averaging $151 million per nominee. The last time the average gross was near that range was 2003, when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was nominated, while the 2004-2008 average ranged from $37 million to $49 million.
Based on recent history, one could presume that 2009's bottom five nominees were the ones the Academy really wanted to nominate, while the top five were the bones they threw to the public in a bid for higher ratings for the Oscar telecast. However, good box office has historically been key to winning Best Picture, which usually goes to the movie with the first or second highest gross among the nominees: that would favor Avatar over The Hurt Locker, despite both pictures tying for the most nominations at nine apiece.
• Full List of Nominees & Their Grosses
• Nomination Counts by Movie
• Nomination Counts by Studio
• 2008 Winners/Nominees & Their Grosses
• Oscar Box Office Main Page