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What does '127 Hours' box office say about its Oscar chances?

December 3, 2010 | 10:02 pm


The James Franco-starred "127 Hours" has combated the much-hyped self-mutilation scene to establish itself as a real player at the box office and with awards contention. But after four weeks of release, the movie's per-screen average has descended not unlike Franco's nemesis, the tumbling  boulder.

Fox Searchlight is still optimistic that awards recognition is likely to come in the next few weeks from critics groups and, they hope, the Golden Globes nominations should help propel the film beyond its current $4 million gross. "We know the word of mouth is excellent," said Nancy Utley, co-president of Fox's indie division. "So, we're kind of going to let that do its job. We're a couple of weeks away from nominations and critics lists, and we'll have more ammunition once that happens," she said.

But if comparing the first four weeks of "127 Hours" to "Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle and Searchlight's last successful collaboration, it's unlikely "127" will ascend to the same apex that "Slumdog" reached in early 2009 with more than $140 million in domestic gross.

"127" opened in only four theaters, less than half the number for "Slumdog," and while its initial per-screen average was a huge $66,000 it fell precipitously in the following weeks to hover at $5,800 over Thanksgiving weekend. In contrast, "Slumdog" began its theatrical journey with $36,000 at the box office, hung in at close to $20,000 but was in far fewer theaters at the same time in the film's journey. And while "127 Hours" opened in fewer theaters it jumped to 293 theaters after only four weeks.

The studio intends to expand the movie in phases in anticipation of some of the awards. But what happens if the R-rated drama doesn't get the awards love it's looking for? Then television may be the film's savior.

"We have some high-testing TV spots that we haven't run because we're still in the slow roll," Utley said.  "So, if for some reason we don't get the nominations we're hoping for, we'll look at advertising as our way in."

-- Nicole Sperling

 Photo: James Franco in "127 Hours." Credit: Fox Searchlight