The battle for the Best Actress Oscar may boil down to dollars and cents.
As the race to Hollywood's biggest awards show hits a full on sprint, the Best Actress contest is poised to be one of the night's most anticipated match-ups. In one corner: Natalie Portman, who won a Golden Globe and a SAG award for "Black Swan." In the other: Annette Bening, who scored a Golden Globe and a slew of critics circle awards for "The Kids Are Alright."
Scattered around them, three more contenders whose performances have earned a wealth of praise but not quite the mainstream buzz of the women above: Michelle Williams ("Blue Valentine"), Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone"), and Nicole Kidman ("Rabbit Hole").
For some critics, the winner is clear.
"It's Natalie Portman," said Peter Travers, film critic for Rolling Stone. "The only possible spoiler is Annette Bening and that's not likely to happen. The 'Black Swan' should swan easily to victory."
Another victor predictor: box office earnings. It's no coincidence that the films of leading candidates Portman and Bening have each made more money than those of the other actresses combined.
"It doesn't always follow that the most popular movie gets the win for their actors," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com's box office division, "but in 2010, Sandra Bullock won for 'The Blind Side' and that was obviously a huge box office hit. In 2006, Reese Witherspoon won for 'Walk the Line' and the other films that were nominated for Best Actress awards were not big at the box office."
To be sure, for every box office darling that scores a Best Actress Oscar, there's a dark horse to balance it out, like Marion Cotillard's win for the relatively low-grossing "La Vie en Rose" in 2009. To see which way the chips may fall this year, Dergarabedian broke down the current crop of nominees in terms of how much their movies have made domestically:
Dergarabedian: "Natalie Portman is the one to beat. Her movie has made over $100 million. Her performance is what everyone is talking about and if she doesn't win, I think a lot of people will be shocked.
It's very much like what happened in 2005 when Hilary Swank won the Oscar for 'Million Dollar Baby' -- that was a surprise hit in much the same way that 'Black Swan' was; it made $100.4 million that year. In the same way people are talking about Natalie in 'Black Swan,' people were talking about Hllary in 'Million Dollar Baby.'"
Dergarabedian: "Annette Bening could take this from Natalie. She is very well liked. Her performance was great. It might be like a lifetime achievement Oscar -- she's been nominated four times in her career, they might think it's time for her to win. 'The Kids Are Alright' has also made the second highest amount of money in this category -- $20.8 million."
Dergarabedian: "'Winter's Bone' has made a little more than $6 million in total. Jennifer Lawrence's performance is incredible, but not a lot of people have seen this movie. It's hard to build buzz about something that people aren't talking about."
Dergarabedian: "'Rabbit Hole' has made less than $2 million total. It's a very limited release movie. The critical reception has been great but again, it's a movie that many people have not seen."
Dergarabedian: "'Blue Valentine' is an acting tour de force, and it's very hard to watch. The Weinstein Company, the studio behind the film, they know how to market a movie for an Oscar. It's right in the middle of the pack in terms of money -- $8.9 million. But I would call her more of a long shot."