1. It’s the most widely seen film among the nominees
“The Butler” opened to almost $25 million last August and spent two weeks on top of the US box office chart. It’s still playing in a handful of theatres, with a domestic gross of more than $116. That’s significantly more ticket sales than the other nominees (as of right now.)
“American Hustle” and “August: Osage County” just opened in December. While the majority of SAG members have probably already seen “The Butler,” many of them will not have viewed “Hustle” or “August” by the Jan. 17 voting deadline. Even with screeners being sent out, there’s little guarantee that the actors will have time to watch them so quickly. (Remember, they’re not all awards-obsessed like us Gold Derby enthusiasts.)
The combination of an August release date and $100 million-plus box office has proven successful for previous SAG cast champions like “Inglourious Basterds” and “The Help.” Those films weren’t seen as likely threats for the Best Picture Oscar, so it doesn’t matter that “The Butler” isn’t either. Even comedies like “The Birdcage” and “The Full Monty” have taken the top SAG trophy in the past. A serious film like “The Butler” can easily do the same.
2. It has the largest cast.
As often discussed on Gold Derby, films with big ensembles typically have the edge when it comes to SAG voting. “Shakespeare in Love,” “Traffic,” “Gosford Park” and “Crash” all grabbed the top prize in competitive years, likely aided by their long lists of names.
This year, “The Butler” has 15 actors credited on the SAG ballot, compared to 13 for “12 Years a Slave,” 12 for “August Osage County,” 11 for “American Hustle” and six for “Dallas Buyers Club.” Think that doesn’t matter? The film with the largest cast (including surprise victor “Argo” last year) has won at SAG the past five times in a row. If history is any judge, there’s a good chance that “The Butler” will make it six.
3. It has the most diverse cast.
It’s far easier for someone to get a SAG card than it is to be admitted to the actors branch of the academy. SAG members vary greatly in terms of age, race, ethnicity, income, location, and experience. Many of them seldom (or never) even work as actors. It stands to reason that the cast with the most overall appeal has the best chance of getting a plurality in the five-way SAG ensemble race.
“The Butler” might have the advantage in this regard. Its talents include African-American (Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding, Jr.,) British (Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Rickman,) veteran (Jane Fonda, Robin Williams) and generally respectable (Liev Schreiber, John Cusack). In fact, seven of the fifteen have an Oscar win or nod to their credit.
The actors in “American Hustle” and “August Osage County” are terrific, but there’s far less diversity. As for “12 Years a Slave,” the performances are without question superb. Unfortunately, there’s considerably less name recognition with actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyongo. All in all, “The Butler” is left standing in a very strong position.
4. It’s a crowd-pleasing film
Looking at current predictions by Gold Derby experts and editors, I suspect that many are discounting “The Butler” in their SAG rankings because its reviews weren’t as stellar as “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle.”
However, they’re forgetting that SAG voters aren’t like us pompous pundits or the cranky critics. Their tastes are much more mainstream. “The Butler” earned a CinemaScore “A” grade and generally left audiences happy. The SAG Outstanding Cast Award has frequently gone to similar crowd favorites, like “Apollo 13,” “The Full Monty,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Argo.” If SAG members vote based on pleasure, “The Butler” actors may indeed leave the SAG show with smiling faces.
5. It’s helped by the Golden Globe snubs
Much fuss was made after Oprah Winfrey and “The Butler” were completely shut out of the Globe competition. Ironically, the omission may actually improve its SAG prospects. The film received more attention from the perceived slight than it would have had it scored some nominations. Now, when SAG voters see its name (and especially Winfrey’s) on their ballots, they’ll view it as a chance to even the score.
Remember that “Argo” pulled off a SAG shocker last year right after director Ben Affleck’s much-publicized Oscar snub. In this similar scenario, watch for Oprah and her “Butler” to be well served by SAG come Jan. 18.
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