Can Angelina Jolie’s star power boost ‘Unbroken’ at Oscars?

Unbroken” opened Christmas Day, but even though it has received relatively lacklustre reviews – 60 on MetaCritic and 49% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing – it’s still among our top 10 contenders for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, ranking seventh with 16/1 odds. Is it getting a boost from director Angelina Jolie‘s star-power?

Producer Matt Baer on ‘extraordinary’ 17-year effort to make ‘Unbroken’ [Exclusive Video]

Jolie herself is an Oscar-winner, taking the Best Supporting Actress prize for her role as a mental patient in “Girl, Interrupted” in 1999 despite no other nominations for the film. It took a while for her to return to the awards race, but she eventually earned her first lead-acting bid in 2008 as the mother of a missing child in “Changeling.” And, in November 2013, she received the academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar at the annual Governors’ Awards. 

It’s a testament to Jolie’s popularity that “Unbroken” earned her nominations for Best Picture and Best Director from the Critics’ Choice Awards in spite of the film’s critical response overall, though the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. liked the film much better than their print counterparts; they gave the film a score of 83 out of 100, far higher than its totals at MetaCritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

In addition to Jolie’s own popularity, recognizing her would give the academy an opportunity to make history by potentially nominating two women for Best Director in the same year (Ava DuVernay is also a major contender for “Selma“). It would cap a high-profile year for women behind the camera – Jolie is also a producer of “Unbroken,” while Oprah Winfrey and “12 Years a Slave” Oscar-champ Dede Gardner produced “Selma,” and Reese Witherspoon could be a dual Best Picture-nominee as a producer of both “Wild” and “Gone Girl.”

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But if “Unbroken’s” reviews do in fact reflect a similar lack of passion for it in the academy, it could still be a contender if most voters watch it and many of them at least like it. That’s because of the “surplus rule,” which kicks in when top contenders exceed the minimum number of first-place votes to guarantee a nomination. Those ballots are then redistributed to second-place vote-getters, and perhaps even third- and fourth-place contenders. (Paul Sheehan explains the voting procedure in greater detail here.)

For instance, could “Unbroken” be popular with fans of “Boyhood” or “Birdman“? Those films are among top Oscar contenders for Best Picture and might activate the surplus rule. Perhaps fans of “The Imitation Game” might also be impressed by “Unbroken,” since both tell heroic stories about World War II heroes.

Then again, it’s tricky to predict what any person’s second-favorite film might be based simply on the style or subject matter of whatever is in first place. For example, my favorite film of the year at the moment is “Interstellar,” while my second place would be “Dear White People.” Try anticipating that kind of dichotomy on any Oscar voter’s ballot.

Do you think “Unbroken” will score top nominations? Use our drag-and-drop menu to make your Best Picture predictions, or click here to enter your picks in all Oscar categories, as well as Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, Independent Spirit Awards, and more.

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