‘Hidden Figures’: Do box office success + critical acclaim = Best Picture Oscar?

Hidden Figures,” which opened wide at number one last weekend, fought off  a challenge from “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” to retain its box office crown over the Martin Luther King, Jr. long weekend by taking in another $25 million. That brings its total takings to date to almost $60 million. Theodore Melfis crowd pleaser tells the true story of three unsung heroes of the NASA space program: mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), whose contributions were all the more impressive because they were black women working in the South during the Jim Crow era.

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The film, which went into limited release on Christmas Day, merits an impressive 93% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes, the same score as Oscar frontrunner “La La Land.”  And audiences agreed with the critics, giving “Hidden Figures” a CinemaScore of A+. That top mark is a rarity for studio films, with only two other 2016 releases hitting that mark (the biopic “Queen of Katwe” and the inspirational “Miracles From Heaven”). And “Hidden Figures” earned this top grade across all demographics, which bodes well for both future earnings and the Oscars.

Remember, Best Picture is decided by a preferential ballot. The winner is the consensus favorite, the film that everyone likes a lot. Several of this year’s other top contenders, such as “Arrival,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight,” have passionate support from a segment of Oscar voters but may not appeal to the rest of the academy.

By the time that final Oscar voting begins on Feb. 13, “Hidden Figures” is sure to have topped $100 million domestic. And it could well have won the Best Ensemble prize at the SAG Awards (“La La Land” was snubbed in that race.)

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Originally, the studio had planned to “Hidden Figures” this long weekend. However, after a sensational reaction to a screening of a few scenes at TIFF in September, it realized it had a major awards contender and bumped up the release date. That gamble is paying off with the cast already recognized with SAG and Critics’ Choice nominations for Best Ensemble, while Spencer was singled out by SAG and the Golden Globes for her scene-stealing supporting role. And it has reaped nominations from five of the other 11 guilds to weigh in with their choices for the best of the year, including a Best Picture bid from the PGA.

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