"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" opens today to good, if-not-always-great, notices. (CLICK HERE for L.A. Times scribe Kenneth Turan's review of this fourth film in the series.)
Gitesh Pandya of Box Office Guru is predicting a five-day domestic take of $165 million, leaving "Kingdom" just shy of the $173 million haul of "Stars Wars: Episode III" over the 2005 Memorial Day weekend. However, Steve Mason of Hollywood Wiretap thinks Indy and company will bump those other George Lucas-created characters from the top of the box office chart.
Regardless of the first week's numbers, "Kingdom" is sure to rank among the top five films of the year when it comes to box office receipts. But can it be one of the five films to compete in the best picture race at the Academy Awards? Back in 1981, the original "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which was No. 1 at the box office that year, was a best picture nominee that lost out to "Chariots of Fire." Since then, the Oscars have tended to favor more serious fare with nominations, though there have been a few notable exceptions.
Just last year, the well-reviewed action adventure "The Bourne Ultimatum" was the No. 7 moneymaker (it had a $227-million domestic gross), but had no luck breaking into the big Oscar races. It did go three for three on the technical side, winning editing, sound, and sound editing.
The last popcorn movies to earn best picture nods were the three movies that made up "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The final film, "The Return of the King," scored with both Oscar voters (going 11 for 11) and audiences (the No. 1 movie of 2003 with a $377-million domestic gross). That same year, the high seas adventure "Master and Commander" picked up 10 nominations, including best picture. And in 1997, another movie set on the high seas, the all-time box office champ "Titanic," also won 11 Oscars, including best picture.
Back in 1993, "Kingdom" star Harrison Ford made "The Fugitive," the No. 3 movie of the year with a domestic gross of $184 million. The film earned seven Oscar nominations. While it lost all but one, including the best picture race to "Schindler's List," Tommy Lee Jones did win supporting actor. And in 1988, Ford took top billing in best picture nominee "Working Girl" (No. 11 for 1988 with a domestic gross of $64 million), though it was three actresses who were Oscar-nominated -- Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Joan Cusack. All of them lost, as did the film, to the downbeat drama "Rain Man."
Perhaps the clearest indication of the serious-mindedness of Oscar voters came in 1982 when the No. 1 movie of the decade, the feel-good "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" lost the best picture race to the biopic "Gandhi." "Kingdom" helmer Steven Spielberg, who had picked up his second Oscar nod the previous year for directing "Raiders," was beaten by "Gandhi"'s guiding force, Richard Attenborough. Spielberg learned his lesson and started to make movies that appealed to the more highbrow tastes of Academy members.
His first attempt, a 1985 adaptation of the literary classic "The Color Purple," earned 11 Oscar nods, including best picture and director, but was completely shut out. Only with that 1993 Holocaust drama, "Schindler's List," did Spielberg win an Academy Award for directing. And his second Oscar for helming came in 1998 for another World War II film, "Saving Private Ryan."
Photo: Paramount / New Line