The Oscar for Top-Grossing Film Goes to...

Thanks to foreign audiences, Life of Pi has earned the most of all best picture nominees thus far.

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(Jake Netter/20th Century Fox/AP)

The race is on for the Oscars, with the nine best picture nominees hoping to woo voters from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences before the big awards show in February. A gold statue means prestige for a movie's producers, but production companies measure a movie's success in cash, not statues. Which movie has won the money race thus far? That depends on how you measure it.

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Top Grossing: Life of Pi: Life of Pi had raked in nearly $400 million in receipts as of Jan. 9, more than double what any other film in the running for best picture had earned, according to box office reporting service Box Office Mojo. That may surprise American readers, because the majority of those receipts have come form other countries. Fully $300 million of the film's grosses are from abroad.

(Source:,, accessed January 11, 2013)

Biggest Return on Investment: Beasts of the Southern Wild: That's a lot of money, but the big-budget film would have had to take in around $120 million just to break even. A much smaller-budget film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, proves to be the nominee with the biggest bang for its buck thus far. Though it's one of the lowest-grossing of the bunch, it has taken in more than six times its estimated $1.8 million budget, not counting its foreign earnings. (Information on its foreign earnings is not yet available.) No other nominee comes close.

(Source:,, accessed January 11, 2013)

Best Average Daily Grosses: Les Miserables: Of course, some films have had more time to accumulate ticket sales. Beasts of the Southern Wild, released in July, and Argo, released in October, have had more time to earn money than the rest of the field, all of which were released in the Oscar-film rush in November and December. Zero Dark Thirty's numbers are also sure to skyrocket in coming weeks, as it only enters wide release today. (The numbers in the above charts represent its box office takings from its limited release.) Likewise, some films, like Django Unchained and Lincoln, have not yet seen wide international release and could benefit from those sales in coming months.

(Source:,, accessed January 11, 2013)

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When it's broken down into day-by-day takings, Les Miserables comes out on top, having averaged more than $12 million per day since its Christmas Day release.

Of course, excitement over the two-and-a-half-hour anthem fest is likely to dwindle in coming weeks, meaning its daily average will likewise decline. Still, its daily sales far and away exceed the other two Christmas movies in the running, Silver Linings Playbook and Django Unchained.

All of these films stand to see yet bigger payoffs now that they are nominees. According to a 2001 study, a best picture nod yields a boost in box office revenue of around $6.9 million (in 2012 dollars), as Bloomberg Businessweek reported this week. Winning the award yields an even bigger boost: $18.1 million.

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