Which 2017 films will contend for best picture?
Though the next Academy Award nominees won't be revealed until January 23, 2018, Oscar buzz is already building for numerous films—many of which you'll have a chance to see in the coming weeks as they head to theaters nationwide.
It's an unusually wide-open year, with absolutely no clear frontrunners emerging out of TIFF and Venice. And some potential contenders have bowed out early due to scandal (the Kevin Spacey-starring All The Money in the World, which is now being re-shot), unexpectedly middling reviews (Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying), or a combination of both (The Weinstein Company's The Current War). But we have identified this year's likeliest best picture contenders based on their performances at the fall film festivals (plus several wildcards that have yet to be seen by anyone) as well as predictions from various film writers.
Battle of the Sexes Watch trailer(s)
Now in theaters
A comedic look back at the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) from Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, this September release scored solid (though far from stellar) reviews from critics but failed to make much of a dent at the box office. Nevertheless, some experts still give the film a chance of cracking the best picture field—more so than Carell's other fall film, Last Flag Flying (which failed to match the sky-high Metascores of most of director Richard Linklater's recent releases). The likeliest scenario, however, is another best actress nomination for Stone, who won last year.
The Big Sick Watch trailer(s)
Now on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming:
This crowd-pleasing summer release, based on the real-life romance between actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani (who stars) and writer Emily V. Gordon (played in the film by Zoe Kazan), will likely finish 2017 as the year's best-reviewed rom-com. The Michael Showalter-directed film may be too lightweight to score a best picture nomination, but it still appears to have a decent chance of doing so—especially if some of the fall's yet-to-be-screened prestige pictures fail to meet expectations. It would be Amazon's second feature to be nominated for best picture (following last year's Manchester by the Sea), and is probably the streaming service's best chance at Oscar recognition this year thanks to somewhat underwhelming receptions to Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck, Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel, and the aforementioned Last Flag Flying.
Blade Runner 2049 Watch trailer(s)
Now in theaters
Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the 1982 cult classic sci-fi thriller proved to be far better than reasonably expected. Unfortunately, it was also a dud at the box office, and could ultimately lose up to $80 million. But that won't necessarily harm the film's Oscar hopes. In fact, the Academy has nominated a cerebral fall sci-fi film in each of the last two years—including last year, when Villeneuve's own Arrival secured a best picture nomination.
Call Me By Your Name Watch trailer(s)
In theaters November 24
The latest feature from Italian director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) is a 1980s-set coming-of-age tale and gay love story starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, based on André Aciman's novel of the same name. The film features a script co-written by three-time Oscar nominee James Ivory and music by Sufjan Stevens. Currently the second-highest-scoring film of 2017 (which could change one way or another once we get closer to the film's release date), Name first started generating buzz in January, when it debuted at Sundance to rapturous reviews. To further that buzz, Sony Classics is bringing the film to AFI Fest, where it screens tomorrow night as the festival's Centerpiece Gala. It would be a major upset if the film did not receive a best picture nomination.
Darkest Hour Watch trailer(s)
In theaters November 22
In a year of films featuring Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour stands out for Gary Oldman's much-heralded performance as the British prime minister. In fact, many experts have already deemed the best actor race over, with Oldman far out in front of any potential challenger. But the film as a whole could be on its way to numerous additional nominations, including best picture, as it would be unwise to underestimate the Academy's fondness for historical dramas. The film also represents a bit of a comeback for director Joe Wright after his 2015 dud Pan. Wright's previous WWII-era film, Atonement, scored seven Oscar nominations, including best picture.
Detroit Watch trailer(s)
Now in theaters / Coming to DVD/Blu-ray on December 12
Though it has plenty to recommend it, Kathryn Bigelow's latest drama, which depicts the civil unrest that gripped Detroit during the summer of 1967, failed to match the effusive critical acclaim that greeted her previous films Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, which combined for 14 Oscar nominations (and a best picture win for the latter). It also seemed to make little impression on moviegoers during its somewhat under-the-radar August release. But Annapurna Pictures hasn't given up on the film's Oscar chances. As part of an awards-centered promotional campaign for the film, the distributor will re-release Detroit on 25 screens on December 1st.
The Disaster Artist Watch trailer(s)
In theaters December 1
Could a movie about one of the worst films ever made capture the hearts of Academy members? Perhaps not, though some industry followers aren't ruling out a best picture nomination, and distributor A24 is expected to mount a major promotional push during awards season (starting with a gala screening at AFI Fest this Sunday). James Franco directs and stars as "filmmaker" Tommy Wiseau in a comedy depicting his production of The Room. While the latter is one of cinema's legendarily awful movies, The Disaster Artist has already received an extremely warm reception at its debut at SXSW earlier this year.
Downsizing Watch trailer(s)
In theaters December 22
One reason that the best picture field is so wide open? Many usually reliable directors are having (relatively) down years. One such director receiving a smaller-than-normal Metascore is Alexander Payne, whose new satirical sci-fi comedy (which finds Matt Damon literally shrinking himself to seek out a better life) is his first film since his 1996 debut to score below 80. But despite a somewhat mixed response at its Venice debut, the film could certainly still sneak its way into the best picture field. If it does, it'll be Payne's fourth straight best picture nomination.
Dunkirk Watch trailer(s)
Now in theaters / Coming to DVD/Blu-ray on December 19
If Christopher Nolan's ambitious (and extremely well-reviewed) WWII epic were released during the fall rather than the summer, it would likely be mentioned as the best picture frontrunner. Instead, it's merely on the cusp of being a frontrunner—and is a virtual lock to receive a nomination. Of course, the Academy has shunned the director's films in the past despite technical prowess and box office success (most egregiously with The Dark Knight), but here he finally seems to have the subject matter that Oscar voters prefer. (And those voters will get a special 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray screener as part of Warner Bros.'s Oscar campaign for the film.)
The Florida Project Watch trailer(s)
Now in theaters
Sean Baker's follow-up to Tangerine is one of 2017's best movies. But can a small-scale drama lacking star power (aside from Willem Dafoe) about a group of down-and-out characters living in a run-down Florida motel receive Oscar recognition? It doesn't hurt that the film—a huge hit at Cannes and the fall festival circuit—already scored multiple nominations for the Gotham Awards, the only major award nominations announced so far this fall. Also in Project's favor is the success of Moonlight, another well-reviewed but obscure Florida-based indie featuring characters not often seen on the big screen that not only got a best picture nomination last year but actually won the Oscar. Some experts even think that the film's 6-year-old breakout star Brooklynn Prince could sneak into the best actress race.
Get Out Watch trailer(s)
Now on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming:
The list of horror films nominated for best picture is a very short one (depending on how loosely you define the genre, the most recent nominee was 2010's The Black Swan or 1999's The Sixth Sense), and only one (The Silence of the Lambs) has ever won the best picture Oscar. Yet nearly every Oscar expert is expecting a best picture nomination for Jordan Peele's clever directorial debut, perhaps the surprise hit of 2017. Get Out is already off to a good start this awards season, leading the recent Gotham Awards announcements with four nominations. The only thing standing in its way is its February release date—almost a full year before nominations are announced.
The Greatest Showman Watch trailer(s)
In theaters December 20
No one has seen the completed film yet, and its first trailer was a bit underwhelming. Yet The Greatest Showman's Oscar chances should not be discounted. For one thing, it's an original musical—a genre that consistently seems to please Academy members—and its credits include numerous Oscar nominees. The long-gestating biopic, which stars Oscar nominee Hugh Jackman as circus impresario P. T. Barnum, features original music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Oscar winners for last year's best picture nominee La La Land (and recent Tony winners for Dear Evan Hansen). And it co-stars four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams, and features a script co-written by Oscar winner Bill Condon.
In theaters December 22 (limited) / nationwide in January
Christian Bale plays an Army captain who must escort a Cheyenne family home under difficult conditions in 1892 in this bleak but slow-paced western from director Scott Cooper (Black Mass). A fairly strong debut at Telluride (where, in a somewhat unusual move, the film screened without a distributor) prompted a bidding war, with relative newcomer Entertainment Studios ultimately grabbing the rights. The indie studio has never mounted an Oscar campaign before—Hostiles will be only the third film to reach theaters under their banner—but that late-December release date suggests that the studio believes the film will be in play.
I, Tonya Wat ch trailer(s)
In theaters December 8 (limited)
Margot Robbie looks likely to be an Oscar nominee for her portrayal of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding in a darkly comedic and unconventional 1990s-set biopic from director Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, Lars and the Real Girl). The film received an excellent reception at TIFF in September, where it was the runner-up for the prestigious People's Choice Award, and it also was one of five best picture nominees for the Gotham Awards. One open issue: can relatively new distributor Neon—which scooped up the film at TIFF for a reported $5 million—successfully mount its first Oscar campaign?
Lady Bird Watch trailer(s)
Now in theaters
Prolific actress Greta Gerwig's first solo outing in the director's chair isn't just a successful debut; it's one of 2017's very best films. A high school coming-of-age dramedy starring Saoirse Ronan that's based loosely on Gerwig's own life, Lady Bird has been greeted by standing ovations on the fall festival circuit, and had the year's best limited release opening last week, grossing an impressive $375k on just four screens. Many experts have it as a certain best picture nominee.
Molly's Game Watch trailer(s)
In theaters December 25
Accomplished screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with this Christmas Day release, a true-story crime drama starring Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom, whose high-stakes poker game caught the attention of the FBI when the Russian mafia attended one evening. The film impressed many critics when debuting at Toronto in September, though some experts find it too slight to be a best picture contender (though it still seems likely to be a screenplay nominee).
In theaters and streaming on Netflix on November 17
Can Netflix score its first best picture nomination despite growing industry backlash against the streaming giant for its practice of releasing films online the same day they hit (a few) theaters? This could be the year. Winning a bidding war, Netflix shelled out a whopping $12.5 million at Sundance to pick up distribution rights to Mudbound, director Dee Rees' adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel that tells the stories of six characters impacted by war and racism in 1940s Mississippi. The streaming service tried and failed to get a best picture nomination a few years ago with Beasts of No Nation, but recent comments from Netflix's Ted Sarandos suggest that the company will be mounting a big Oscar push for the film, including its opening-night presentation at AFI Fest earlier this week.
Phantom Thread Watch trailer(s)
In theaters December 25
Another film that has yet to be screened for anyone (it had neither a final title nor a trailer until a few weeks ago, and reportedly is still undergoing editing), Phantom Thread is the second collaboration between director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Daniel Day-Lewis following 2007's There Will Be Blood, a best picture nominee (and one of critics' favorite films of the century). The star, in what he has declared to be his final film role, plays a fashion designer in 1950s London. A lot, of course, depends on how the final product turns out, but given the track records of everyone involved, it seems fairly safe to place both the film and Day-Lewis himself among this year's major Oscar contenders.
In theaters December 22 (limited) / nationwide on January 12
If there's a recipe for a multiple Oscar nominee, this holiday release is following it perfectly. The ingredients are quite simple, really: take a true story from the past with ever-pertinent subject matter (in this case, the Washington Post's risky unveiling of government secrets with the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971), add director Steven Spielberg, and enlist Oscar royalty in front of the camera—namely, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, appearing together for the first time. (The supporting ensemble is pretty unimpeachable as well, with Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Carrie Coon, Matthew Rhys, Jesse Plemons, Alison Brie, and a mini-Mr. Show reunion of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross.) It's another film that has yet to screen for anyone, but unless it somehow happens to be a complete dud, it seems like a very safe pick for a best picture nomination.
The Shape of Water Watch trailer(s)
In theaters December 1
The latest inventive offering from Guillermo Del Toro was one of the best films to debut on the fall festival circuit, where it collected the top award at the Venice festival. Working against the film, however, is its genre: it's a supernatural fairy tale, albeit one aimed at adults. Set in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, Water stars Sally Hawkins in a highly acclaimed performance as Elisa, a mute who forms a romantic connection with a creature in a high-security government laboratory. Critics found the film stunning and memorable, and it plays to Del Toro's strengths. As a result, it looks extremely likely to land in the best picture field despite its Oscar-unfriendly fantastical nature.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Watch trailer(s)
In theaters November 10
Another major hit to emerge on the festival circuit, this dark comedy from writer-director Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges) is not only the best film of his career, but also one of the best of 2017. Featuring timely subject matter (that encompasses topics such as police brutality and racism) and a powerhouse lead performance from Frances McDormand (who is a lock for a best actress nomination), Three Billboards has already started filling its trophy case, including winning TIFF's coveted People's Choice Award. Make no mistake: that's a big deal in awards season. Over the past decade, every single English-language People's Choice winner has gone on to receive an Oscar best picture nomination.
Wonder Woman Watch trailer(s)
Now on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming:
In a year with multiple box office blockbusters that scored big with critics—including Logan and War for the Planet of the Apes—the one that seemingly has the most potential to sneak into the best picture race is Patty Jenkins's record-setting hit Wonder Woman. There's no guarantee that a superhero film will win over the Academy, and Woman will face tough competition from the aforementioned films as well as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok (both of which are being promoted for consideration by Disney). An unexpectedly strong showing by the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi could also complicate matters, since the Academy tends to reserve most (or all) of its best picture nominations for more serious fare. (Remember, even The Dark Knight failed to score a best picture nomination.)