Hollywood's mainstream fare returned to the Oscar limelight this year.
Hits from the leading studios fared especially well in Thursday's Academy Award nominations, which handed honors to the likes of "The Martian," "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "The Revenant." Tellingly, the eight 2016 best picture nominees have collectively grossed more than $600 million in the U.S. and Canada so far, according to Box Office Mojo, nearly three times the business last year's contenders did by the time of the nominations.
Five of the eight best picture hopefuls for 2016 are considered big Hollywood studio films: "The Big Short" (Paramount Pictures), "Bridge of Spies" (Disney/20th Century Fox), "Mad Max: Fury Road" (Warner Bros.), "The Martian" (Fox) and "The Revenant" (Fox). The other three potential honorees were released from independent distributors and specialty units owned by the majors: "Brooklyn" (Fox Searchlight), "Room" (A24) and "Spotlight" (Open Road Films).
The studios' strong showing in the Oscar race reflects a record year at the box office, with ticket sales surpassing $11 billion in the U.S. and Canada.
The nominee list marked a contrast with last year's leader , which was largely dominated by specialty arms and indies engaging in less commercial material. In 2015, Fox Searchlight was up for 20 awards (for the likes of "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel") and Sony Pictures Classics secured 18 (for movies including "Whiplash").
Last year, only two best picture nominees were released under the main banner of a major studio: Warner Bros.'s Clint Eastwood-directed war film "American Sniper" and the Paramount civil rights drama "Selma."
This year the studios staged a comeback. 20th Century Fox led its rival studios in Oscar nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony, thanks largely to "The Revenant" (which snared 12 nominations) and "The Martian" (which nabbed seven).
Counting "Bridge of Spies," which the Century City studio co-produced and released internationally, Fox earned an impressive 26 nominations. With prestige label Fox Searchlight's releases including "Brooklyn" factored in, the Fox total rises to 30 for the year.
The nominations are well timed for "The Revenant," a brutal western epic starring Leonardo DiCaprio," which enjoyed a surprisingly powerful wide release at the box-office last weekend with nearly $40 million in ticket sales.
The Walt Disney Co. picked up 15 nods for its releases such as the DreamWorks production "Bridge of Spies," which it distributed in the U.S.; "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"; and Pixar's "Inside Out." Categories for the Steven Spielberg-directed "Bridge of Spies" include best picture, supporting actor (Mark Rylance) and original screenplay.
Warner Bros. came away with 11, thanks to a notable showing from director George Miller's "Mad Max: Fury Road," while Paramount snatched six, five of which were due to the Wall Street dramedy "The Big Short." Universal Pictures banked four nominations for offerings including "Straight Outta Compton" and "Steve Jobs," plus another four from its Focus Features unit (behind "The Danish Girl," starring acting nominees Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander).
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer took credit for two nominees: original song contender "Spectre," released by Sony Pictures, and "Creed," for which Sylvester Stallone is up for supporting actor.
Perennial Oscar players the Weinstein Co. scored this year with nine nominations for movies like "Carol" and "The Hateful Eight," though both were shut out of the best picture race. Additionally, the Weinsteins' Radius-TWC unit earned an original song nomination.
It's the first time since 2008 that Harvey and Bob Weinstein have not had a film in the race for the top honor. The Weinsteins backed past contenders such as "The Imitation Game" last year and "Philomena" the year before that. The company won back-to-back picture Oscars for "The King's Speech" in 2010 and "The Artist" in 2011.
Smaller distributors still made their mark. Indie upstart A24 boasts a robust seven nominations for pictures including "Room," "Ex Machina" and the music documentary "Amy." Open Road Films is close behind with six for the journalism drama "Spotlight."
Locked out of best-picture contention was "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," although it picked up five nods in other categories. Despite love from fans of the original Lucasfilm trilogy and widespread approval from critics, it was not considered a front-runner for the main prize.
The J.J. Abrams-directed blockbuster has broken box-office records around the world. It's the top all-time film in the U.S. and Canada not adjusted for inflation, with $820 million in ticket sales and counting.
Globally, the movie haul stands at $1.77 billion, making it the No. 3 film ever behind "Titanic" and "Avatar."