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12 Years a Slave Could Win Best Picture, but About the Box Office…

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave, Twelve Years a Slave Fox Searchlight

12 Years a Slave will leave the box-office challenge of bringing down Gravity to the new Carrie remake. The Brad Pitt-produced drama, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, and featuring Pitt in a supporting role, has its own fight to fight.

Based on the memoir of a free black man of the mid-1800s sold into captivity, 12 Years a Slave emerged from September's Toronto Film Festival as the leading Best Picture favorite of Oscar oddsmakers. Opening in theaters Friday, the film has been met with near-universal critical raves that praise its power—and sometimes warn of a "harrowing," "horror-movie" experience.   

Is that a combination that's going to be good for awards, but bad for business?

NEWS: How Brad Pitt championed 12 Years a Slave

12 Years A Slave Theatrical Trailer Youtube

Not this weekend, and maybe not ever. 12 Years a Slave was expected to do well, perhaps very well, in its limited-release debut at 19 theaters.

Going forward, BoxOffice.com was calling for the $20 million drama, which goes nationwide on Nov. 1, to hit $90 million overall domestically.     

"It may be a tough subject matter, but when handled well…films that are tough to sit through can still be commercially successful," BoxOffice.com editor Phil Contrino said via email.

NEWS: Madonna blasted for texting during 12 Years a Slave premiere

Schindler's List, director Steven Spielberg's Holocaust drama, was up to the task, becoming a surprise box-office hit of 1993. United 93, the white-knuckle account of 9/11, which lacked for Spielberg's brand name, did solid business versus its Hollywood-cheap budget in 2006.   

Just this past year, Kathryn Bigalow's Zero Dark Thirty, itself a tough sell due in part to its torture scenes, made fully 90 percent of its domestic box office after it secured a Best Picture nomination, per BoxOfficeMojo.com stats.

Still, the path to success for the supposedly difficult movie is not easy. Last weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported, 12 Years a Slave played to a roughly half-filled (or half-empty) auditorium of Academy members.

NEWS: Brad Pitt predicts 12 Years a Slave will have "continuing impact"

12 Years a Slave, Twelve Years a Slave Fox Searchlight

"Every story written about this movie begins with the word 'brutal.' And I suspect that description might initially keep some people away. Initially," an Academy member told the Times. "But this is a movie people need to see, and I suspect most members eventually will."

And so long as the awards-season buzz keeps buzzing, then art-house director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) will have the most widely seen movie of his career. 

"12 Years a Slave will be helped immensely by the fact that many are crowning it as the film to beat when it comes to the Best Picture Oscar," Contrino said.

PHOTOS: 12 Years a Slave at a glance

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