It’s been commonly assumed for months that Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s The Revenant and David O. Russell‘s Joy, 20th Century Fox releases that will open side by side on 12.25.15, will probably be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. But now it’s becoming more and more accepted or presumed that Ridley Scott‘s The Martian is a serious contender also. Three big-deal, year-end movies from the same studio vying for Best Picture — only the third time in Hollywood history.

Grantland‘s Mark Harris reminds that Paramount was in the same position in ’74 (or actually early ’75) — The Godfather, Part II, Chinatown (tied for the most nominations) and The Conversation were all nominated for Best Picture.  Joshua Rothkopf points out that Fox also pulled this off in 1979: All That Jazz, Breaking Away & Norma Rae.

The Inarritu seemed like a foregone conclusion after the first trailer popped but expectations about the Russell have surged in the wake of reactions to a Joy research screening that happened last Wednesday, one of those being that Joy is not a spirited dramedy a la Silver Linings Playbook but more or less a straight drama in the vein of The Fighter. And now everyone seems to be saying that The Martian, which opened nine days ago, will become a Best Picture nominee also.

The latter won’t won’t win because you can’t give a Best Picture Oscar to a scientific-minded Jerry Bruckheimer ensemble rescue movie, but it’ll probably be nominated.

The result is that 20th Century Fox is now obliged to contend with a historically unusual situation. It’s been 41 years since Paramount had three of its films nominated for Best Picture, as noted. When was the last time that a distributor even had two of its own films vying against each other, so to speak? Answer: See Kris Tapley‘s post below.

It’s even more interesting when you consider that The Revenant, Joy and The Martian are three different kettles of fish.

The Inarritu is a rugged survivalist period drama that will apparently be propelled by eye-popping, drop-dead cinematography and allegedly intense performances. The Russell is also a survivalist drama but one set in recent times, of course, and focused on a single mother, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence), trying to push a self-designed product in a tough business environment. And The Martian, as noted, is off on its own planetary orbit — a smirking, half-comedic, lighthearted sci-fi entertainment that constantly reassures the Joe Popcorn crowd that everything will work out, and which never really comes to grips with the soul-stifling solitude and despair that Matt Damon‘s character would naturally have to contend with. But a lot of people are insisting that The Martian is Best Picture material so whom am I to say otherwise?

You can also presume that The Revenant and Joy will deliver two formidable Oscar acting campaigns — Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor and Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress, respectively. There’s also a fair-to-decent chance that Damon might find himself in the Best Actor race against DiCaprio. Not to win, of course, as this is DiCaprio’s “due” year, but a Damon nomination…well, it won’t hurt anyone.

The double Christmas Day opening, however, seems a little curious. If I was running the show at Fox I would be exploring the possibility of opening The Revenant or Joy a little bit earlier, perhaps on 12.4 or 12.11. To give both films a little breathing room. Thoughts?