By Dave Karger
Updated December 29, 2008 at 12:00 PM EST
Credit: Pitt: Merrick Morton; Langella: Ralph Nelson

This weekend’s box office results bring up a perennial question: Does a movie need to be a commercial hit to score a Best Picture nomination? Certainly poor box office performance helped kill movies like Memoirs of a Geisha and The Kite Runner in the past, while blockbusters like The Sixth Sense and The Fugitive capitalized on their financial success to earn Oscar nods.

This weekend, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button performed strongly with almost $40 million in its first four days, a fantastic figure for what is essentially an art film (granted, one starring Brad Pitt) with a nearly three-hour running time. Meanwhile, Frost/Nixon, despite earning rave reviews, has posted decent but not terrific numbers, grossing $1.5 million over the three-day portion of the weekend in 205 theaters. Despite playing in one-fifteenth the number of theaters as Button, its per-theater average was still the lower of the two. I’ve had a couple friends wonder if the soft box office means Frost has moved down a few pegs in the Best Picture race. Perhaps it’s now the No. 4 contender instead of No. 3 (Milk, which has been doing well in limited release, is on the rise), but I still think it’s solidly in there for a nomination next month.

The question is, should it make a difference? Whether or not The Dark Knight ends up snagging the fifth slot may just provide the answer.

What do you think?