Motion-Picture: Awards season starts; Dwayne Johnson, Don’t Breathe cash big paychecks

The Oscars may not happen until February, but awards season is already underway in Hollywood and around the world. Denzel Washington is looking to be a prominent force for possibly the next two years, while a scandal surrounding The Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker may deter his award season coronation. Meanwhile, trailers starring Dev Patel and Lupita N’yongo were released for movies that could make a big splash this awards season.

Outside of awards, several actors (and movies) cashed in big this week. Dwayne Johnson is the world’s top paid actor, overthrowing Robert Downey Jr.’s three-year lead. The Rock raked in $64.5 million this year from big projects like Fast and Furious, San Andreas, Central Intelligence and the upcoming Baywatch. He leads Jackie Chan’s second place $61 million. Shah Rukh Khan is Bollywood’s highest-paid actor, cashing a paycheck of $33 million and ranking eighth worldwide.

Still, Dwayne Johnson isn’t the only one with a big paycheck this week. To see this week’s box office report, awards news and more, read on:

Box Office: Leading the box office this week is Fede Alvarez’s horror/thriller Don’t Breathe, raking in $26+ million its opening weekend. The film is Alvarez’s second collaboration with star Jane Levy (they previously worked on 2013’s Evil Dead reboot) and also stars Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps) and Daniel Zovatto (Fear the Walking Dead). Produced by Sam Raimi, Levy, Minnette and Zovatto play teenagers who try to rob a blind old man’s house and suffer horrific backlash. The movie will overthrow Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad in its three-week reign. It currently holds an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Opening in 811 locations this week is Southside With You, a drama about President Barrack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s first date in 1989. The film stars Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers as the presidential couple. It took in $2.8 million its opening weekend and currently holds a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Drama: In light of a scandal involving its director, The Birth of a Nation’s seemingly inevitable march toward awards season may be jeopardized. Nate Parker, the director and recent recipient of Sundance’s Vanguard Award, will defend himself in court against a rape accusation from a purported incident in 2001. Parker was tried and acquitted for the case 15 years ago, and the accuser committed suicide in 2012. The movie, to be released October 7, is on track to be a success at the box office and awards season, though how this will impact its performance remains to be seen.

Variety has learned that Denzel Washington is in talks to play the lead role in Dan Gilroy’s upcoming legal drama, Inner City. Washington would play a lawyer dealing with changes in his company in a role that could return the two-time Oscar winner to the forefront of awards season. Washington will next appear in Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven remake, and will direct and star in Fences alongside Viola Davis.

Dev Patel is back with a roar. The Slumdog Millionaire actor will star in the upcoming drama Lion, based on a true story. Patel plays Saroo Brierly, who was separated from his family at a young age and sets out to find them using Google Earth. Sure to be a heavy-hitter in the upcoming awards season, the film will premier in theaters November 25.

The English trailer for Gkids’ Miss Hokusai has been released. The movie follows the real story of O-Ei, the daughter of one of the most famous artists in Japanese history, as she begins to make her own paintings. Gkids has amassed eight Oscar nominations since 2009. The animated picture will see limited domestic release October 14.

Awards/festivals: Lupita N’yongo’s Queen of Katwe will lead the 2016 Urbanworld Film Festival. Directed by Mira Nair and produced by Disney, the movie follows a Ugandan chess prodigy (newcomer Madina Nalwanga) as she participates in a national chess championship. The movie also stars David Oyelowo, who will host Urbanworld alongside Ava DuVernay September 21-25. The movie will release in theaters September 30.

Australia has selected Tanna as its representative in the best foreign-language Oscar category. The Nauvhal-language film already won the International Critics Week Award and best cinematography in 2015. It is the first picture to be fully filmed and take place in the Pacific-island nation Vanuatu. Produced by Lightyear Entertainment, the movie will be released in New York City September 16 before expanding to other locations.

Ahead of the Toronto International Film Festival this September, Indie Sales has acquired Lucia Carrera’s Tamara & the Ladybug. The drama follows a woman with a mental illness (played by Angeles Cruz) who adopts an abandoned child (Angelina Pelaez). The film will also showcase popular culture in Mexico. Carrera has previously directed The Greatest House in the World and Missing Dad.

Comedy: Larenz Tate is scheming his next movie. The actor will star in Business Ethics, a dark comedy about a man who sets out to create a Ponzi scheme in his attempt to be successful. Nick Wernham (No Stranger Than Love) will direct, and Innis Lake Entertainment and Know Rules Media will produce. Tate recently starred in cancelled drama Game of Silence and will also appear in upcoming comedy Girls Trip with Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett-Smith.