Jennifer Lopez's 'Hustlers' sparks Oscar buzz as box office banks on another J-Lo hit

J. Lo’s money moves in her latest film role could nab her an Oscar.

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The actress, singer and dancer is getting praise for her role in “Hustlers” out in theaters Friday, in which she plays a savvy stripper out to seek revenge on deep pocketed Wall Street clients amid the 2008 stock market crash. Film critics rave the grit and realness she brings to the role makes it her best one yet, and could land the star her first Academy Award nomination.

Movie critics praised Lopez's performance in "Hustlers," where she play the ring leader of a group of strip club workers out for revenge on their Wall Street clients alongside Constance Wu.

“It’s very possible that she could get an Oscar nomination this year,” Joe Neumaier, a film critic and New York radio host of “The Movie Minute,” told FOX Business.  “I was surprised by the movie.  When movie roles capture that gritty and sort of honest part of her, those are the roles and the movies that really stand out.”

"I was anticipating it to be sort of like ‘Show Girls,’ but it was a little more like ‘Good Fellas’ -- one of the biggest compliments you can give to it."

- Joe Neumaier/Film Critic

What a night!!! #hustlersmovie

A post shared by Jennifer Lopez (@jlo) on

The female-led film, directed by Lorene Scafaria, has been called “one of the best movies about American money in recent memory,” by  Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson.

And it’s expected to make money at the box office to – a projected $24 million on its opening weekend, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Oscar hype has brought renewed attention to Lopez’s lucrative film career. She rose to movie stardom for her lead role in “Selena,” the 1997 musical drama in which she portrayed the late Mexican singer Selena Quintanilla. The film was an instant hit, raking in $35.3 million at the time, or the equivalent of closer to $60 million today when considering ticket price inflation, according to Box Office Mojo.

Lopez got her big break in "Selena," the 1997 musical drama in which she portrayed the late Mexican singer Selena Quintanilla.

Then, in the early 2000s, Hollywood carved out more light-hearted romantic-comedy roles for the actress. Lopez bought a realness and relatability to otherwise predictable plot lines Neumaier says audiences flocked to.

“Even in ‘Monster-in-Law,' or ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’ – they’re forgettable titles, but she was always in this other realm that gave those movies a dramatic spine, even if they were the lightest of light, like ‘The Backup Plan,’ Neumaier said, adding that he sees the same edge in her character Ramona in “Hustlers.” “This movie really takes advantage of that and plunks her down into a setting or a story that utilizes her toughness, and yet also her charm.”

And it pays off in the box office.  “The Wedding Planner” brought in $60.4 million in 2001, the year she landed a No. 1 movie and a No. 1-selling album for “J. Lo” in the same week. “Maid in Manhattan,” in which she played a hotel maid who falls in love with a high-profile politician raked in a whopping $82.9 million.


Actresses can sometimes find it hard to break out of the Rom-Com genre, but J. Lo’s versatile acting ability has always shown through, Neumaier says, noting some of her more serious roles like “Enough,” the 2002 thriller based on the novel “Black and Blue” about an abused wife who learns to fight back. Then there's “Out of Sight,” the 1998 Steven Soderbergh crime comedy in which she starred alongside George Clooney in. The film received Academy Award nominations of Adapted Screenplay at the time.

Of course she’s had some misses. There’s the infamous “Gigli,” she starred alongside her ex, Ben Affleck, that grossed only a reported $6.1 million.

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck attend the premiere of "Gigli" in Westwood, Calif., July 27, 2003

Now with her “Hustlers” character Ramona, audiences are seeing her portray a seductive and street-smart woman leading a ring of other strip club workers as they find a way out of the business with a money-making scam.

“There’s an opportunity to grab her future for herself, and what Lopez brings to that is an echo of what’s inside of her -- a smart woman, a tough person and someone who said ‘I’m going to go for that brass ring and try hard to get it," Neumaier said.