This article was originally published on Viking Social Agency on March 2, 2019
Marvel Studios has seen an unprecedented climb in popularity in the last eleven years. They were able to turn a film like Iron Man into the groundwork for a franchise that has gone on to earn over $17 billion, and yet it’s taken them eleven years to earn an Oscar. Superhero films are nothing new to the world of cinema, but there is no denying that there is a larger presence of them since 2008. Once upon a time, one or two would come out in a year, now it’s upwords of five. While audiences have embraced these films with open arms (and wallets) the Academy Awards still hesitate to recognize them.
Franchise films and major blockbusters have historically had trouble being seen at the Academy. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King, with it’s eleven nominations and eleven wins (including Best Picture) was the exception, not the rule. Sometimes the Academy will throw in a nomination for a film like Avatar (Lost to The Hurt Locker) or Inception (Lost to The King’s Speech) but they won’t seriously consider them for the award.
The geek community has campaigned for years to get superhero films in the Best Picture category. The Dark Knight, Wonder Woman, and Logan had the loudest support around it. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is one of only three superhero films to ever win an Academy Award, Best Sound Editing and a posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor, Heath Ledger. To this day, Heath Ledger is the only actor to be nominated for playing a comic book character, once again proving to be the exception and not the rule. The other two films to win were Spider-Man 2 for Best Visual Effects, and Suicide Squad for Best Makeup and Hair-styling.
There are more superhero films then ever being put out by studios, all trying to capitalize on the success of Marvel, but even with that as the case, when they are nominated, it’s mostly for the technical awards. Superhero films will often find themselves nominated in maybe one or two categories, more often than not, Best Visual Effects. Before this year, Marvel studios only had eight films nominated for an Academy Award: Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy. All eight of these films were nominated for Best Visual Effects and lost each time. On paper the VFX award should be easy to win for a genre that relies so heavily on it. Black Panther is the first superhero film to be nominated for best picture.
Originally it was clear that the Academy wanted to give Black Panther a nomination but couldn’t justify giving it a Best Picture nomination, so they would create a new award: “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”. Black Panther would clearly win this award and everyone would go home happy. Shortly after this announcement was made, the Academy decided against creating this new award and nominated Black Panther for Best Picture anyway.
While the nomination felt disingenuous, many were wondering if superhero films finally broke the glass ceiling that is the Best Picture category. Black Panther’s nomination was helped by the significant cultural reaction, being one of the few major superhero films with a diverse lead. Wonder Woman was pushed for the award for a similar reason. Looking forward, Captain Marvel is the next film that could potentially make cultural waves. A nomination is unlikely based on the track record but it would be interesting to see if Black Panther has changed the rules and wasn’t just an exception.
In the end Black Panther was nominated for seven awards and walked away with three wins: Sound Editing, Costume Design (first win by an African American in that category) and Original Score. While the awards it won might not seem that important to the average movie goer, they could potentially open the door for more, and recognition for the genre.