When the nominations for the 91st Academy Awards are announced on Tuesday, at least one Oscars contender could make history: Disney and Marvel Studios' "Black Panther," directed by Ryan Coogler. It could be the first Best Picture nomination ever for the superhero movie genre.
For Marvel the Oscars have been an epic disaster. Marvel superheroes have racked up many triumphs, but Disney's blockbuster-maker has never won an Oscar. In a 10-year history that has raked in more than $7 billion at the U.S. box office and $17 billion globally, its total nominations — 10 — are barely more than Warner Bros'. "The Dark Knight" reached this number on its own in 2008. Even when Marvel has received an Oscars' nod, it predominantly has been in the visual-effects category.
"The Dark Knight" is the superhero reference that Oscar watchers have been invoking. The groundbreaking Christopher Nolan superhero film won two Oscars — including Heath Ledger's posthumous Best Supporting Actor award — and was nominated for eight, including several marquee categories, but was snubbed by Oscar voters in the Best Picture race.
Public backlash led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to expand the potential Best Picture nominee list to a maximum of 10 films in 2009. Even so, art-house flicks continue to dominate the Best Picture category. A "popular" film hasn't won Best Picture since Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" in 2003.
"The fact that the change to 10 possible Best Picture Oscar nominees was made to allow for a film like 'The Dark Knight' to have a shot at a nomination shows that at least there has been an acknowledgement of the importance of superhero films and the brilliance of the filmmaking that make them so appealing to audiences and critics alike," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Comscore.
Disney hired Oscar strategist Cynthia Swartz to oversee "Black Panther's" Oscar campaign, according to the Los Angeles Times, and Marvel Studios' president Kevin Feige even backed an awards season budget for the first time, wanting director Ryan Coogler and the cast, including Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, to receive the recognition he feels they all deserve.