By Nick Maylor
A full decade after The Dark Knight (2008) was snubbed for a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars (an award it should have rightfully won), Black Panther (2018) has shattered the glass ceiling for superhero movies by becoming the first such film to receive the long sought-after Best Picture nomination. Along with six other nominations, the film is going to be a big player at next month’s Oscars.
The birth of the modern superhero film can be traced back (essentially) to Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). Setting the template for everything that would follow, Donner’s film was also the first to receive recognition from the Academy, receiving three nominations (for Best Film Editing, Best Music and Best Sound. In addition, the movie received a special Academy Award for Visual Effects. The road that led to Black Panther’s success can be traced from the seventies onward. Here is a brief glimpse back at the history of the superhero film and the Oscars.
Donner’s Superman is the first major milestone in the superhero film genre and also the first to receive an Academy Award (albeit a Special achievement award out of competition). Although it would take over four decades for a superhero movie to get the Best Picture nomination, many films in the genre have received awards recognition.
in 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman served as the next major tentpole film for the genre. In addition to Jack Nicholson receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (Musical or Comedy), the film would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Anton Furst and Peter Young), making it the first superhero film to win a competitive Oscar.
It would be over a decade after Batman that the superhero film would go through it’s first renaissance with the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000). Starting in the new millennium, many films of the genre took on a more adult-oriented and serious tone. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) was credited for redefining the genre (along with the summer blockbuster) and would be nominated for Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. Rami’s follow-up Spider-Man 2 (2004) is considered to be one of the finest films of the genre, applauded for its relatable themes and epic scale. Many supported the idea that Spider-Man 2 should have received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (based on the comic books) but the more prestigious Oscar categories would elude the superhero film for some years to come.
A huge milestone for the genre came the same year as Spider-Man 2 with the release of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004). The movie won two Oscars; Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing. It was also the first superhero film to be nominated in a writing category, receiving the nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
The film responsible for the popularization of the “reboot” came with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) a masterfully executed origin story that gave more credence to the idea that superhero films could be considered true art. Nolan’s sequel to Batman Begins would shatter expectations further for the genre. The Dark Knight (2008) was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning two; Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger, and Best Sound Editing. While it did not receive nominations for Best Picture of Best Director, many argued that it deserved both. Christopher Nolan was recognized by the Director’s Guild of America for his work on The Dark Knight (2008). Largely due to the perceived snub by the Academy, the Oscars would institute a rule change the following year wherein up to ten films could receive nominations for Best Picture, a decision that is controversial to this day. Regardless, one cannot help but wonder what chances Black Panther would have had this year if the selection for Best Pic was still limited to five entries.
While several superhero films had been nominated for technical awards (particularly in Visual Effects) the next major milestone would come with the release of James Mangold’s Logan (2017) the third and final standalone Wolverine film starring Hugh Jackman. Logan would be the first live-action superhero film to receive an Oscar nomination for writing, receiving a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay.
With the announcement of Black Panther’s Best Picture nomination (an award it could conceivably win), it seems there are few, if any, boundaries left to break for the genre. It couldn’t have come in a more fitting year; as Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Incredibles 2 (2018) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) have also received high-profile Oscar nominations. It remains to be seen how the genre will make out at the ceremony next month, but make no mistake about it; superhero films are here to stay (for now) and are no longer considered merely fluff to watch while digging into a big bucket of popcorn. Black Panther is a masterful film. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Incredibles 2 both have real chances of taking home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. We live in a world where there are no less than 4-5 big-budget superhero movies are released annually. It’s a fascinating and wonderful time to be a “geek”.
To quote a late (and great) pioneer of all that we love about costumed heroes:
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor