Before the 89th annual Academy Award nominations were announced last Tuesday, there had been considerable chatter among both industry insiders and movie fans alike that Deadpool, the foul-mouthed superhero film that grossed nearly $800 million at the worldwide box office, could score a Best Picture nomination.
The movie had already garnered two Golden Globe nominations, including one for Best Picture, so the idea did not seem so far-fetched. Once the Oscar nominations arrived however, Deadpool was shut out of the highest honor in Hollywood, marking the umpteenth time in a row a critically and popularly acclaimed superhero movie is shunned by the Academy.
While the news proved certainly disappointing for all those movie buffs that hope the Oscars will one day recognize comic book adaptions as worthy cinematic additions to the pantheon of film lore, it should also be a reminder that the one film in recent history that had the greatest impact in the way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences conducts its business was a movie about a grown man flying through a city in a bat costume.
The film in question is, of course, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Upon its release nine years ago, it was instantly hailed as perhaps not just the greatest superhero comic book adaptation ever, but one of the finest crime thrillers to grace the silver screen in years. Awards chatter naturally followed. In a year in which many Oscar bait, yet relatively unmemorable movies were released (Frost/Nixon, anybody?), hopes and odds were high that Christopher Nolan’s film would become the first superhero movie to ever be honored with a Best Picture Oscar nomination. In the end, The Dark Knight would prove to be the picture the Oscars needed, but not the one they deserved.
Now, usually when a movie wins the Best Picture Oscar it will either receive a box office boost (if the picture in question is still in theaters), or will gain considerable prestige, encouraging more people are inclined to seek it out. Rarely, if ever, is the winner directly responsible for affecting the way the Academy conducts its business. For a movie that was not even nominated to have an influence on future Oscar nominations was practically unheard of, yet that is what The Dark Knight accomplished.
As one studio distributor said before the nominations went live:
“People like to forget, but one of the reasons we have more than five best picture nominees is that everyone said they should have given one to ‘The Dark Knight'."
But, it gets better. Not only did The Dark Knight force the Academy’s hand to expand the field of Best Picture nominees to 10 the following year, but it was also responsible for the Oscars' slow fade into cultural oblivion, a path it still seems bent upon today.
By expanding the Best Picture category, the Academy has ended up actually hurting its cause rather than helping it. Some of the movies that have received a Best Picture nomination in the years since have been undoubtedly good, but have they really been Oscar worthy? Should The Blind Side or Les Miserables have more prestige than Singin’ in the Rain or 2001: A Space Odyssey, because the former are Best Picture nominees and the latter are not? Or, has the Academy’s expansion diminished the importance of a Best Picture nomination, now that less-deserving movies manage to sneak in?
What used to be an immense honor before is certainly regarded — by the paying audience at least — with a little more caution now that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will forever be a Best Picture nominee. Similarly, it poses such questions as, “If 10 movies are the limit for Best Picture nominations, why wasn’t The Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers given the last slot in 2012?"
Heck, why not give the tenth and final slot to Deadpool this year if only to come full circle in the Oscar’s amends to snubbing a superhero movie all those years ago?
With continually declining TV ratings, a cry for a more equal race and gender representation on screen, and the knowledge that a movie does not even have to win an Oscar in order to become monumentally influential, superhero movie fans — from Marvel to DC — should take comfort. In this new age of the comic book, the Oscars no longer has the final word.
Do you think Deadpool should have a Best Picture nomination? Let us know in the comments section.