The Mad Max Precedent
In 2015, George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road - itself a long-gestating new entry in a sci-fi series - parlayed its excellent reviews into an incredible display on the awards circuit. Among many of the accolades it received, it earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars, a feat even the film's most ardent supporters wouldn't have believed when Fury Road debuted that summer. Mad Max owned the crafts categories a couple years ago, taking home six awards by night's end. It was nominated for four other Oscars, and many believed Miller was robbed of the Director trophy, which was given to Alejandro G. Inarritu for his work on The Revenant.
Blade Runner's best chances for "prestigious" nominations come in those aforementioned Director and Picture categories - as it's highly unlikely the script or any of the performances (however great they may be) garner enough support in their respective branches to crack a top five. Villeneuve actually has a little bit of history with the Academy, as his Arrival earned nods in Picture and Director just last year. He's a filmmaker with his fair share of fans in the Academy, so it stands reason to believe those same people will be equally impressed with his achievements on 2049. While both fantastic in their own ways, Blade Runner is arguably a greater accomplishment due to the sheer scale of the undertaking, and represented Villeneuve's continuing evolution as one of this generation's finest directors. Cinephiles have been vocal about their love of Blade Runner 2049, so that's a positive sign.
Since the Academy expanded the Best Picture field in 2009, there have been multiple instances of other tech giants sneaking into the lineup (Avatar, Inception, Hugo, etc.). While a genre film has yet to take home the big prize under the new format, the Oscars have been less averse to nominating them recently than they were in years of five. In order to receive a Best Picture nod, a film has to hit a certain percentage of first place votes in the nomination process, and if Blade Runner gets as much love in the crafts as we think, it should be able to get in as the "token" genre nominee. With the exception of The Shape of Water, there has yet to be a sci-fi/fantasy film to truly lay claim to that title in 2017, and every once in a while, the Academy can go for two. After all, Mad Max was joined by The Martian. Considering Star Wars: The Last Jedi is strictly a commercial play that only lands with the tech branches, Blade Runner could have a whole corner to itself.
It's also worth considering the evolving membership of the Academy and how that could impact what's considered a "typical" Oscar film down the line. This year, the organization invited several actors involved with high-profile tentpole franchises like the MCU, DCEU, and Star Wars. Those thespians have first-hand knowledge of how much goes into producing a film on the level of a Blade Runner 2049, so they might be inclined to place it on their ballots. Also, the last few years have changed what a conventional "Oscar movie" could be, with Mad Max surprising even WB and Moonlight besting La La Land. There will always by a typical Oscar bait nominee (this year it looks like Darkest Hour), but the Academy is broadening their horizons a bit, which is nice to see. The whole point of the sliding scale is the diversify the field, recognizing a variety of films.
Besides genre bias, the biggest thing working against Blade Runner 2049 is that it underperformed at the box office, grossing just $32.7 million domestically in its first three days. While awards hopes aren't always pinned on commercial prowess, there are certain cases where the financials can impact a film's chances. In 2015, Steve Jobs was an on-paper frontrunner with a dream team of Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin behind it, but it crashed and burned at the box office rather epically and was essentially left for dead (save for two acting nominations). The Martian only turned into a possibility when it became a box office powerhouse. There's an outside chance Blade Runner fades from the public consciousness due to weak showings, but the word-of-mouth will likely keep it afloat.
Ultimately, the passionate response it what's most important. Villeneuve's Arrival wasn't exactly a commercial juggernaut, opening with a solid $24 million en route to a $100.5 million domestic total - numbers that Blade Runner should be able to match or eclipse. The rest of October doesn't have much in the way of direct competition, so if it holds well, it should do respectably - even if it doesn't quite make back its budget in the U.S. In what is shaping up to be a wide open Oscar race with no true favorite emerging after a handful of fall festivals, something like Blade Runner could crash the party and mix things up. With reviews strong enough, a rising filmmaker behind the camera, and the technical branches set to love it, 2049 could end up being this year's Fury Road and score a Best Picture nomination.
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017) release date: Oct 06, 2017