Logan has done the seeming impossible and garnered a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, a first for a superhero film. The 90th Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, bringing 2018's awards season into the final stretch. Overall, the nominees were a decidedly strong offering, with little in the way of egregious inclusions or major snubs. The details will be picked over for weeks to come, but for now, let's celebrate one of the most interesting nominees of the day.
Logan, James Mangold's neo-Western take on Wolverine, surprised many awards experts by picking up a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green (American Gods). This unexpected delight is a wonderful cherry on top of the cake for the film, which set box office records and earned rave reviews. It had picked up various critics’ awards – including being chosen by the National Board of Review as one of the best of 2017 – and Patrick Stewart had scored a few nominations from critics’ circles in the Best Supporting Actor category. Still, landing any kind of Oscar nomination would have been unexpected. For it to happen in a screenplay category is not only thoroughly deserved but a major step forward for the superhero genre.
Superhero films and other such big-budget blockbusters aren’t necessarily absent from the awards conversation. They make their presence known in the expected technical categories, most frequently in Best Visual Effects, but they tend to be limited to that side of the industry. Whenever we discuss the possibility of, say, an actor in a film like this getting a nomination, or the director’s work being recognized, it’s almost always in a speculative fashion with little certainty of it actually happening. We pitched in favor of Mark Hamill getting a much-deserved nomination for his work in Star Wars: The Last Jedi while knowing full well it probably wouldn’t happen.
When it came to Logan, while Fox put a lot of force behind its campaign for the film, it floundered in comparison to star Hugh Jackman’s other contender of the season, The Greatest Showman, a flashy crowd-pleasing musical that’s far more in line with the Academy’s tastes. That’s one of the reasons this screenplay nomination packs such a punch: it was completely unexpected but completely earned.
Why Logan Got Its Oscar Nomination
Superhero movies tend to be more focused on action than character or plotting. This isn’t a knock against the genre, but a reminder of how such films are created for the widest audiences possible, where English speaking nations aren’t the sole primary target. Logan was a more esoteric effort in that regard – smaller budget, R-rated, more downbeat and visceral in its approach – which allowed it to be more developed in its screenplay. But it still had an uphill climb towards landing an Oscar nomination. Superhero and blockbuster screenplays just don’t get nominated that often. Even Christopher Nolan, a total game changer for the genre, couldn’t get recognition for the work he did in writing The Dark Knight.
It’s the kind of work that’s seen as aiming towards the lowest common denominator, and thus is unworthy of attention. It already made all the money, why would it need awards too? As the gap between blockbusters and more traditional adult-oriented awards fare grows ever larger, it becomes harder for that gap to be bridged. A movie like Logan to some viewers, regardless of how good they believe it to be, will always be seen as “just a comic book movie”. This is a similar bias leveled at science-fiction and fantasy films, as well as broad comedies and animation. That Logan bucked this trend and was viewed on its merits, both as a superhero film and a movie unto itself, is a breakthrough for the genre. It’s all the more notable given how Wonder Woman, a film very much of the moment that had a major Oscar campaign behind it, didn’t make an impact.
Related: Why Logan’s Ending Is Perfect
What Logan's Oscar Nomination Means For The Superhero Genre
It can be hard to analyze what nominations like this mean for the Academy and the industry in the long-term. The Academy’s voter base has greatly diversified over the past two years, particularly along lines of gender, race and age, so it could be argued that this younger base of members are less beholden to the biases of their elders. The success of Jordan Peele’s satirical horror Get Out among this year’s nominations also hints at a bigger paradigm shift that would allow for genre films to be taken more seriously by the most prestigious awards base in Hollywood.
Superhero movies dominate the landscape of cinema, and the blockbuster has moved into a new area of critical prestige. With that, our expectations of what such movies can and should do has increased, so why shouldn’t awards bodies follow suit and acknowledge that? Logan was one of the best films of 2017, and it deserved to be framed as such. That the Academy also thought so means change is in the air. That's not to say the writers should be making space on their shelves for a little gold man anytime soon – alas, the odds for a victory are not in their favor – but a nomination like this carves a new path for the genre going forward.