Why Don't Superhero Movies Win Oscars?

Superhero Oscars - Statues, Captain America's Shield and Doctor Strange with statue

For more than 80 years, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have released their Oscar nominations for outstanding achievement in various categories. Movies are considered for categories ranging from Best Director to Best Costume Design - with the top five receiving a nomination in each one (top ten in the area of Best Picture). This year was no different as The Academy unveiled its choices for the 89th Annual Award show taking place on February 26th.

The whole event is generally unsurprising. Except for the occasional snub or social controversy, there usually aren't too many reasons to complain in regards to the actual selections. However, one thing remains constant about the Oscar nomination announcements: the superhero fan community often feels left out - and for good reason. Since its inception, the Academy has handed out 2,947 awards - only 10 of those went to actual superhero movies. They were, however, nominated for 48 awards across several different categories.

For the most part, superhero movies are generally considered to be moneymakers, not award winners - at least not in the categories general audiences follow: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. If the Academy recognizes a superhero movie at all it will be in the technical categories such as Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Cinematography.  A few even manage to snag the coveted nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyle.

Superhero Oscars - Team Cap - Captain America Civil War

While frustrating, it's not remarkable that the Academy would overlook these movies. For a long time the only superhero movies available to judge were Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Batman and Robin, and Hulk - not exactly what many people consider to be award-winning material. Despite several setbacks in quality and reception, studios continued to push forward with superhero movies (dozens of them), until the quality of the films began to increase dramatically.

Costumes, direction, screenplay, acting, dialogue - eventually, the quality and scope of everything associated with superhero movies rose exponentially. With six superhero movies releasing in 2016, a few optimistic fans hoped that this could be the year a "cape movie" could actually break into the ranks of the elite. Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad and Doctor Strange - each of these movies brought hope to studios and comic book fans alike that one of them would surely fly away with a gold statue.

Many felt the scripts for Deadpool and Doctor Strange were superior enough to earn nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, while Civil War and Strange seemed poised to compete in the area of Visual Effects. Unfortunately, the Merc with the Mouth and "Battle at the Airport" (a.k.a. Civil War) were completely shunned, as was Batman v Superman, which could've been nominated for either Best Original Score or Visual Effects. The biggest surprise had to be the nomination given to Suicide Squad, which got an (arguably well-deserved) nod for Best Makeup and Hairstyle. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly the Oscar haul fans had been hoping for.

When Christopher Nolan delivered an outstanding action/drama (that just happened to be based on a comic book), it earned a place on the Best Picture nominees list, which had been expanded to allow for 10 movies after falling ratings put pressure on the Academy to include movies that general audiences had actually seen. It was a token move on their part, as nothing from the excellent Dark Knight trilogy managed to earn Nolan a slot on the Best Director list - though Batman Begins and The Dark Knight did collect 2 awards from 9 nominations. Arguably, the outstanding work Anthony and Joe Russo did on Civil War and Scott Derrickson's masterful handling of Doctor Strange could've easily been considered for a Best Director nomination.

Superhero Oscars - Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton from Doctor Strange
Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor discuss their Oscars training.

The Academy wouldn't have been out of line giving any of these movies nominations to recognize a technical achievement. Even X-Men: Apocalypse had better visual effects than nominated Deepwater Horizon. But with all the amazing talent in the "big four" categories - Actor, Actress, Director, and Picture - it's highly unlikely any of last year's crop of super-movies could've cracked the top five.

The Academy tends to hold the present slate of superhero movies accountable for the poor performances of past projects - sort of a "sins of the father" - style prejudice. However, long gone are the days of cheesy, machismo-dripping David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury and hulked-out poodle dogs. Superhero movies, as a whole, have entered into a new, more interesting era. One where the story lines and dialog have matured, offering viewers something more than mere "popcorn escapism."

No one is saying the other movies currently nominated are somehow unworthy of acclaim. Clearly, each of those films are excellent and award-level in their own right. What we are asking is: When will the Academy begin to recognize that superhero movies have grown up?

The problem most likely lies with the Academy's demographics, since as of 2012 the median age of voters was 62 - not, traditionally, the audience that has the most passion for superhero movies. Comic books have always been pigeon-holed as a children's property, and it make senses that label would carry over to any subsequent big screen endeavors. That misguided labeling certainly isn't dispelled when every superhero movie has its own mega toy line.

Deadpool - Oscars
Deadpool deserves an Oscar nomination for Maximum Effort

Deadpool was respected enough to pick up nominations from the Golden Globes and the Writers Guild but, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Academy didn't deem the movie deserving of their last Best Picture slot - only 9 films were nominated out of a potential 10 spots. Sure, Deadpool would pretty much serve as another token space filler, but it would've been a step in the right direction for fans longing to see their favorite genre get some validation from the Academy.

For now, the dream of having a superhero movie break through and crash through into the top tier rests on the shoulders of this year's crop of movies: Lego Batman, Logan, Power Rangers, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Justice League. Based on its most recent trailers and early buzz, Logan looks as if it could be the strongest contender to lay claim to a golden statuette. The fan community is crossing its collective fingers that Old Man Logan will be able deliver. Surely, that's not too much to ask?

Next: Oscars 2017: The Biggest Snubs Of The Year

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