That doesn’t mean that major films wouldn’t receive a campaign. Any film with a decent studio backing will have some kind of visibility during the season, sometimes with ultimate success but often just as another way to promote the film. Any publicity is good publicity, so being seen to be supporting your film for consideration major prestige is always a good move. That’ll certainly pay off for Wonder Woman on some level, but in terms of it breaking new ground for similar films, that’s another question.
A film that arguably broke ground before Wonder Woman, with a similar narrative, is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. On top of working hard to secure those much-deserved technical nominations, the studio put a lot of effort into focusing on the performance on Andy Serkis as Caesar. For Your Consideration (FYC) advertising appeared in publications like Time, proclaiming the genius of Serkis's performance, with or without technical involvement, and declared "The Time Is Now." Obviously, that didn’t work in securing Serkis a nomination, but it did force the industry to acknowledge the work of actors like Serkis and start a conversation on its merits in the context of the craft of acting.
That’s arguably what Wonder Woman is aiming for – a means to further legitimize the oft-maligned superhero genre in the eyes of an industry that enjoys its profit margins but still balks at giving it serious prestige. Warner Bros. have a good track record in securing a place in the awards slate – remember, they managed to help Mad Max: Fury Road secure ten Oscar nominations, including ones for Best Picture and Best Director for George Miller – which bodes well for Wonder Woman on some level. Where it may help them is not in getting nominations but in keeping their talent happy. Only four woman directors have ever been nominated for Best Director Oscars, with a grand total of one taking home the statuette (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker). Pumping a lot of money into getting Patty Jenkins’s name out there, alongside the expected series of male directors like Alexander Payne and Darren Aronofsky, is a smart move as well as a sign of progress for an industry still hesitant to hire women for such movies. Jenkins has yet to sign on for the Wonder Woman sequel, so this wouldn’t be the worst way to sweeten that deal.
Wonder Woman is one of the most hyped films of the year, and keeping that hype going can be a task for any studio, but adding an awards narrative to the story certainly keeps it moving forward into the new year, especially since most Oscar-friendly fare get releases in the Fall season. Many films ride a cultural wave to the Oscar podium, and Wonder Woman could manage that as the film has become a symbol for women the world over during a tough political time. The Weinstein Company infamously campaigned for the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game by plastering posters with the phrase "Honour the Man: Honour the Film", directly tying giving a movie an Oscar to celebrating LGBTQ rights. By contrast, connecting Wonder Woman's awards hopes to a celebration of women and young girls seems pretty tame.
Warner Bros. are doing quite well financially this year, having already soared past $1bn in grosses thanks to the successes of Wonder Woman and Dunkirk. Giving both an Oscar campaign, but particularly the former, is a great display of power, but it could signal some real change in an industry for whom progress is shockingly incremental. With the Academy adding new, more diverse voters to its membership, which already led to some upsets at this year’s ceremony, the studio could ride that wave of inclusivity, buzz and cultural prescience all the way to the Dolby Theatre. Wonder Woman could continue to break new ground, but for now, the steps being taken to ensure that are merely part of the game.