By Daniel Howat
“Black Panther” was the highest grossing film in America in 2018, and received overwhelming critical acclaim. Culturally, the film made a huge, lasting impact for representation on screen. Because of all of these elements, “Black Panther” has received a legendary awards push from Disney and Marvel. That push has poised “Black Panther” to break new ground not only for Marvel but superhero films as a whole. Let’s look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s history at the Academy Awards, category-by-category.
The franchise has raked in the money over the years, but the MCU hasn’t had a great deal of success at the Academy Awards. From ten total Oscar nominations, the franchise has netted zero wins. “Iron Man” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” are the only MCU films nominated for more than one Oscar, with two nominations each.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
This is the only category that has seen repeated nominations for MCU films. Out of 17 films released prior to 2018, eight scored nominations for Best Visual Effects:
That means that less than half of MCU films received nominations here. When you look at the films that missed out on nominations, like all three “Thor” films, “Ant-Man” and more, it’s actually a little surprising. It’s a category generally filled with blockbusters, and there are few more popular blockbusters than these.
The category itself has changed since the start of the MCU. In 2008, when “Iron Man” was nominated, Best Visual Effects allowed a maximum of three nominees. The Academy expanded that category in 2010 to allow five nominees.
For the most part, each of these films lost to either Best Picture nominees or more “high caliber” films…
“Iron Man” lost to Best Picture nominee “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“Iron Man 2” lost to Best Picture nominee “Inception”
“The Avengers” lost to Best Picture nominee “Life of Pi”
“Iron Man 3” lost to Best Picture nominee “Gravity”
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” lost to “Interstellar”
“Doctor Strange” lost to “The Jungle Book”
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” lost to “Blade Runner 2049“
“Interstellar” and “Blade Runner 2049,” while not Best Picture nominees scored multiple nominations, and weren’t your typical blockbuster fare. “The Jungle Book,” only nominated for Best Visual Effects, is the only film to beat an MCU with fewer than five nominations.
Overall, it’s a little surprising that “Spider-Man 2” is the only superhero film to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The original “Superman” was also given a special achievement award for visual effects.
In 2018 Marvel has three shots at winning this category, with “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” all of which landed on the Visual Effects shortlist of ten films. It’s pretty safe to count out “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” considering the first film didn’t land here, and it’s massively overshadowed by the other two films. “Avengers: Infinity War” is a very safe bet for its massive scale and extensive effects work. “Black Panther,” though it’s receiving a large campaign, is only a somewhat safe bet. The visual effects aren’t generally well-liked, despite the passion for the film as a whole. Specific sequences, like the train sequence in the climactic battle, look fairly rubbery compared to other Marvel films. Still, it’s likely to land here. If it does, “Black Panther” could still have a significant shot to win because of its high profile and likely other nominations, something “Avengers: Infinity War” won’t have.
BEST SOUND EDITING
More surprising than the fact that superhero films haven’t done very well in Best Visual Effects is the fact that they’ve done even worse in the Sound categories. Clearly, the sound branch isn’t a big fan of the sound work in the MCU.
“Iron Man” scored a Best Sound Editing nomination in 2008, where it lost to “The Dark Knight.” Those are the last two superhero films to score nominations in either sound categories. The “Transformers” franchise has more nominations here than the MCU.
This might not change this year. “Black Panther” has a shot at a nomination here, but it’s hovering between the fifth and six slots. If the film overperforms, it could land MCU’s second nomination in the category.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of the few superhero films to score a nomination for its Makeup, joining “Batman Returns,” “The Dark Knight,” “Hellboy II,” and eventual winner “Suicide Squad.” That’s right, the DC Extended Universe got an Oscar before the MCU did. Alien effects do very well in this category, which apparently helped DC more than Marvel.
“Black Panther” is in very good shape to score a nomination here. It landed on the shortlist of seven contenders. If nominated, it stands a very high chance of winning.
Those are the only three categories that Marvel films have ever been nominated for, but we think “Black Panther” will change that.
No, of course, no MCU film has been nominated for Best Picture. In fact, no superhero film has ever been nominated for Best Picture. Only a few have come somewhat close.
2008, the first year of the MCU, was also the year of “The Dark Knight.” While the Batman film scored a whopping eight nominations (and two wins), many were shocked that the film missed out on a Best Picture nomination, which still only had five nominees. This would help propel the Academy the following year to expand the Best Picture category from five nominees to ten.
Since the expansion, only two superhero films have scored Producer’s Guild of America award nominations: “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther.” “Wonder Woman” was a cultural phenomenon that came dangerously close to a Best Picture nomination. “Black Panther’s” cultural impact seems even greater than that of “Wonder Woman.” After the PGA, SAG Ensemble, Golden Globe Best Picture – Drama, and plenty more, no superhero film, except perhaps “The Dark Knight,” has stood a better chance of scoring a Best Picture nomination. Expect “Black Panther” to be the first this year.
OTHER AWARDS AND FUTURE
No actor has ever come close to an acting nomination for any Marvel film as of yet, and only Heath Ledger has ever been nominated for a superhero film (and he won, of course). This year, Michael B. Jordan hopes to follow a similar trajectory for his beloved villainous turn as Killmonger in “Black Panther.” Many are predicting him to land in Best Supporting Actor this year. It’s not guaranteed, as he missed many precursor nominations, but Jordan has a high profile and could make it in.
In 2014, “Guardians of the Galaxy” received a WGA Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, a major precursor to the Oscar. Unfortunately, that didn’t make the cut. “Logan” became the first superhero film to ever be nominated for either of the screenplay Oscars, receiving a nomination last year for Best Adapted Screenplay. “Black Panther” could break in here, making Ryan Coogler an Oscar nominee. Still, it’s fighting tough competition in the category.
“Black Panther” has a shot at breaking into plenty of other categories for the first time in the MCU. Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s song “All The Stars” landed on the Best Original Song shortlist.
Ruth Carter’s Costume Design still stands as some of the best of the year, and should easily be nominated. It would be the first superhero film nominated. The world-building Production Design feels safe for a nomination too, where it would join “The Dark Knight” & “Batman” (which won this category in 1989) as one of the few superhero films nominated. Ludwig Göransson’s hip-hop infused score faces tough competition but could make it in after landing on the shortlist there. If the film really overperforms, it could land nominations across the board, even in Editing and Cinematography, but those feel less likely.
Despite the expansion of Best Picture to ten nominees (and now 8-10), the Academy Awards still aren’t a spot where blockbusters find much success. While they may try to pander to those upset about this with the creation of the Best Popular Film category, “Black Panther” proves that it’s truly unnecessary. Though there is plenty to complain about during this 2018 Oscar season, we’re watching history unfold. “Black Panther” is breaking new ground for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s also breaking new ground for how superhero films are viewed culturally. This awards recognition can go a long way toward elevating how we talk about blockbusters, treating them as more than simple popcorn fare. Studios will hopefully take notice, and give us more films like “Black Panther” that transcend the genre. Let’s keep hoping for a groundbreaking morning tomorrow for “Black Panther.”
Do you think “Black Panther” will receive a Best Picture nomination tomorrow? How many nominations do you think it will get? Take a look at our final predictions for tomorrow here and let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk