This morning, Black Panther made history by being the first superhero or comic book film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Fifteen years after The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King became the first fantasy film to take home the statue, and one year after The Shape of Water cleaned house, superheroes have finally broken that glass ceiling to receive a nomination of their own.
This is a big deal. The Academy was so concerned about Black Panther not receiving a nomination that they briefly floated the idea of a Most Popular Film category. They (thankfully) didn’t go that route, which makes Black Panther‘s success all the more impressive. In what can arguably be called the Golden Age of Superhero films, it is stunning that it has taken this long for a film to grab a nomination.
However, it wouldn’t be the first time a superhero film was in consideration for the prestigious award. Black Panther may be the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture (BP for BP, how do you like that?) but it is hardly the first film to deserve it.
Here are my picks for…
10 Comic Book/Superhero Films That SHOULD Have Been Nominated for Best Picture
This 1988 post-apocalyptic cyberpunk anime classic tells the story of Kaneda, a leader of a biker gang whose friend gains awesome and terrible telekinetic powers. If that sounds familiar, its because Chronicle ripped it off. Often imitated but never duplicated, Akira has a style all its own, with incredible, hand-drawn animation and a climax that borders on the insane. The film had a massive impact both in Japan and globally and was a key influencer for films like The Matrix and Inception. If someone is telling you about a classic anime, and they’re not talking about Miyazaki, they’re probably talking about Akira, and for good reason.
In the year 2000, superhero films weren’t really a thing. Sure, Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) were well received, but they had fizzled out with sequels that “killed the genre.” So you can only imagine how people reacted when M Night Shyamalan followed his masterpiece, The Sixth Sense, with Unbreakable, a slow, meditative deconstruction of the concept of a Super Hero. The story is that of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a security guard who survives a fatal train crash without a scratch. He is contacted by the brittle-boned Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson), who believes that he might be superhuman.
Half a decade before Christopher Nolan stepped into the arena, Unbreakable was the definition of a grounded superhero film. The movie was a modest success but nothing compared to what the genre would become. Unbreakable was a film before its time. However, since the rise of the superhero (or because of it), Shyamalan has been allowed to return to the world he created with Split in 2016 and Glass just last week. There has never been a better time to revisit Shyamalan’s hidden gem.
Road to Perdition
Road to Perdition is the movie your Dad liked but didn’t know it was based on a comic book. Directed by Sam Mendes, who had previously won every Oscar for American Beauty, Road to Perdition is a cold, brutal American crime story about a mob enforcer and his son who flee after the son witnesses a murder.
Starring Tom Hanks in one of his darker roles, alongside the late Paul Newman and a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig, Road to Perdition is possibly the most stunningly beautiful film on this list, with its cinematography by Conrad Hall nabbing the film its only Academy Award. The film was nominated for six awards in total, including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Newman, Paul and a Best Original Score for Newman, Thomas, but in a year packed with films about crime and grit in major cities, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York getting a nom and Chicago winning the award, the Academy felt there was no room for this comic book movie.
When you ask someone what their favorite superhero movie is, everyone will name a live-action film, but ask anyone what they thought of The Incredibles and I doubt you’ll find anything short of adulation.
The Incredibles burst onto the scene in an era when it seemed Pixar could do no wrong. At the time, Pixar was held as the gold standard of studios, crafting perfectly structured, family-friendly tales, with fully realized worlds, and rich, lovable characters. And The Incredibles was no exception.
Set in a world of superheroes (or ‘Supers’, as they call them), the film asks what happens when a superhero is forced to retire. Bored with domesticity and a world that doesn’t appreciate his talents, Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible leaps at the opportunity to moonlight as a hero behind his wife Helen/Elastigirl’s back. When his life and the safety of the world is in jeopardy, its up to Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl to save the day, along with their kids Violet and Dash.
Simultaneously a golden age superhero adventure and a mid-life crisis drama, Brad Bird’s leap into CG animation presents a story that is absurdly confident in every step. Every scene is present and every character has an arc. It’s a beautiful movie to look at and to listen to with Michael Giacchino’s first film soundtrack deserving Oscar recognition on its own.
The 2005 Best Picture nominees were a bunch of safe picks (The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways, and Million Dollar Baby taking the gold), and it’s hard to imagine why the Academy chose not to nominate this masterpiece. The film did win Best Animated Film but that was a gimme. The film deserved to be up there with the greats.
Better, deeper, and more emotionally nuanced than the original, Spider-Man 2 presents a hero in crisis. No, this isn’t an Avengers situation where the fate of the universe is in peril; instead, it’s a more intimate affair with Peter Parker trying to balance work, school, his responsibilities to his ailing aunt, his grieving friend, and the love of his life, and not doing any of them well. Oh, and he’s Spider-Man.
What doesn’t come across on the page is the way that director Sam Raimi balances the tone of the film. Partially an intimate character piece, part slapstick comedy, part opera, part horror film, part tear-jerking Christ allegory, part coming-of-age story, and part soaring action adventure, Spider-Man 2 somehow manages to be everything to all people.
It can’t be put into words how miraculous it is that a film can contain this, this, and this and not be a jumbled and confused mess (that would be Spider-Man 3). Instead, we get a film as vibrant and confident and sincere as the pages he left behind.
The film even managed to rank as Roger Ebert’s 4th favorite movie of the year with the legendary film critic hailing it “the best superhero film ever made.” And I agree.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is a film that needs no introduction. Following the calling card in Batman Begins, we once again find Bruce Wayne trying to reel in the crime in Gotham City with the help of the new D.A. Harvey Dent. Nothing can go wrong with Gotham’s White Knight, right? Things take a turn as the world of organized crime is turned upside down by the anarchic Joker.
What can be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said? The Dark Knight was a phenomenon. Christopher Nolan’s crime drama elevated the superhero film to rarified status. It’s easy to forget that at one point, the film was the highest rated movie on IMDb, with many people calling it one of the greatest films of all time, and the first superhero film to be seriously considered for Best Picture. Indeed, The Dark Knight’s omission was the reason the Academy Awards have seven to ten nominees instead of the usual five.
Its fair to say The Dark Knight is the Star Wars of the 2000s, changing pop culture in its wake, and we’re still feeling its effects to this day.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
A bit of a cult classic with this one. Based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley and directed by Geek Film God, Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs the World is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. A Canadian Rock n Roll, video game, kung fu, rom-com. Top that.
Set in the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada, Scott Pilgrim tells the story of Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year old slacker in a band who rocks as much as he sucks. When he starts dating the unbelievably awesome Ramona Flowers, Scott finds himself in mortal combat with her Seven Evil Exes, hellbent to control her love life.
It wasn’t just the Academy that dropped the ball on this one. The movie was a box office bomb when it first came out in 2010. But while general audiences may have missed this film in its first release, the movie is beloved by an extremely vocal fandom and it finds more attention each day. A.V. Club put it in its top 20 films of the decade and Movies with Mikey did a great breakdown of it here.
Scott Pilgrim is a movie that gets better with every subsequent visit. The performances are great (every actor went on to become someone you love), the cinematography is banging, the music rocks and the effects are brilliant. There is nothing in this movie that doesn’t kick ass.
People die and they burst into coins. Checkmate.
What can you say about Snowpiercer? This dystopian sci-fi/action/drama that takes place entirely on a train where the classes are delegated to different cars, with the wealthy at the front eating sushi and the poor in the caboose eating cockroach bars. At this point, you’re either on board or you’re not.
After generations of injustice, Curtis (Chris Evans) decides he has had enough and leads the people in a bloody uprising against the rest of the train.
The film contains strong performances by Evans, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer and the ever-awesome Tilda Swinton. It doesn’t hurt that the film is stylishly directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, director of such films as Okja and The Host.
By this time, the Academy Awards had broadened its nominees to nine films (we are after all living in a post Dark Knight world), and it seems that if Philomena and American Hustle could get a nomination, a dark and gritty sci-fi allegory like something John Carpenter would think up could get a little more love.
When I said before that we were still feeling the effects of The Dark Knight, that has never been more apparent than Logan.
Directed by James Mangold, Logan is a western that sets out to destroy your heart and soul. There is a sense of finality that pervades the entire picture. There are no more mutants. The X-Men are all gone. We only get hints about what happened to them and it ain’t pretty. Wolverine’s healing powers are fading, and he’s sick. His only company is Professor X, the most powerful mind on the planet, losing control of his mental functions and threatening to kill everyone with him.
Things change when Logan agrees to take a little girl to Canada in exchange for money, and in doing so sets off a series of events that will change the course of mutant history and might cost him everything he holds dear.
After 17 years of playing the Wolverine, Hugh Jackman said goodbye to the character that made his career, in a fittingly brutal film with a fittingly beautiful performance. If there were any justice in the world, Logan wouldn’t have just received a best picture nomination, Jackman would have been rewarded with a statue of his own. Or at least a nomination. But as the film tells us, there is no justice. Only sadness.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
That’s right! A film that came out this year is more deserving of a Best Picture nomination than Black Panther!
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse is the definition of “bold” and “daring.” There is no other film like it this year, superhero or otherwise, and it ought to be respected for that.
I have written about this film before, but suffice to say, the film is amazing, spectacular, and all the other monikers we have given to Spider-Man over the years. Spider-verse tells the story of Miles Morales, a nerdy artistic kid in Brooklyn who finds himself teaming up with Spider-men, women, pigs, and robots, to stop a super-collider from destroying New York. Boosted by a terrific cast, and outstanding visuals, this isn’t just one of the best films of the year, but one of the best superhero films of all time. In ten years, you’ll see this on a lot of favorite movie lists, I guarantee it.
If the Academy Awards were truly interested in honoring the best films of the year, Spider-verse would be a lock. It’s funny and charming but also dense and original. It is hard to believe that this film came from Sony, the company that brought us The Emoji Movie, but here we are and we’re better for it.
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