Too often, superhero movies are overlooked for awards presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Being deemed below cinema, they don’t get their deserved praise from even the most acclaimed of critics.
Regardless, the argument still stands.
While superhero films do get recognition for their feats in the technical department, like visual effects or sound, the list usually ends there. As a result of this compartmentalization of the films, the genre has become a niche for audiences. Even films like Spider-Man: No Way Home and The Dark Knight, which are otherwise praised so highly by critics, are consistently ignored by the Academy for its highest honor.
Here, we take a look at some superhero films that should have been recognized for Best Picture.
Disclaimer: This article reflects the author's views and contains spoilers about the films mentioned.
The Avengers to Man of Steel: Superhero films that deserved the highest nomination at the Oscars
1) The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Despite what critics have said about this Spidey entry, the film was a visual and emotional rollercoaster. It detailed the journey of Peter Parker battling the fierce Electro and the dastardly Green Goblin. Parker learns more about his family’s history with Oscorp and stumbles upon some unfortunate truths.
In a sad ending, Spidey fails to save his girlfriend Gwen Stacy from his enemy. As a result, he steps down from the mantle of Spider-Man and renounces his title for a long period of grieving.
What makes it a Best Picture contender is its ability to transcend superhero spectacle. Not every superhero film has a happy ending, which is why it remains a stand-out in the genre to this day.
2) The Avengers
This was the film that saw the Avengers teaming up the silver screen to fight off Thor’s brother Loki from an alien invasion. The superhero group sets aside their differences in the ultimate buddy-super film that gives every hero the same amount of screen time, much to the satisfaction of viewers.
The film scored high on the spectacle quotient, which earned it the status of being the classic that it is today. The sheer scope and poetic virtuosity that each actor lends to the screen is almost impossible to ignore. This alongside the overarching heroism makes the film everything a Best Picture needs to be.
3) Avengers: Infinity War
Here we have another Avengers entry, this time with more grit than the last. In the film, the heroes face Thanos, their deadliest villain yet, who plans to wipe out half of all life in the universe using the power of his gauntlet and infinity stones. The Avengers are forced to do everything in their power to stop him, but unfortunately, the mad Titan wins in the end.
Much like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, this is a vibrant superhero film that doesn't end happily for the characters. A gigantic body of work, this movie culminated into one of the greatest superhero films that resonated deeply with fans. The utilization of every hero is a wonderful sight to behold, making it a strong contender for the Best Picture nomination.
4) Avengers: Endgame
Yet another Avengers-centric film comes to light on this list.
This was the film that set high standards for the MCU. The heroes resume their beef with Thanos and time-travel back to when and where the infinity stones are, leading to the biggest and most epic battle in superhero history.
Not only was it a box office hit, it also surpassed Avatar as the highest grossing film temporarily. The film decorated its narrative with everything a superhero fan could ask for, and proved to be just another missed opportunity for the Academy.
5) Spider-Man: No Way Home
The film kicks off with Peter Parker trying to cope with his identity after Spider-Man is exposed by Mysterio in the previous movie. Parker enlists the help of Doctor Strange to make people forget that he was the web head. However, the spell goes haywire and brings a multitude of villains and heroes that know Spidey’s identity.
Easily the greatest Spider-Man film ever made, this film had an element of nostalgia. Bringing Garfield and Maguire back brought about a rousing fanbase to come together for this third chapter of Tom Holland’s MCU Spidey, and should have been enough to snag a Best Picture nod. Alas, the film was left unrecognized for the nomination.
This was probably the biggest shocker to X-Men movies. Fans saw something of an adaptation of Old Man Logan on screen. The Wolverine is taking care of an ailing Charles Xavier with the help of the sun-allergic Caliban. The Reavers attempt to descend upon them after a young X-2 seeks shelter with the small group.
The film serves as a defining chapter of the X-Men series and was an emotional ride between father and daughter, student and teacher. While, admittedly, it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, it failed to get the nod for the Best Picture itself.
This film is often credited with creating a resurgence for the character of Batman and the superhero genre. Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) comes face-to-face with his nemesis and assassin of his parents Jack Napier a.k.a Joker (Jack Nicholson). The clown prince of crime attempts to take down Batman in a final showdown at a chapel.
One of Tim Burton’s masterpieces, the film had the gothic exuberance and german expressionism that bounced right off the screen for viewers. It brought about the darkness that has always belonged in the Batman movies. To be fair, without this movie, there would be no Christopher Nolan's Batman. That’s why it was so surprising when nothing apart from its art direction was shown love at the Oscars.
8) Man of Steel
This may be one of the most underrated movies on the list. Fans are treated to another origin story for Superman. The hero prepares to fight the exiled supervillain Zod (Michael Shannon) as the villain attempts to turn Earth into a new version of Krypton.
Easily the most action-packed entry in the DCEU, performances by Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon in this film are some of the best in the universe. It’s yet another superhero film that packs an emotional wallop. Director Zack Snyder’s gray landscape and realistic take on Metropolis also deserves praise. Sadly, nothing came of the film during the Oscar season.
The original Superman film was what really started it all. Clark Kent crash lands on Earth and is forced to cope with the regular life of a teenager after his planet Krypton is destroyed. Meanwhile, a villainous Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) attempts to exploit the hero using his only weakness: Kryptonite.
This was one of the first box-office superhero flicks that made the genre such a delight. It truly marked the beginning of superhero films being initiated into cinema and made audiences regard these movies seriously. The film was nominated for Best Music, Sound and Film Editing. However, it couldn't clinch a nomination for Best Picture.
10) The Dark Knight
The final contender on the list and easily the most deserved. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) dons the black costume again, facing off with a psychotic killer (Heath Ledger) running amuck through Gotham City. The Dark Knight must take the Joker down after the villain threatens to kill a civilian for each day Batman refuses to take off his mask.
What makes the film so brilliant is not its action sequences, but Nolan’s intellectualistic writing. When Joker is being interrogated by the hero, he claims that they are both similar but on différent ends of the coin, capturing the duality in each character. In short, this was the Gone with the Wind of superhero films. The film was selected for the National Film Registry in 2020 but never got the chance to win Best Picture.
Hopefully, superhero films will be looked at as more than popcorn entertainment in and get their due at the Oscars in the near future.
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