It’s already been a few weeks since Marvel Studios’ Black Panther made history by becoming the first superhero comics property to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. That was just one of seven nominations, which also set a record for a superhero film.
Granted, superhero and comic book movies have always had a tough time at the Oscars, whether they’re ignored in terms of nominations or have to settle just for a nomination. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is one of the bigger winners with Oscars, having won five Oscars out of nine nominations. Even so, it didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, nor a nomination for Nolan. David Ayer’s Suicide Squad might not be hailed as one of the better superhero movies by many, but it did win an Oscar for Achievement in Film Make-Up and Hairstyling. Plenty of superhero movies have received nominations in the Visual FX category but only Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 has won the Oscar in the category. Same with Sound Editing and Mixing where plenty of superhero movies have been nominated but only The Dark Knight has converted a nomination to a win.
There were plenty of categories where Black Panther was noticeably absent for nominations including a directing nomination for Ryan Coogler, a nomination for the movie’s Adapted Screenplay, and most of all, for Visual Effects, which many thought would be a given. Fans of the movie enjoyed Michael B. Jordan’s performance as the villain Killmonger, but like with Creed, Jordan still hasn’t been honored for his acting.
Black Panther still received seven Oscar nominations, which is quite amazing for a comic book/superhero movie, but it has a lot of stiff competition in all of those categories, and who knows whether Oscar voters are ready to honor a blockbuster superhero movie even with technical awards.
This might be the best chance the Marvel Studios movie has at winning an Oscar, because Ruth E. Carter’s costumes were more than just the various Black Panther suits but also the colorful tribal outfits seen in the Wakanda and other scenes. It’s been a long time since any comic-related movie has even been nominated in this category, and that was 1989’s Dick Tracy. It’s also generally thought that actual costume dramas tend to win this category, and there are two in the running this year with The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots, either which could spoil this category for the Marvel movie.
This Oscar category often goes hand-in-hand with three others: Costume Design, Cinematography or Visual FX, because it denotes a gorgeous and colorful movie, which Black Panther most certainly is. There are two other movies that also have Cinematography nominations (The Favourite and Roma) and Black Panther was snubbed for Visual FX, but we’ve seen many other big-budget blockbusters win in this category including Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road a few years back. Black Panther’s Production Designer Hannah Beachler is a first-time nominee but her work on the look of Black Panther is unmistakable, and that could make the big difference-maker here against fi lms that are generally stronger in the Oscar race (aka Roma and The Favourite).
This is another category where big budget action movies often do very well, because the category mainly pertains to sound effects work, whether it’s adding explosions, Foley or other things that help make action movies feel more authentic, especially when so much is being done in computers. Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both were nominated here, as were a couple Star Trek movies, and two of the three Hobbit movies. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight won an Oscar in this category in 2008, beating Marvel’s Iron Man, and Nolan’s sound guy Richard King won twice more since then. Other action movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Bourne Ultimatum have also won in this category and even one of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies got a sound editing nomination. Black Panther has a really good shot to win in this category with its biggest competition being Damien Chazelle’s First Man, a generally-liked biopic that has received three other tech awards and its sound effects work might be its best bet at an Oscar. It’s also good to note how many times this Oscar has gone to the same movie that won for Film Editing, and only Bohemian Rhapsody is nominated in both categories. (Note: John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place won the MPSE Golden Reel Award for Effects and Foley, so that’s probably Black Panther‘s biggest competition at the Oscars.)
Unless you’re a sound engineer (which is something I’ve also done over the years), it might not be too obvious how this differs from Sound Editing. It’s actually quite simple, because this Oscar is for the technicians who balance all the different sounds you hear in a movie: music, dialogue, sound effects, etc. Very often, the two categories are lumped together, so movies like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Inception, Mad Max: Fury Road, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and others have won both of the sound awards. This Oscar also often goes to musicals since how the music is mixed is often easier to determine. That might give a slight advantage to Bohemian Rhapsody or A Star is Born, but if Black Panther wins for Original Score, there’s a chance that it could take Sound Mixing as well.
Ludwig Göransson’s music for Black Panther also seems like an obvious place for the movie to score another Oscar – pardon the pun. Like BlacKkKlansman composer Terrence Blanchard, this is Göransson’s first Oscar nomination, going up against Nicholas Britell, scoring his second Barry Jenkins film If Beale Street Could Talk, previous winner Alexandre Desplat with his score for Isle of Dogs, and multiple nominee Marc Shaiman for Mary Poppins Returns. Shaiman’s five previous nominations (between the song and score category) might make him a favorite, especially since it’s the score for a musical, but the power of Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk might win over Oscar voters, especially with the absence of the film in the Best Picture nominations and other categories. (Note: Bohemian Rhapsody won the BAFTA for Sound but Black Panther wasn’t even nominated.)
Original Song “All the Stars”:
Although the Kendrick Lamar and SZA song was nominated for two Grammys — the score was nominated for one, as well — it didn’t win any, though neither did the Lady Gaga song “Shallow,” which was also up for Grammy and is thought to be a favorite in this category. In some ways, this might be deemed as the consolation prize for A Star is Born and possibly the only nomination it converts to a win. While “All the Stars” was popular, it didn’t have quite the same impact as “Shallow” did in Bradley Cooper’s movie, so expect that to win.
That brings us to the big one, the Oscar that every filmmaker and studio wants to win, and that’s Best Picture, which as mentioned earlier, Black Panther made history by being the first superhero movie to be nominated in that category. There are definitely things working in Black Panther’s favor, including the fact that it was the highest-grossing movie of the lot, but also its win at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards for Best Ensemble means that many actors appreciate what the cast Coogler assembled brought to the movie. Since actors make up the biggest branch of the academy, percentage-wise, one can probably assume that many of them might pick Black Panther, but it does have some direct competition from Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman in terms of the socio-cultural significance it brings to the Oscar race.
What makes Black Panther winning Best Picture doubtful is that director Ryan Coogler wasn’t nominated for his direction, nor was the adapted screenplay nominated for an Oscar (and no acting nominations either!) which is usually a sign that not all the Oscar voters cared enough for the movie to nominate the movie in other categories. The movie also wasn’t nominated for Cinematography and Film Editing, two major below-the-line categories that are often necessary to even be considered a Best Picture frontrunner.
To recap, I think the chances of Black Panther going home with two or three Oscars is a fairly safe bet, although the movie generally has strong competition in each category from non-superhero movies. We’ll have to see if those supportive of the genre (and the fact that more people in general saw Black Panther than the other Oscar nominees) might help it out on Oscar night.
Then on top of that, there’s a very good chance that Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse might win the Animated Feature category, so it’s going to be a good weekend for comic book/superhero movies.
The 91stAnnual Oscars takes place Sunday, February 24, starting at 8pm on ABC.