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Superheroes & Oscar. 7 Lessons We've Learned

Last week while reading about The Last of the Mohicans (1992), an astonishing 20 years old now, my mind lept back to early 1993. Even in the pre-internet fueled days of Oscar watching, when we obsessives were fewer in number -- or at least disconnected from each other -- you knew that it was bizarre that such a super, handsome, well acted period epic that made a new Oscar winner (Daniel Day-Lewis) into a much bigger mainstream star would receive only one Oscar nomination (Best Sound). The Last of the Mohicans Oscar performance was shameful but then 1992 was something of a hot mess over at AMPAS largely due to their need to honor Scent of a Woman (wtf?) and the scandal that drowned out the brilliance of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives.

But let's not get distracted from the main point. That happens when we get stuck in retro Oscar loops. 

Past Iron Man films have won Visual Effects and/or Sound Editing nods. Will The Avengers follow suit?

The sound categories generally come up with shortlists that are not unlike every other category's finalists; a mix of  "Most = Best", "Best Picture = Best" and a random genuinely discerning one-off (or two) of the "wow I'm happy they noticed" variety. See, for example,  last season's Drive nomination which was its sole bid.

So while I was thinking about Sound Mixing and Editing and the Oscars I chanced upon this FYC ad*, via Devour and SoundWorks for The Avengers. I haven't embedded it here because it's one of those videos that starts immediately without you pressing play (hate those!) but it's worth a watch if you click over..... Oscar trivia follows!

*Oh relax, literalists! I know it's not an actual FYC ad but that's what all such behind the scenes chats double as! 

As I briefly mentioned in the post script of my Avengers review, Oscar has never been all up in Marvel Studios grill when nomination time rolls around. Will the superpowered global money-devouring success of The Avengers force their (voting) hand.


*includes graphic novels. If I forgot something you'll let me know 

Superman and the Mole Men (1951) -ignored 

Batman (1966) - ignored

Superman (1978) -3 noms (Editing, Score, Sound) 1 special Oscar (Visual Effects). You will believe a man can fly. This is the film that essentially started it all. It was a massive hit and even had a single by Maureen McGovern. Anyone remember that? I remember my big sister playing it on the piano.

Superman II (1980) -ignored
Condorman (1981) -ignored
Swamp Thing (1982) -ignored
Superman III (1983) -ignored
Supergirl (1984) -ignored
Superman IV: A Quest for Peace (1987) -ignored
Batman (1989) - 1 nom/win (Art Direction *won*)
The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) -ignored 
The Punisher (1989) -ignored 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) -ignored
Darkman (1990) -ignored
Dick Tracy (1990) - 7 noms/3 wins (Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Art Direction *won*, Costume Design, Makeup *won*, Sound, Song *won*)... maybe it shouldn't be on this list but I love it.
The Rocketeer (1991) -ignored
Batman Returns (1992) -2 noms (Visual Effects, Makeup)
The Shadow (1994) -ignored
The Crow (1994) -ignored
The Mask (1994) -1 nom (Visual Effects)
Batman Forever (1995) -3 noms (Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing)
The Phantom (1996) -ignored
Batman and Robin (1997) -ignored 
Spawn (1997) -ignored 

X-Men (2000) -ignored
Unbreakable (2000) -ignored
Ghost World (2001) -1 nom (Best Adapted Screenplay)
Spider-Man (2002) -2 noms (Visual Effects, Sound)
Hulk (2003) -ignored
X2 (2003) - ignored
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) -ignored
Daredevil (2003) -ignored
Catwoman (2004) -ignored
The Punisher (2004) -ignored
Spider-Man 2 (2004) -3 noms / 1 win (Visual Effects *won*, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)
Hellboy (2004) -ignored
Elektra (2005) -ignored
The Fantastic Four (2005) -ignored
A History of Violence (2005) -2 noms (Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay)
Batman Begins (2005) -1 nom (Cinematography)

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) -ignored
Superman Returns (2006) - 1 nom (Visual Effects)
Spider-Man 3 (2007) -ignored
Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) -ignored
Ghost Rider (2007) -ignored
Hancock (2008) -ignored
Hellboy II:The Golden Army (2008) -1 nom (Makeup)
Iron Man (2008) -2 noms (Visual Effects, Sound Editing)
The Dark Knight (2008) - 8 noms / 2 wins (Supporting Actor *won*, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Makeup, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing *won*)
Punisher: War Zone (2008) -ignored
The Incredible Hulk (2008) -ignored
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) -ignored
Watchmen (2009) -ignored 

Iron Man 2 (2010) - 1 nom (Visual Effects)
Kick-Ass (2010) -ignored
Jonah Hex (2010) -ignored
RED (2010) -ignored
Thor (2011) -ignored
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) - ignored
X-Men First Class (2011) -ignored
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) -ignored 
The Green Hornet (2011) -ignored 

The Avengers (2012) -TO BE DETERMINED
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) -TO BE DETERMINED
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - TO BE DETERMINED

Lessons We've Learned?  

  1. Oscar likes DC more than Marvel especially if Batman is involved. Which might mean that The Avengers chances -- which look good now due to $$$ -- will be squashed once the Dark Knight returns.
  2. The studios should really give up on The Punisher after trying three times with various actor/director combos.
  3. They don't make superhero movies with female leads and when they do they aren't prestige hero films, they don't get "A" directors and they generally turn out terrible (Supergirl, Catwoman, Elektra)
  4. Oscar has no time for the X-Men. No time at all.
  5. It pays to be first. Batman and Superman are always taken at least somewhat seriously. If the movies are any good, they'll generally thrown them a golden bone.
  6. The three years after The Dark Knight suggest that Oscar is sick of the genre and sick of hearing that they should honor it. Either that or their waiting for Christopher Nolan to complete his trilogy.
  7. The three most superhero friendly AMPAS groups belong to the following professions: sound, visual effects, and art direction.

What do you think we'll see in January as nominations go?
Batman, Spidey and "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" are competing but they won't honor all three. 


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Reader Comments (25)

So that means so far only Ghost World and A History of Violence that have been nominated for their screenplays. Do you think The Dark Knight Rises can get a nod on that?

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike

You forgot Blade. Not that it matters.

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

The Academy's snubbing of superhero movies made sense after that article that came out this past year detailing their demographic makeup. They're a bunch of old fogies, plain and simple. To them comic-books will always be kid's fluff. Occasionally they'll throw some big nominations and maybe a win or two towards one if it's more or less a "crime film" like Dick Tracy, A History of Violence, and The Dark Knight.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthatguy

You forget that Road to Perdition was based on the graphic novel. It got six nominations and one win (Best Supporting Actor (Newman), Best Cinematography*, Art Direction, Score, Sound and Sound Editing. Your also forgot Men In Black which got 3 nominations and one win (Art Direction, Music in a comedy or Musical and Makeup*)

Not that it matters the list also excludes: Men In Black 2, Sin City and Green Lantern

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Gratton

OT—Gene Hackman has rejected an offer to come out of retirement for Alexander Payne's black and white, father and son, road movie "Nebraska". Bruce Dern and Will Forte are the current choices for the principle cast.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

"Dick Tracy", "Batman Returns" and "Spider-Man 2". I could live in a world where those were the only blockbuster comic book movies around.

As for "The Avengers", I think it will fall solely into the realm of visual effects/sound mixing/sound editing. The presence of Iron Man certainly helps since, as you point out, both IM films got nominated for visual effects and the first for sound. Although maybe that will play against it? They *did* ignore "Thor" and "Captain America" after all and maybe they're over Iron Man? If "Thor" couldn't even get an art direction bid....

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

American Splendor was also nominated for Adapted Screenplay.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJan

I want to hear about this 1992 scandal!

Nat, maybe a series on your specific memories/experiences of individual Oscar years? :)

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Jack

The Jack, have you not heard of Soon-Yi Previn?

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Gow

Glenn: The Avengers is so massive that it's probably going to get at least two noms. VFX (obviously) and Mark Ruffalo (he's the only one originating his performance and people are gaga about his work) in Supporting Actor are secured. As for Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises: I'd see, at the very least, Supporting Actress (Emma Stone, who's not going anywhere and deserves a nom by this point) and VFX heat for the former if it's a critical and commercial hit (say somewhere around 90% on RT) and across the board traction for the latter, because it IS going to be a critical and commercial hit, the average joe loves this franchise and the Academy just hasn't bitten hard enough for him to be satisfied.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I love me some Maureen McGovern...but my favorite version of the song is the one where Margot Kidder performs the lyrics like some kind of cracked monologue in rhyming verse. It's both seriously camp and strangely moving.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

Volvagia - Well, Ruffalo's not *secure*. Not at all. I doubt the buzz around his performance will even translate to a BFCA or Globe nom. People may be talking about The Hulk when they leave the theater...but they're talking about THE HULK, not Bruce Banner. VFX and Sound, maybe, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was it.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWalter L. Hollmann

Walter: Really? The newspaper critics are mostly unanimous on the quality of Ruffalo's performance right now and the film's grossed over a billion. Plus, Ruffalo was in a motion capture suit for The Hulk, so you're still watching his movements. I can't see across the board support (too light), but I'll believe this nom doesn't happen when it doesn't happen.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Oh yeah, I didn't realise that the "scandal" was a reference to Soon-Yi. I thought there was some terrible event that happened that I had never heard of. All makes sense now.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Jack

"Persepolis" was also based on a graphic novel, nominated for best animated film.

And I don't see any way that Ruffalo is getting a nomination. People definitely liked him, but there was not a consensus as to who was the best in show, plus you really have to have Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight' type of reviews to pull out a nomination for a movie like this.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

You also forgot Persepolis and its Best Animated Feature nom.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrubi-kun must be a hardcore comic-book fanboy. As good as Ruffalo was and as good as Stone may be, they're not getting nominations. You're living in a fantasy land.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertonyr

Rebecca: That he was getting equally positive reviews to the rest of the cast is very similar to saying he's really best in show. The Academy is going to be uncomfortable nominating someone who's not originating their performance in the film and Ruffalo is the only one in The Avengers who's giving it his first shot.
tonyr: I like comics, but lean a bit more toward the indie stuff. All I'm saying is 1. there's a hugely positive critical response to the avengers 2. a massive gross that'll force, at the very least, the youngest section of the Academy (I'm thinking the Actors might skew a bit younger) to check it out, even if it is a Summer release and a comic book film and 3. a strong audience response that'll encourage voting for it in at least ONE major a kiss-off. I'm thinking his nom is secured here. As for Stone: If she gets her first nom this year, it's a toss up between Amazing Spider-Man and Gangster Squad. Unless critics say otherwise, my guess before having seen either of them is that Gwen Stacy might be a stronger role than Grace Farraday AND it's the right time in her career for a FIRST nom. Why Spider-Man, then? The Gangster Squad is a crime film and the genre...doesn't have the strongest track record with young female characters (forgettable arm candy girlfriends most of the time) while the superhero film, unfortunately for the Academy, has a much stronger track record with presenting more interesting young female characters (Dunst's Mary Jane Watson, Anna Paquin's Rogue, casting Juno Temple in The Dark Knight Rises). If Gangster Squad gets blatantly stronger reviews than The Amazing Spider-Man or the print critics talk about how Emma Stone is genuinely amazing in Gangster Squad, I'd change my guess, but before viewing both of them, I'll go with the superhero film for the nod. Currently, I'd estimate we're about five to ten years away from a Lead Acting nomination for a superhero film.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

...not sure if you're joking or not, but either way it's pretty funny.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRax

Rax: I'm just hopeful. I know in some ways it might be "funny" to hope the Academy might decide to be open to what the mainstream loves, but they SHOULDN'T be completely insular.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I take it you havn't been following the awards circuit for very long. If you have you wouldn't be hopeful and you would know a role like Gwen Stacy or Stone's part in Gangster Squad (looks like a simple femme fatale, nothing wrong with that, but...) just don't have the "right stuff" when it comes to what Oscar goes for.

Same with Ruffalo. He's gotten 'best in show' remarks but nothing like Ledger's reviews. Bottom line is he was very good, but there's gotta be more meat to the performance if Oscar is going to bite.

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertonyr

omg i forgot so many movies. oy.

and have to say there is no chance for a Ruffalo nomination. Not that kind of performance. Lots of fun but fun in a much different way than Oscar fun.

May 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

QUESTION!!! Which PERFORMANCES from comic book-based films do you feel was snubbed of an Oscar nom and deserved one?

I can only think of three: Christopher Reeve (for the first two "Superman" films); Michelle Pfieffer ("Batman Returns") for Supporting Actress and Steve Buscemi for "Ghost World".

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

Am I the only one who is bracing for The Dark Knight Rises to be a mild disappointment? The trailers just haven't been doing anything for me, and as much faith as others have in him, I'm not sure Nolan can avoid the curse of the third movie slump.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEdwin

Just gotta chime in here, I highly doubt Mark Ruffalo is going to get an Oscar nomination for 'The Avengers'. No chance, sorry. It's just not that kind of role. He's a talented actor and it's not a bad performance, but there is no defining moment (Oscar moment) or anything of the like.

If you do a little digging around, you'll find that Gene Hackman got a BAFTA nod for 'Superman' and Jack Nicholson got a GG and BAFTA nod for 'Batman', so I guess there is a tendency to award villains in superhero movies more than the superheroes themselves. IMO, I doubt we're going to see anyone match Ledger's brilliance within a superhero movie. This is just how I see things.

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjwj89
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