Superhero Movies Don’t Have to Win Oscars

Shared Universe Continuities Isn’t the Mark of Success

(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in to the latest installment below and check out the estevious ones by clicking here.)

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, and as with every year there’s always a bit of griping from mainstream film fans that the movies they loved from the past year aren’t well represented. It should come at no surprise to us though that the likes of superheroes and genre entertainment are still marginalized by the likes of The Academy, but every year there’s still some blowback. “I guarantee Guardians of the Galaxy and Winter Soldier are better than most of the movies up for best picture,” said one comment on our nomination story last month. “I wonder when a comic movie will be nominated for best picture?” pondered another. “Marvel movies will never have a best supporting Actor……hahahahahahahahahaha why so serious?” spouted one troll. But why do we feel this need for blockbusters to gain such prestige? Why does it matter to us that it wins?

Over the past few years, most of the super hero films nab just one, maybe two nominations. This year Guardians of the Galaxy is nominated for Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling and Achievement in Visual Effects, while Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past both only were nominated for Achievement in Visual Effects, and that cover the bases for essentially every major super hero movie of the past decade. “Avengers,” Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, they all grab the same nominations, but there’s always a glimmer of hope that one can break the seal. The Dark Knight almost managed it with eight nominations, though Best Picture was not one of them, and if The Dark Knight can’t make it to that tier then there’s little hope for the foreseeable future of superhero movies to do it.

That said, I go back to the question, why do we want so badly for these films to win? It’s a case of justification and reinforcement in our tastes clearly. We want the entertainment we love to be acknowledged as being truly among the “best” of that year’s offerings. People look to The Academy as the be-all-end-all to the answer of “Is this a good movie?” and sometimes they’re wrong, too. Plus, don’t the box office records tell us that these movies are good? Bad movies certainly make bank too, but you don’t get the gross of The Dark Knight or The Avengers unless there’s something really special going on on the screen. Something that connects and lasts with people, and something that isn’t easily replicated for the sake of winning an award.

This time last year, people were ready to write off Guardians of the Galaxy entirely, but it went on to become the second-highest grossing film of the year domestically, the third-highest rated Marvel movie (just behind Iron Man and The Avengers) on the Tomatometer with a 91%, a sequel coming in two years, and two Oscar Nominations. Those things don’t just happen, they’re signs it was great. The film doesn’t need a Best Picture Oscar or even nomination for us to see that. “Guardians” spoke to people in a way that other movies don’t. It’s an experience of pulp joy and sheer spectacle, and a shiny trophy won’t change how it makes you feel.

None of this, of course, is to take away from the accolades that these movies have bestowed upon them. Guardians of the Galaxy also managed a Writer’s Guild nomination for Best Adapted screenpaly, a distinction it shares with just four other comic book based movies (The Dark Knight, A History of Violence, American Splendor, and Ghost World). Another comment from our Oscar nominee story read: “I think Captain America 2 should have been nominated for one of the “real” awards. It had a better script than Inherent Vice for sure.” There’s nothing wrong with a film only being nominated for and winning technical awards. Just because it wasn’t given a nomination for its script, acting, or even “Best Picture,” doesn’t devalue the achievements it has earned with the other nominations. There’s no such thing as a better award in this case, and they’re all “real.”

I understand the frustration with all of this. There’s a faux-sense of superiority in some circles wherein the movies typically nominated for Academy Awards are viewed in a higher regard and as “real movies.” That’s not true. Don’t think for a second that it is. Like the things that you like and don’t worry about what an anonymous group of folks think is better. Should one day The Academy decide to reconsider their stance on populist entertainment and start handing out nominations to our favorite masked heroes that will be great, but for now, it shouldn’t bother you that (insert your favorite superhero movie here) wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. You love it and that’s all that should matter.