Until a few years ago, comic book movies weren't really considered in the more 'prestigious' Oscars categories, but that is all changing. Logan and Black Panther have both made waves in recent years (Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominations, respectively), and this October’s Joker is poised to continue the trend.
Lead actor Joaquin Phoenix is eyeing up some of the big prizes with his unsettling and critically acclaimed performance as Arthur Fleck. A struggling clown and aspiring stand-up comic, Arthur finds himself brutalised by life in Gotham City, and begins to transform into one of the most feared villains of all time.
With that in mind, there are numerous comic book classics that unjustly lost out at the Oscars. Here are four of them, plus a recent release that we hope does well in the not-too-distant future...
1. Superman (1978) for Best Original Score
Before comic book universes and the rivalry of DC and Marvel was ever a thing, Superman wowed cinema audiences, and really made everyone believe a man could fly. It even managed to pick up some prestigious Oscar nominations, and a win for Best Visual Effects in the now defunct ‘Special Achievement Academy Award’ category.
While clearly these nominations were, and indeed still are, an incredible achievement, in hindsight it is staggering that the film did not win for its incredible and iconic score. John Williams, the legendary composer of so many memorable film scores, was the man who defined Superman in a musical sense.
At the time, Williams was coming off a hot streak that had seen Oscar wins for Jaws in 1976 and Star Wars in 1978 (he was also nominated for Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the same year as Star Wars).
Perhaps the Academy wanted to spread the love a little bit (the Oscar ultimately went to Giorgio Moroder for Midnight Express), but there’s no denying that the Superman score was arguably the most deserving soundtrack that year.
2. Batman (1989) for Best Supporting Actor
Like Superman 10 years prior, Tim Burton’s visionary comic book adaptation Batman achieved a measure of awards success. The film collected Oscars for Best Art Direction for Anton Furst and Peter Young, both of whom delivered a dazzling and vividly Gothic depiction of Gotham City.
It is, however, the masterfully unhinged performance of Jack Nicholson as The Joker that unfairly missed out. Even now, it is in the acting categories that superhero or comic book movies seem to be overlooked, but there is no denying that Nicholson’s captivating turn as the Clown Prince of Crime was deserving of a nomination, and perhaps even a win.
Of course, this trend was later broken by another Joker performance, with Heath Ledger posthumously winning the award for his turn in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
It is one of the more remarkable things about this character, that every single actor who has played him has brought something different to the role. And while the wackiness of Nicholson’s Joker is worlds apart from the terrifying malice of Ledger’s Joker, it is still a performance that brilliantly blends mirth and menace.
Can Joaquin Phoenix clinch the Best Actor Oscar for the forthcoming Joker movie? If so, he would become the first Joker star to do so, and indeed the first-ever comic book performer to win in the Best Actor category.
3. The Dark Knight (2008) for Best Picture
Until Black Panther, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight held the record for the most wins for a comic book movie. In addition to its Oscar wins in the Supporting Actor and Sound Editing fields, it also posted Oscar nominations for Art Direction, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Make-up and Editing.
Yet staggeringly, The Dark Knight failed to pick up nominations in the two biggest categories, Best Director and Best Picture. It was of course the aforementioned Black Panther that finally broke the mold, but many believed that it should have been broken back in 2008.
Even now, The Dark Knight is a remarkable achievement, still holding one of the top places in the IMDb top 250 films list, and considered by many as the greatest superhero movie of all time. With hindsight, this is perhaps the biggest comic book movie snub of them all.
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4. Wonder Woman (2017) for Best Director
For many, Wonder Woman was the film that finally proved the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) could compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). So it is perhaps surprising that Wonder Woman didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination, even in the tech categories where comic book films are usually guaranteed some recognition.
While the stunning visual effects should’ve been awarded, it would’ve also been great to see director Patty Jenkins recognised. One of the most shocking statistics about the Academy Awards is that in its 90-year history, only five female directors have ever been nominated in the directing category.
It would’ve been a progressive step in the right direction to not only nominate Jenkins based on merit, but also to recognise a superhero film that placed a female hero at the forefront.
And one recent comic book movie that we hope does well at the Oscars...
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
It is of course never too early to start speculating about the 2020 Oscars season. And while it is almost guaranteed that Avengers: Endgame will pick up plenty of nominations in the ‘below the line’ categories (effects, sound editing, sound mixing et al), it could even surprise some of the naysayers.
Just imagine if it picked up nominations in the acting, directing and even best picture categories, bettering the success of Black Panther.
As the culmination of a cinematic event spanning over 10 years, it is possible that the Academy will choose this year to honour the whole of the MCU so far, by dishing out some of the big prizes to Endgame.
It could be a similar situation to that of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which saw Return of the King pick up a staggering 11 Oscars and make up for the Oscar ‘lapses’ that had greeted the previous two movies. By that measure, Endgame could be the one to watch next year, scooping the Oscars that, by rights, many of the earlier MCU movies were also entitled to.
If early reports are anything to go by, we could even see a DC versus Marvel head to head in Lead Actor, with rumours that Robert Downey Jr. may be campaigning for his performance as Tony Stark, and of course Joaquin Phoenix possibly being in the running for Joker.
Now that’s an Oscar race we could be excited for.
Sarah Buddery is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.