Why Do Superhero Movies Never Win Oscars

Background Information

Superhero movies had their humble beginnings in the 1930s. The early films were produced at a very low budget, and existed mainly for entertainment. The golden age of comic books, which was the 1950s and 60s, saw the popularity of superhero films increase significantly. Soon after this, the genre has evolved into a billion-dollar industry, due to its increased popularity, technological development and promotional campaigns. Superhero movies are now big Hollywood blockbusters, backed by a huge marketing push. But despite their success, these films rarely win at major awards shows like the Oscars.

Data and Expert Perspectives

Data presented by The Numbers in 2015 revealed that of the 4,027 submissions for ‘Best Picture’ in the 88-year history of the Academy Awards, only a scant 86 films were based on comic books. Out of those 86 submissions, none of them won the coveted ‘Best Picture’ award. This statistic seems to suggest that the Academy judges simply view superhero films as being merely entertainment, rather than award-winning material.

The Academia’s opinion of the genre is supported by a poll conducted in 2019 which involved Academy members themselves. The poll revealed that 80% of them did not view superhero films positively. When the same group was asked to vote on which film should win the ‘Best Picture’ award that year, the winner was not a superhero movie, but rather it was a more traditional period piece drama.

This general consensus of the Academy is shared by various esteemed film critics, like A.O. Scott, who has openly criticized superhero films on numerous occasions as being ‘too escapist’ and ‘not interesting’. He believes that these types of movies ‘lack the complexity and nuance necessary to win major awards’.

Insights and Analysis

It’s worth noting that while superhero movies rarely achieve critical acclaim in the form of major awards, they still remain extremely popular among audiences. The success of the Marvel universe at the box office is a testament to this. Movies such as ‘Avengers: Endgame’, ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ all made over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, becoming some of the highest grossing films of all time.

This suggests that even if the Academia doesn’t recognize superhero movies as being ‘Oscar-worthy’, there are still plenty of fans that love and enjoy them as thoroughly entertaining movies. This is perfectly understandable, as superhero films often feature some amazing special effects and thrilling action sequences that can provide a great escape for viewers. Even though they may lack in storytelling or artistic achievement, they still remain popular due to the sheer spectacle and grandeur of the films.

In summary, it’s clear that the reason why superhero films rarely win major awards is because of the Academia’s opinion of the genre. It’s still possible for these films to emerge with nominations and wins, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, due to the Academy’s disapproval of the genre.

The Academy’s Perspective

In order to understand why these films are not viewed favourably by the Academy, we must look at the criteria for a movie to win the ‘Best Picture’ award. The Academy’s official website states that the main criteria for a movie to win the award includes artistic merit, originality and storytelling. Superhero films rarely meet these criteria due to their adherence to formulaic narratives and the usual predictable structure of a hero’s journey.

In addition, most superhero films often feature over-the-top action sequences which, while thrilling to watch, do not exhibit any real artistry, or push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. Conversely, films that do capture the Academy’s attention like ‘The Artist’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ exhibit an impeccable level of artistry, detail and intricate storytelling which surpasses even the most lavish and spectacular of superhero films.

These films also often feature stories and characters which are far more complex and nuanced than the average superhero film. This is because the genre does not usually explore darker themes or delve into psychological trauma, which many films like ‘The Revenant’ have managed to do. This kind of sophisticated storytelling is exactly what the Academy is looking for in a ‘Best Picture’ winner.

The Effect of Superhero Movies on the Industry

Despite the Academia’s lack of recognition, superhero films have still managed to have an overall positive effect on the film industry. Movies like ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Deadpool’ have not only proved that the genre can produce films that feature higher artistic ambitions and sophisticated storytelling, but they have also pushed the boundaries of what a superhero film can be.

The success of these films has opened up new avenues for ambitious filmmakers to explore, allowing them to tackle complex and challenging themes, or to craft unique visual experiences which could rival even the most prestigious of Hollywood blockbusters. The success of superhero films has also allowed Hollywood to open up new markets around the world, and to reach an even bigger audience with its films.

The genre has also proven to be a great source of inspiration for many other movie genres. For example, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) highly successful formula for crafting a connected narrative universe has been copied by various other franchises, such as DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

Likewise, the success of ‘Deadpool’ has also resulted in a surge in R-rated comic book adaptations, with ‘Logan’ becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. This has further shown that when done right, a superhero movie can be just as good as a more traditional Oscar-winning drama.

The Damage Caused by the Academy’s Attitude

The Academy’s opinion of superhero films has resulted in a negative effect on the industry, as movies are judged inappropriately. Movies like ‘Black Panther’ were subjected to a lesser degree of critical examination, as it was assumed that they were merely made for entertainment, rather than for artistic or narrative ambitions. This attitude has resulted in these films being unfairly judged, as well as being deprived of recognition for any real achievements that they might have managed to accomplish.

Furthermore, this attitude has caused a great deal of harm to the genre itself, as it reinforces the idea that superhero movies are merely ‘popcorn flicks’, designed only for entertainment value. This is a damaging notion which belittles the genre as a whole, and one which should not be tolerated.

At the same time, this lack of recognition can make it difficult for superhero films to be taken seriously. Even when a superhero movie does rise above its genre and succeeds in creating a compelling story or eliciting a powerful emotion, these achievements can be overlooked or dismissed due to the Academy’s prevailing opinion.

The Future of the Genre

Despite the issues that the Academy currently has with superhero films, there is still hope for the future of the genre. Movies like ‘Joker’ have proved that the genre can produce powerful and artistic movies that are worthy of the Academy’s attention. Likewise, the recent success of ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ has shown that beloved superhero characters can be adapted in innovative and visually stunning ways.

The success of these films also raises the prospects that future superhero movies could win major awards in the near future. Movies like ‘Black Panther’ are continuing to break down the barriers between the genre and the Academy, while auteurs like Jordan Peele (‘Get Out’) and Martin Scorsese (‘The Irishman’) are creating superhero movies with their own unique visual styles and artistic visions.

Ultimately, the genre has come a long way since its humble beginnings, and it is now well on its way to becoming a genre that can win major awards. We may still be some time away from that reality, but each year brings us closer to it as the genre continues to evolve and grow.

Vicki Strouth is a life-long film enthusiast, having grown up watching classic cinema in her childhood. She has since gone on to pursue writing about films and movie news, with her work being published on various online platforms. She is passionate about supporting independent filmmakers and highlighting important stories from around the world. She has also written a successful book about classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Age era. Vicki currently lives in Seattle, where she continues to explore films of all genres and eras.

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