In 2019, Black Panther became the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. This moment was historic for plenty of reasons, but one of the biggest is that a barrier had finally been broken. Reportedly, the Academy voters were not too fond of superhero movies. Hell, these voters probably had the same mindset as Martin Scorsese, who doesn’t feel that superhero movies are cinema. Luckily, superhero films seem to be getting a fair shot in the eyes of Academy voters these days as Joker upped the ante by receiving ten Academy Award nominations including best picture, best director, and best male lead.
However, If the Academy voters truly did have the Martin Scorsese mindset prior to the Black Panther best picture nomination then fantastic superhero films were robbed of taking home an Oscar. One of the biggest films that were snubbed was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which did earn eight nominations; however, mainly for technical awards and a best supporting acting nomination for Heath Ledger’s Joker. However, had the actor not pass away, do you think that the Academy would’ve still given him an acting nod for his tremendous portrayal of the Batman villain? Based on the history of Academy voters ignoring acting nods for big-budget films like this that is likely a no. Notably, no acting or directing nods were given to the Black Panther.
However, before there was The Dark Knight and Black Panther, there was Spiderman 2, which is still considered by many as the best Spiderman movie to date. The big blockbuster film was nominated for three Academy Awards and walked away with one; however, it was technical achievements in visual effects, sound editing, and sound mixing. the Marvel film (which was owned by Sony at the time) came out in 2004 before the superhero craze and stunned critics and audiences alike over the emotional depth the film carried. Spiderman 2 wasn’t just some mindless action film with a group of men wearing Halloween costumes.
The movie did an amazing job developing both Spiderman and Dr. Otto Octavius (or Doc Ock), two men who were battling internal and external demons. Doc Ock wasn’t a generic villain who looked to destroy the world; His life was in shambles after his wife was horrifically killed and his mind was being manipulated by the four mechanical arms controlling him. Peter Parker’s battles lied with the struggle to have a decent life outside of his spidey suit. When Spiderman 2 was released it took fans and critics on an incredible emotional journey just like past Academy winners The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, and Titanic. So, was Spiderman 2 robbed of being the first superhero film to be nominated for best picture? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit here and trash Million Dollar Baby, Ray, The Aviator, Sideways, and Finding Neverland, all are great films, but Spiderman 2 should’ve been a part of that list or the very least taking a spot from one of the nominees.
A great film is a great film, regardless of genre. Despite horror movies rarely getting any love from the Academy voters, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho, Get Out and The Silence of The Lambs broke down those barriers because they’re amazing films. On the surface, 2015’s Mad Max is a big blockbuster movie; however, the action film transcended above the genre and connected on a deeper level. Granted, Mad Max doesn’t have the emotional depth of a Shawshank Redemption or even Spiderman 2; however, the fantastic movie has more going on than what’s presented at surface level. As previously stated, Spiderman 2 was incredible because it’s a nuanced approach to storytelling and it showcased that superhero films can be more than just big-budget action fests. As good as the Black Panther is, the film just isn’t on the level of Spiderman 2 or The Dark Knight. The core of the story was great and to see an all-black cast finally represent a superhero film was amazing, but it just didn’t have the emotional depth that the movies above provided. This isn’t me knocking the Academy’s decision to make the Black Panther a best picture awards contender. It’s me knocking the voters for ignoring past films because they have superhero DNA. The past is the past, so we can’t change the nominees for best picture of the 2005 Academy Awards; however, despite that fact, Spiderman 2 will always be in the history books as one of the greatest superhero films ever made.