BATMAN’S FAILURE a decade ago just might vault his DC teammate Wonder Woman to success today.
As the 2018 Oscars nomination balloting concludes Friday, it bears noting that no true superhero film — including 2008’s acclaimed “The Dark Knight” — has ever been nominated for the best-picture prize.
Yes, despite all the attention paid to the box-office domination of superhero cinema in recent years — six of the top 11 films in 2017 sprung from caped comic books, for instance — the spandex set still cannot quite get invited to the biggest dance.
Sure, superhero movies have received dozens of nominations for music and makeup, sound and score, but best picture has proved elusive even for well-regarded hits such as “Superman” and “Iron Man.” The nominated 1985 drama “Kiss of the Spider Woman” had a far better shot politically than any of the “Spider-Man” movies; 2004’s stellar “The Incredibles” had to settle for best animated feature (as well as sound and screenplay nods); and it was a biting satire of the superhero-performance business, “Birdman,” that actually won the big Oscars prize in 2015.
The irony, of course, is that “Birdman” so smartly played off star Michael Keaton’s history as a big-screen Batman, kicking off the second wave in superhero film. And the extended success of Batman on screen led to perhaps the best superhero film ever, Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”
Up until “The Dark Knight” (for which Heath Ledger received a posthumous Oscar), as fans know, only five films were nominated for best picture each year. And it was the outcry over “Dark Knight” being snubbed in 2009 that, many industry observers believe, led the academy to expanding the best-picture nomination field to a maximum of 10 titles.
Which brings us to today. The “Dark Knight” rule change hasn’t benefited a superhero film — yet. But 2017 offered two hugely popular superhero movies — “Wonder Woman” and “Logan” — that merit serious consideration in the best-picture race.
What marks Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” and James Mangold’s “Logan” are not simply stellar performances with great chemistry and engaging action. Both beautifully shot films nod openly to their influences from other genres. “Wonder Woman” borrows from screwball comedies and the derring-do adventure of Indiana Jones, and “Logan” aesthetically quotes Westerns such as “Shane” and Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy.
Such genre cross-pollination might make both films more appealing to academy voters who otherwise wouldn’t look twice at superhero fare.
And “Wonder Woman” has the intangibles of timing that could elevate its chances. On Thursday night, Jenkins presented a Critics’ Choice award to her “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot. That moment reflected history — this is the highest-grossing film ever by a solo female director — and the future, with Gadot speaking onstage about the challenges lie ahead in this #MeToo era.
Working in the favor of “Wonder Woman,” too, is that no clear front-runner has yet emerged from the awards season.
Over at Forbes, Mark Hughes’s handicapping of the best-picture race suggests that four films are locks for nominations (“Call Me by Your Name,” “Dunkirk,” “The Post” and “The Shape of Water”), and two more titles are “highly likely” to join them (“Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).
That leaves four more slots maximum. Hughes includes “Wonder Woman” among seven films that could well vie for those spots — even as he says that he thinks only eight nominees will get the call this year.
That gives “Wonder Woman” a narrow window for success. But then again, the most iconic female superhero is long accustomed to beating the odds — even if she must push some of the old guard aside to triumph.