‘Hamilton’ Makes Tony History, Joins Pop Culture Elite

Awards dominance can be an exciting thing.

“Hamilton’s” record-breaking haul of 16 Tony nominations this morning was a reminder, if you needed one, that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical is destined to leave a cultural crater.

It got me thinking about the idea of blanket approval, and how warm and fuzzy it can be. The record for Oscar nominations, for example, is 14, shared by 1950’s “All About Eve” and 1997’s “Titanic,” two films separated by nearly five decades. Only eight more films have received 13 nominations, most recently “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 2008, while 12 is slightly more common (in the last several years, films like “The King’s Speech,” “Lincoln” and “The Revenant” have managed it).

Certainly, it can be unfortunate when something ignites the cultural consciousness and just barrels its way through its window, only to burn out. I can’t remember the last time I saw “Button,” while “Avatar” is frequently cited as a flash with minimal ripple effect. But it can be equally electric when you get the sense that something undeniable is happening.

“Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003) share the record for Oscar wins with 11 each. When best picture presenter Steven Spielberg proclaimed the latter victorious in “a clean sweep” at the 76th Academy Awards, it was a preordained culmination. Three years, three epic, game-changing films. Everyone knew what the final result would, and probably should, be.

Looking to TV, when “Game of Thrones” obliterated “The West Wing’s” longstanding record for Emmy wins by a series in a single season (9) by scooping up 12 trophies last year, it was another rung on its ladder to transcendence. But not all broken records carry the same impact. When “Angels in America” snapped the overall streak for most Emmys awarded to a program in 2004, nearly 30 years after “Roots,” it somehow felt more significant than “John Adams” topping it four years later. Part of that is due to the new golden age of television providing more opportunity to reach such a high water mark, but while all three miniseries spoke to the nation’s history, “Angels” and “Roots” felt like significant cultural landmarks.

Either way, these kinds of thunderclaps are extraordinary and rare and, again, exciting. All the more so when it’s something like “Hamilton,” an event populated by a multicultural cast that captures the zeitgeist with a story of a self-made immigrant, a founding father who signified progress.

The musical’s dominance today left me longing for another such display on the big screen. After all, the last film to win at least eight Oscars was “Slumdog Millionaire” seven years ago. That was also the same year as “Button’s” 13-nomination tally. It feels like we’re increasingly due.

Then again, if the “All About Eve”-to-“Titanic” stretch is any indication, we’re not even halfway there yet. That’s what makes this kind of thing so special.

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