Tuesday morning, 10 years after Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” forced a significant paradigm shift at the Academy Awards, a superhero movie was finally nominated for best picture: Marvel’s “Black Panther.” And it represents a fairly remarkable culmination.
The move from five best picture nominees to 10 (later altered to a system that can produce anywhere from five to 10) was largely owed to the Motion Picture Academy’s infamous dismissal of “The Dark Knight” in 2008. The goal was to find room for deserving popular films in the lineup, and as one of the biggest critical hits of its year, with major recognition from the producers, directors, and writers guilds, Nolan’s Batman sequel certainly qualified.
The change helped, at least at first. Movies like “District 9,” “Up,” “Inception,” and “Toy Story 3” arguably owed their best picture bids to the expanded field. Soon, however, the wide berth gave way for more of the usual while films like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” “Skyfall,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Inside Out,” and “Wonder Woman” were left on the sidelines.
That ongoing status quo eventually led to the Academy’s ill-fated push for a “popular Oscar” award last year. But it was clearly the wrong year to do it, given the presence of popular contenders like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “A Star Is Born” and, indeed, “Black Panther.”
With $700 million in domestic box office receipts, Ryan Coogler’s Marvel juggernaut became the third-highest grossing film of all time on these shores. Worldwide it has accumulated north of $1.3 billion. Its nomination makes it the third-highest grossing best picture nominee ever, behind James Cameron’s “Avatar” and “Titanic.”
“With what Ryan was doing, what he had to say, and vouching for crew members that we had not worked with before but that he believed in — he came in and blew us away with initial sort of presentations to get the job,” producer Kevin Feige told Variety‘s Playback podcast in December. “For them to have stepped up and knocked it out of the park the way they did is incredible. It comes down to a filmmaker who has such a deft hand at being able to balance something that is going to have entertainment value with being true to his soul and being true to the questions he had growing up.”
For Marvel Studios, it’s all the sweeter as the company is set to tie a bow on 11 years of storytelling with this summer’s “Avengers: Endgame.” Feige and his team are fresh off a crowning 10th anniversary year that saw “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” become their biggest domestic and worldwide successes, respectively, not to mention one that saw the passing of legendary comic creator Stan Lee.
Nevertheless, despite raging box office success, the unwavering support of film critics, cultural messaging that helped it transcend genre and the vocal rallying of proponents on the sidelines, “Black Panther” still came into this year’s Oscar season a significant underdog. It was a comic book movie, and not only that, it was one that connected specifically with an audience that yearned for what it represented, while perhaps lacking that urgency with an overriding industry demographic prone to viewing it as mere entertainment.
Still, the film’s campaign, led by seasoned consultants who knew very well how steep the hill was, hit several key marks along the way. “Black Panther” received nominations from the producers and writers guilds, a noteworthy SAG-AFTRA ensemble bid, a drama best picture notice at the Golden Globes and a bounty of industry recognition besides that indicated it was a serious contender.
Now, here it sits, the first superhero film ever nominated for Hollywood’s top prize. A year ago, James Mangold’s “Logan” became the first superhero movie to receive recognition in the writing categories. So perhaps on one hand a stigma is slowly receding. On the other hand, “Black Panther” was an undeniable cultural milestone. The Academy would have been foolish to pass on the opportunity to recognize it.
Coogler’s film was also nominated for costume design, original score, original song, production design, sound editing and sound mixing. It’s joined in the best picture lineup by “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Favourite,” “Green Book,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born,” and “Vice.”