Walt Disney Studios has conquered the box office, but when will it have its big Oscar moment?
The 98-year-old studio has never won the Oscar for best picture with a film bearing the iconic castle’s opening logo. But there is a footnote to this statistic. In 1993, Disney purchased Miramax for a bargain of $60 million, owning the boutique indie distributor until 2010. In that time, “The English Patient” (in 1997), “Shakespeare in Love” (in 1999), Rob Marshall’s musical adaptation “Chicago” (in 2003) and “No Country for Old Men” (in 2008) took home the top prize. Then, through the acquisition of Fox, which was completed in 2019, Disney owned independent studio Searchlight, which walked away with the best picture statuette last year for “Nomadland.”
Steven Spielberg’s remake of best picture winner “West Side Story” has all the acclaim and prestige to go far in the Oscar season, and it will be a front-runner in that race. However, the movie is under the 20th Century Studios brand (formerly 20th Century Fox), which Disney owns. While the awards campaign is being steered by Disney, if the film wins, it won’t technically be any different from one of those Miramax victories of the ’90s and ’00s.
Over the years, Disney has had a stronghold on categories such as animated feature, primarily through Pixar Studios (its films, including “The Incredibles,” “WALL-E” and the “Toy Story” movies, have nabbed a total of 18 Oscars).
This shouldn’t be too surprising for a family-friendly studio, considering the Academy’s genre bias and its favoring of dramas and biopics.
But the Academy used to be family friendlier. Musicals, though now semi-rare, were hugely popular with the industry in the 1950s and ’60s. Since then, Oscar has been preferring darker, more socially relevant material such as “12 Years a Slave” (2013), “Spotlight” (2015) and “Moonlight” (2016).
However, with an evolving voting membership, could the Oscars give the top prize to a Disney movie?
The only viable live-action film with the Disney logo in 2021 is Craig Gillespie’s “Cruella,” which is hoping at best for costume or makeup recognition.
Disney made history with 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which became the first animated film to be nominated for best picture. But the Academy created an animated feature category in 2001, making it seem unlikely that a Disney animated film could pick up the big prize. The animated category is where the studio’s two gems from this year, “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Encanto,” will probably compete.
Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow,” “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will likely sit that race out this year. But if the billion-dollar haul for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” brings significant attention, it won’t count for the brand, as Sony Pictures holds the rights to the web-slinging character. Maybe James Cameron’s long-delayed and -awaited “Avatar” sequels provide hope that they’ll follow in the footsteps of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” though the former are also under the 20th Century Studios logo (for now).
I do believe in our lifetime we’ll see some historic feats occur at the Oscars, such as a documentary being nominated in the top category or an animated feature walking away with the night’s most prestigious honor. If any studio can do this, Disney can. It just isn’t happening this year.
2022 Academy Awards Predictions
- Best Picture
- Best Director
- Best Actor
- Best Actress
- Best Supporting Actor
- Best Supporting Actress
- Best Original Screenplay
- Best Adapted Screenplay
- Best Animated Feature
- Best Production Design
- Best Cinematography
- Best Costume Design
- Best Film Editing
- Best Makeup and Hairstyling
- Best Sound
- Best Visual Effects
- Best Original Score
- Best Original Song
- Best Documentary Feature
- Best International Feature
- Best Animated Short
- Best Documentary Short
- Best Live-Action Short