‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Earns Just One Oscar Nomination, and Not for Best Picture. That Shouldn’t Be Surprising

Tom Holland stars as Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Courtesy of Matt Kennedy / Sony Pictures

It should not be shocking in the least that “Spider-Man: No Way Homefailed to earn an Academy Award nomination for best picture. Only two other comic book adaptations — “Joker” (2019) and “Black Panther” (2018) — have ever earned that honor. Unlike those movies, “No Way Home” failed to earn nominations from any of the top guild awards, and it only earned one other Oscar nomination, for visual effects (as opposed to the 11 total nominations for “Joker” and seven for “Black Panther”).

And yet, in the wake of “No Way Home’s” astronomic financial success — to date, it’s earned over $1.7 billion worldwide, making it the sixth highest-grossing film of all time amid a global pandemic — the movie became something of a cause célèbre for those who believe the Oscars desperately need more popular nominees to remain relevant.

Indeed, this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences permanently expanded the best picture category to 10 nominees in part to increase the chances that blockbusters like “No Way Home” would make the cut. Instead, “Dune” is the sole major box office hit to earn a best picture nomination this year, having grossed $107.6 million domestically and $399 million worldwide — despite its day-and-date release on HBO Max. Meanwhile, the best picture nominees released by streamers — Apple’s “CODA,” and Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” and “The Power of the Dog” — have no recorded box office grosses whatsoever. If anything, the expanded best picture nomination slots ended up going to the kind of art house movies (“Nightmare Alley,” “Drive My Car”) that have been Oscar darlings for most of this century.

Granted, the Oscars haven’t been allergic to box office success, either, nominating recent high-grossing movies like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Get Out,” “Hidden Figures,” “The Martian” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” for best picture — not to mention that “Black Panther” and “Joker” were both billion-dollar grossing blockbusters. All of those movies, however, had a distinctive aesthetic approach more in line with the Academy’s sensibility of applauding standout artistic achievement. Both “Black Panther” and “Joker,” for example, earned nominations for costumes, production design, and score — “Black Panther” won Oscars all three of those categories — and “Joker” won Joaquin Phoenix his first Oscar for best actor.

More critically, neither of those comic book adaptations presented narratives that required deep-dish foreknowledge of a larger cinematic universe. Yes, “Black Panther” referenced events from “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but sparingly so, in a way that was readily accessible to audiences who’d never even heard of those other movies. And “Joker” was a standalone full-stop, drawing from the larger Batman comic book lore, but in a story that could’ve just as easily been set in 1970s Manhattan instead of Gotham City.

“No Way Home” is perhaps the least standalone comic book movie ever made. It doesn’t just reference several movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the five previous “Spider-Man” movies starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, dating back nearly 20 years. It does so masterfully, drawing on its audience’s marrow-deep affection for those characters in wildly entertaining fashion. But those characters are either in largely familiar costumes and sets from previous movies or nondescript ones that are then heavily damaged in battle. And though several actors give affecting performances — especially Garfield (already a best actor nominee for “Tick, Tick … Boom!”) and Marisa Tomei (one of the only Oscar winners for a comedic performance in “My Cousin Vinny”) — none of the actors in “No Way Home” mounted a serious campaign for a nomination.

None of these things are sins onto themselves, nor do they detract from the movie’s lasting pleasures. They do, however, place “No Way Home” quite outside the mainstream of the modern Oscar movie — a trend Academy voters chose not to buck today. At least, in this universe. Perhaps fans can find a small modicum of comfort in knowing that, in some alternate reality, there’s a version of Tom Holland telling reporters today that it really is an honor to be nominated.