The Academy’s recent announcement that the Oscars would add a new category to recognize popular films has raised many questions in Hollywood. Did ABC pressure the Academy to add the category, hoping that the presence of bigger blockbusters might juice up the network’s falling Oscar ratings? Could such a prize tarnish an awards night that is susceptible to lobbying and star power but is still ostensibly merit-based? And then, as the dust settled, the most important question arose: What films could be nominated?
The Academy hasn’t yet determined how the blockbuster contenders will be chosen, but you can expect the eight movies below to factor into Oscar’s most contentious new race.
Ryan Coogler’s $700 million blockbuster wasn’t simply the highest-grossing movie of the year, it became the third-highest domestic grosser of all time. By any measure of popularity, Black Panther would surely be nominated in the new Oscar category, but Marvel was already planning a big awards campaign for the superhero film, hoping to net nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Song, and the studio’s first-ever nod for Best Picture. Will Black Panther still be taken seriously as a contender for the top prize if there’s an earmarked Oscar that’s simply meant to recognize how much money it made?
Crazy Rich Asians
Romantic comedies are sorely underrepresented in the Oscar field: Arguably, the last one to net a Best Picture nomination was 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, and director David O. Russell blanched every time someone referred to it a rom-com. To recognize Crazy Rich Asians in the Best Blockbuster category would not only give the genre some face time with Oscar, it would honor the first big studio movie with an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club as well serve as synergistic promotion for leading lady Constance Wu, who also heads up ABC’s sitcom Fresh Off the Boat.
Two years ago, as the first Deadpool film earned some awards-season love from the Writers Guild of America, the Golden Globes, and the Producers Guild of America, Oscar pundits started to wonder if the film had a legitimate shot at making the Best Picture field. Ultimately, the Academy didn’t go for the Ryan Reynolds superhero satire in any category, but a new Best Blockbuster race would provide the perfect chance for a make-good by honoring Deadpool 2. Still, if ABC is truly determined to get Ryan Reynolds onto the Oscar telecast, they’d be better off asking him to host.
A Quiet Place
Though John Krasinski’s well-reviewed spring movie became a $188 million sleeper hit, A Quiet Place might ultimately prove to be a tough sell for Best Picture: The Academy only goes for the horror genre when there’s some cultural heft to the film, as there was last year with Jordan Peele’s provocative Get Out. A Best Blockbuster category, then, could be the perfect compromise for a film that is more than a disposable horror movie but not quite Oscar-friendly enough to become a surefire Best Picture contender. Expect Paramount to also launch a campaign for the film’s screenplay and sound design as well.
Avengers: Infinity War
Could two Marvel movies crowd this newly created category? Given how much the comic-book studio dominates the box office every year, perhaps it would be appropriate. This ten-years-in-the-making team-up is the culmination of Marvel’s shared universe — a gold standard of interconnected films that other studios have struggled to emulate — and at the worldwide box office, Infinity War has topped even Black Panther, grossing over $2 billion. Still, as the first installment of a two-parter, does it feel more like a season finale than a movie?
After the Academy expanded the Best Picture field to a firm ten nominees, two Pixar films — Up and Toy Story 3 — made it into that top lineup. Alas, ever since the Academy tweaked the category so that a flexible number of nominees between five and ten were possible, Pixar has found itself snubbed from the Best Picture race, settling instead for the constant consolation prize of a Best Animated Film Oscar. A new Best Blockbuster category would surely provide another opportunity for Brad Bird’s superhero sequel to score — already, Incredibles 2 has become the highest-grossing animated film ever made — though it also might shut the door forever on Pixar’s already slimmed-down Best Picture chances.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
This long-running Tom Cruise franchise has never earned a single Oscar nomination, not even in the sound and effects categories where action films usually are recognized. After Fallout netted series-best reviews for its outrageous set pieces, many clamored for a new Best Stunt category that would recognize the performers who lay their lives on the line to provide practical thrills. A Best Blockbuster category is the closest the Oscars have yet come to such a nod, and it would also provide the de facto opportunity to honor Cruise, who hasn’t been nominated since 2000’s Magnolia.
Mary Poppins Returns
Few filmmakers had better blockbuster instincts than Walt Disney, yet the mogul’s only Best Picture nod within his lifetime came for 1964’s Mary Poppins. This winter’s long-in-the-making sequel, which casts Emily Blunt as the magical nanny first played by Julie Andrews, is almost certain to be a huge hit, but does it also have the stuff to be a Best Picture nominee? With Chicago director Rob Marshall at the helm and a supporting cast that includes Lin-Manuel Miranda and Meryl Streep, it can’t be counted out for the top prize, yet a Best Blockbuster nomination feels much more assured.