Comics at the Oscars!
A cumulative history of the nominations of comic book movies at the Academy Awards.
The Academy Awards for this year have come and gone, and in this time of reflection where people try to decide whether the Academy hit it on the nose or are completely out of touch, I have decided to look at the history of comic book movies in relation to the Oscars. I've gather a history of nominations, as well as pointing out the winners and important milestones along the way.
In order to keep this list from getting out of control, I limited it to American based properties that were originally comic books (which means no Transformers, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc) or graphic novels.
So, without further ado, I give to you, Comics at the Oscars!
An animated short based on Superman titled “The Mad Scientist” was nominated for Best Animated Short. It was directed by Dave Fleisher and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It would lose out to the Disney Production “Lend a Paw”, but it distinguishes itself as the first comic book adaptation to receive recognition from the academy. It also stands out as the only animated adaptation of a comic book to be nominated for anything.
At the 51st annual Academy Awards, the 1978 film adaptation of “Superman” starring Christopher Reeves and directed By Richard Donner was nominated for three awards:
Best Original Score- lost to “Midnight Express”
Best Sound Mixing- lost to “Deer Hunter”
Best Film Editing- lost to “Deer Hunter”
While it didn’t win any of the awards, it was honored with a Special Achievement Award Best Visual Effects, by being a pioneer in that field. It was given this award to give recognition to its achievement, and also, because there was not yet an Award for that area of film.
Richard Donners’ “Superman” is notable for being both the first live action comic book adaptation to be nominated for an Academy Award and the first to actually be honored with an Award (specially given or no, it counts!)
After over a ten year absence, the 1989 film adaptation of “Batman”, which starred Michael Keaton and was directed by Tim Burton, broke the drought by being nominated Best Art Direction. Anton Furst and Peter Young would go onto to win, and mark the first instance where a comic book movie actually won an Academy Award.
“Batman Returns”, the sequel to 1989 film “Batman” which once again starred Michael Keaton and was directed by Tim Burton, was nominated in two categories:
Best Makeup- lost out to “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”
Best Visual Effects- lost to “Death Becomes Her”
The 67th annual Academy Awards to place in March of 1995, and this ceremony is remarkable for more than being the one which David Letterman hosted. 1994’s “The Mask” was nominated for Best Visual Effects. It lost out to “Forrest Gump”, but is recognizable for being the first non-DC Comics property to be nominated for an Academy Award.
At the 68th annual Academy Awards, the film “Batman Forever”, the second sequel to 1989’s “Batman” that now starred Val Kilmer in the title role and Joel Schumacher in the Director’s chair was nominated in three categories:
Best Sound Editing- lost to “Braveheart”
Best Sound Mixing- lost to “Apollo 13”
Best Cinematography- lost to “Braveheart”
March 23rd, 1998 heralded the 70th annual Academy Awards where “Men in Black”, a 1997 action film based on the comic of the name, was nominated in three categories:
Best Original Musical or Comedy Score- lost to “The Full Monty”
Best Art Direction- lost to “Titanic”
Best Makeup- Rick Baker (Won)
This marks the first time a Marvel Comics property was nominated, and won, an Academy Award. However, “Men in Black” is not a Marvel original, being initially published by Aircel Comics, and later on by Malibu Comics. Marvel didn’t publish any material until after the first film. This is also the first instance where a non-DC comic book title won an award.
At the 74th annual Academy Awards, the film “Ghost World”, based on the comic of the same name, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay; however, it lost to “A Beautiful Mind”. It starred Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch.
After five years and only one nomination in that time, the 75th annual Academy awards heralded a return of sorts for comic based movie with 9 total nominations, the most for a single ceremony to date. This is also the first instance where multiple comic book based films were nominated.
First, the film “American Splendor”, based on the comic series of the same name, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film starred Paul Giamatti and was directed and written by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. It ended up losing to “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”.
The film “Road to Perdition”, starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman with Sam Mendes directing and based on the graphic novel of the same name, was nominated in 6 categories, the most for any other comic adaptation up to that point:
Best Supporting Actor- Paul Newman (lost to Chris Cooper for “Adaptation”)
Best Original Score- lost to “Frida”
Best Sound Editing- lost to “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Best Sound Mixing- lost to “Chicago”
Best Art Direction- lost to “Chicago”
Best Cinematography- Conrad L. hall (Won)
Lastly, the film adaptation of “Spider-Man” starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi was nominated for two awards:
Best Visual Effects- lost to “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”
Best Sound Mixing- lost to “Chicago”
“Spider-Man” is notable itself as the first time an original Marvel Comics property was nominated for an Academy Award.
This ceremony is not only also the first occasion where multiple comic based films were nominated in general, but also where they were nominated in the same category, with both “Road to Perdition” and “Spider-Man” being nominated for Best Sound Mixing.
“Spider-Man 2”, the sequel to the 2002 film of the same name was nominated for 3 awards at the 2005 ceremony:
Best Sound Editing- lost to “The Incredibles”
Best Sound Mixing- lost to “Ray”
Best Visual Effects- John Dykstra (Won)
“Spider-Man 2” further distinguishes its namesake series by being the first original Marvel Comics adaptation to win an award.
At the 78th annual Academy Awards, the film Batman Begins (a franchise of reboot of the character, thereby discontinuing the previous series that began with 1989’s “Batman”) was nominated for Best Cinematography. It lost to “Memoirs of a Geisha”. The film starred Christian Bale in the title role and was directed by Christopher Nolan.
The film “A History of Violence”, based on the graphic novel of the same name, was nominated for two awards:
Best Supporting Actor- William Hurt (lost to George Clooney for “Syrianna”)
Best Adapted Screenplay- lost to “Brokeback Mountain”
William Hurt is only the second actor in history to be nominated for an Academy Award for acting in conjunction with a comic book film translation.
In 2007, “Superman Returns” a sequel/reboot to the 1980’s franchise received a nomination for Best Visual Effects, however it lost out to Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”
Att the 81st annual Academy Awards, there were an unprecedented amount of nominations for comic book based movies. Four films (the most genre films to be nominated at once) came together for a record 12 nominations.
“The Dark Knight”, the sequel to 2005’s “Batman Begins”, led the pack with 8 total categories:
Best Supporting Actor- Heath Ledger (Won)
Best Sound Editing- Richard King (Won)
Best Sound Mixing- Lost to “Slumdog Millionaire”
Best Makeup- Lost to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Best Art Direction- Lost to “The Curious Case ofBenjamin Button”
Best Cinematography- Lost to “Slumdog Millionaire”
Best Film Editing- Lost to “Slumdog Millionaire”
Best Visual Effects- Lost to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Heath Ledger represents a landmark in comic book film adaptations by being the first and only person from a comics inspired film to receive an Academy Award for acting. He is the third actor overall to receive a nomination.
Also, the “Batman” film series (the original series and the reboot series combined) hold the record for most nominations for a single character with 15 nominations over a 20 year film career.
The film “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”, an adaptation of, arguably, Dark Horse Comics most popular character, was nominated at this ceremony as well, in the category of Best Makeup, but ended up losing out to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.
“Iron Man” was given two nominations and is noteworthy for being only the second original Marvel Comics character to have an adaptation nominated:
Best Sound Editing- lost to “The Dark Knight”
Best Visual Effects- lost to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Lastly, “Wanted” based off the comic mini-series of the same name from Top Cow Comics, received two nominations:
Best Sound Editing- lost to “The Dark Knight”
Best Sound Mixing- lost to “Slumdog Millionaire”
This ceremony boasts the first time where at least 3 comic book adaptations were nominated in a single category, with “The Dark Knight”, “Iron Man”, and “Wanted” all being nominated for Best Sound Editing, which “The Dark Knight” actually won.
This is also the first occasion where an Original DC Comics character (Batman) and an original Marvel Comics character (Iron Man) faced off in the same category.
*Road to Perdition was published on an Imprint, but is not actually a part of the DC Universe, therefore it doesn’t count.
At the 83rd annual Academy Awards the film “Iron Man 2”, a sequel to 2008’s “Iron Man”, was nominated for Best Visual Effects, but lost out to “Inception”.
As you can see, the recognition that that comics have received has significantly increased in recent years. While there are some glaring snubs (the X-Men franchise leaps most readily to mind. I mean honestly, how did X2 not get nominated for Best Makeup) and some inconsistencies (no women have yet to be nominated for acting at the Oscars), things seem to only be getting better. Honestly, it is only a matter of time before we see a comic book adaptation in the running for Best Picture.
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