In 2014 we saw a total of four superhero movies on the big screen, these included; Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy. Three of these films were astonishing pieces of cinema and we’re received immensely well by audiences and critics alike (ignoring the Amazing Spider-Man 2, that film just sucks). Superhero films in 2014 showed us how critically good they can be, not only that but we’re soon to get more in the next few years and expect the bar to rise again.
As history shows the superhero franchise does well at the box office but not so well when it comes to awards season. Is there some kind of discrimination against superhero films or is it because there are simply better films out there?
There’s something about comic book films that the Academy can’t quite get used to. It might be because they see superhero films as low-brow entertainment for the masses thus they will never be seen as artistic master pieces. All this despite a fantasy movie like Return of the King winning best picture in 2004, made only possible only by the academy favourite Peter Jackson, the millions it made and mostly because it was a particularly lacklustre year. So why should the hero franchise get overlooked? Imagine if the Guardians of the Galaxy were an original film with no connection with the comic book; we would be treating this film like the next Star Wars. The fact that it is a comic book adaptation seems to tarnish its reputation in the eyes of the academy.
The closest any comic book film has gotten close to best picture is ‘The Dark Knight’ and that was a comic book film directed as if it were real. I’m not saying that the Dark Knight wasn’t a superhero film but it was as real to life as one could be. There are no superpowers and it’s far more “realistic” then the Tim Burton Batman films (i.e. we don’t have Joker falling into acid and it has a less comic book feel). The Dark Knight won Best Supporting Actor thanks to Heath Ledgers fantastic performance, as well as Best Achievement in Sound Editing. It was a fantastic film and is even at number 4 on IMDB’s top 250 movies. However, it didn’t even get nominated for best picture. Even the incredibly boring and average The Curious Case of Benjamin Button managed to get a nomination nod. How is it even possible for the 4th most beloved film to be ignored for best picture?
It’s clear the academy has a strong dislike for comic book films. There seems to be this stigma that comic book films are not for movie lovers but for comic fans. If you look back over 2014 your top 5 films will surely have at least one superhero film in there. Personally X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy rate as some of the best films I’ve seen in the past few years let alone 2014. I don’t rate them so highly because they’re comic book films; I rate them high because they’re excellent films to watch. Any think that is linked too close to comic books stands no chance of winning for best picture, that’s why Dark Knight was at least awarded with Best Supporting Actor. It was still a comic book film but it was thinly disguised as one. To even make an even more controversial point I think the Academy gave The Dark Knight best supporting actor on a sympathy vote due to Heath Ledgers untimely death (even though I would have given him all the awards for that performance it was just too good).
Do I think a superhero film will have a chance this year? Absolutely not. At most I hope Guardians of the Galaxy gets a nomination nod but I fear that James Gunn isn’t the type of guy they like and the film is just too comic book like. It would be a great achievement to have a superhero film get at least a nomination for best picture, if this happens this year then maybe there’s a bright future ahead for the genre. But I wouldn’t get too hopeful, for now expect the likes of the painfully mediocre ‘Unbroken’ to get the nod ahead of the likes of X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy.