Oscars 2023: Do superhero movies deserve more awards recognition?

As awards season rolls around, the debate of whether superhero movies should earn Academy Awards rears its head

  • Angela Bassett has been nominated for the Best Supporting Actress at the 2023 Oscars

  • 1941's animated Superman was the first comic book adaptation to be nominated

  • Only 10 superhero movies have ever won an Oscar

  • Is the tide changing, and should more superhero movies be nominated?

Angela Bassett has been nominated at the 2023 Oscars for her performance as Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Marvel Studios)
Angela Bassett has been nominated at the 2023 Oscars for her performance as Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. (Marvel Studios)

Awards season is upon us, and as the likes of Michelle Yeoh and Colin Farrell prepare their Oscars polish for potential wins, Angela Bassett is a top pick to win Best Supporting Actress.

Playing Queen Ramonda in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, her epic throne room speech showed why we shouldn’t be sleeping on superhero movies.

As the Academy Awards come under fire for picking traditional dramas and biopics over an ever-growing crop of spandex-clad movies, Wakanda Forever could be an important movement for comic book adaptations and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Read more: Everything you need to know about the 2023 Oscars

Whether Bassett wins or not, her Academy Award nomination is another milestone in the sometimes toxic relationship between the Academy Awards and superhero movies.

The history of the Oscars and superhero movies

Superhero movies are nothing new, and while the modern incarnation of the genre was largely popularised by 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man, 1941’s animated Superman has the honour of being the first comic book movie nominated for an Academy Award.

It didn’t win, however, Clark Kent bagged the genre’s first Oscar when Richard Donner’s Superman was awarded the Special Achievement for Visual Effects in 1979.

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Christopher Reeve in Superman: The Movie. (Warner Bros.)

Other early victories included Tim Burton’s Batman for Best Art Direction, although wins have been few and far between. There’s been much debate about the Academy Award’s bias against superhero movies, coupled with divisive wins like David Ayer’s Suicide Squad earning Best Makeup and Hairstyling or Thor: Love and Thunder trying to put itself forward for Best Picture. Unsurprisingly, the latter didn't get nominated.

Read more: The movies that won the most Oscars

To this day, there are only ten superhero movies to earn an Academy Award, although there’s been an uptick in them being nominated.

The ten Oscar-winning comic book movies

  • Superman (1978) | Visual effects - special achievement

  • Batman (1989) | Best Art Direction

  • Men In Black (1997) | Best Makeup

  • Road To Perdition (2002) | Best Cinematography

  • Spider-Man 2 (2004) | Best Visual Effects

  • The Dark Knight (2008) | Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound

  • Big Hero 6 (2014) | Best Animated Feature

  • Suicide Squad (2016) | Best Makeup

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) | Best Animated Feature

  • Joker (2019) | Best Actor, Best Score

Wakanda Forever is nominated for five at the 95th Academy Awards, with the likes of Best Original Song and Best Costume Design joining Bassett’s Supporting Actress nomination.

2023 sees three MCU movies being released, but will it be the same story at the 96th Academy Awards?

The superhero snub

The Dark Knight - 

Medium shot of Heath Ledger as Joker seated at table, wearing handcuffs
Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. (Warner Bros.)

The big question is whether a superhero movie will ever land that elusive Best Picture win and if the Academy would ever accept it. In particular, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is frequently cited as one of the biggest Oscar snubs of all time. Even though it got an impressive eight nominations (winning two), it didn't make the cut for Best Picture nominations.

Even though big names, including Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, have been critical of superhero movies, Steven Spielberg has been a supporter of the genre and recently told Deadline how The Dark Knight would’ve been nominated for Best Picture these days. He praised blockbusters like Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick being nominated in the category. Still, Matt Reeves’ Dark Knight-esque The Batman has been snubbed in 2023.

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Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther. (Marvel Studios)

Times are changing, and with Coogler breaking the trend for 2019's Oscars, Black Panther was the first superhero movie to be considered for Best Picture. Moving back to DC, Joker followed suit with a Best Picture nomination the following year. It famously lost out to Parasite, but with Bong Joon-ho’s movie being the first foreign-language film to win the prestigious award, it felt justified.

Read more: How Oscar campaigns work

Some would argue Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman should be classed as a superhero movie, which would mean its Best Picture nomination precedes Black Panther. There are plenty of movies thought worthy of the Best Picture nod, with James Mangold’s Logan frequently cited alongside The Dark Knight as one that missed out.

When it comes to Best Picture nominations, you have to consider whether they’ve truly changed the genre. Wakanda Forever was a beautiful tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman — adding another layer of emotion to Bassett’s performance — but its not really being considered as a true Best Picture contender.

The MCU effect

Robert Downey Jr. wields the Infinity Gauntlet in 'Avengers: Endgame'. (Credit: Marvel)
Robert Downey Jr. wields the Infinity Gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame. (Marvel)

The thing that connects most superhero movies nominated for Best Picture is that they aren’t your “traditional” comic book adaptation. There are accusations of a bias against the MCU, as many were surprised Avengers: Infinity War was only nominated for Best Visual Effects. Despite Endgame being the second highest-grossing movie of all time, it also only got nominated for Best Visual Effects.

But it’s not just those in charge who have views on superhero movies being worthy of a golden statue. A campaign from fans, Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, and even Endgame director Joe Russo for Robert Downey Jr. to be nominated for Best Actor led to anger when he didn’t appear in Disney's For Your Consideration. It turns out it was Downey Jr. himself who asked not to be put forward.

Recognition for Marvel movies is largely confined to the Visual Effects category, but it’s baffling to think it has taken 15 years and 31 movies for the MCU to get one single acting nomination. However, the Academy’s failure to get its Best Popular Film category to land means some think those making the decision are too detached from what the public enjoys.

Read more: Oscar nominations 2023 in full

Even if Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has divided MCU fandom more than ever before amid complaints of superhero saturation, performances like Bassett’s have proved the power of the world’s highest-grossing franchise. Hopefully, it’s a case of Queen Ramonda walking (well, dying) so the rest of the MCU, and that one day, Elizabeth Olsen will get the nod for playing Scarlet Witch.

As for Bassett, she won at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards but lost out at the Screen Actors Guild and BAFTAs — although Ariana DeBose immortalised her and confirmed she “did the thing.”

Although sceptics think Bassett’s Marvel ties will hold her back, only time will tell whether Black Panther: Wakanda Forever can claw a win at the 95th Academy Awards.

The 95th Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars 2023, will be held on 12 March.