The Academy Awards’ Endgame Test

$1.2 billion. 7 nominations. Those numbers represent two records: Avengers: Endgame‘s worldwide box-office opening weekend total and Black Panther‘s Oscar nomination tally. Both denote milestones for MCU.

Prior to 2019, the Academy’s producers were at a crisis point. The 2018 Oscars represented the lowest ratings in the telecast’s history. To combat this recession, the producers instituted changes for 2019’s ceremony, such as going host-less (though this was by accident) and shortening the winners’ acceptance speeches.

Said alterations might have worked, as 2019’s ratings did rise by 12% from 26.5 million in 2018 to 29.6 million. That “success” (2019 was still the second-lowest rated showing in the Oscars’ history), coupled with Endgame‘s complete dominance at the box office and Black Panther‘s prior nominations, provides a compelling litmus test for voters to indicate whether last year’s drive for ratings demonstrated a new Academy or if genre bias will prevail as it has so many other times.

The Academy isn’t typically known for rewarding superhero movies, or large-scale franchises (no matter how successful). Though not a comic creation, when the time came to heap adulation upon Skyfall and recognize the “venerated” franchise, the film was snubbed in Best Picture. The Dark Knight, considered one of the best comic films ever, didn’t gain a Best Picture nomination either.

Prior to Black Panther‘s Best Picture showing, a nomination I believe the film barely scraped into, MCU dominated the Visual Effects Category by garnering 9 nominations (ironically, Black Panther did not receive a nom for VFX). Additional, no Marvel film had ever earned a nomination outside of VFX other than Iron Man (sound editing) and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (Makeup and Hairstyling) prior to 2019. In fact, no MCU film has ever been given an acting or directing nomination.

The lack of accolades for acting isn’t surprising. Films with ensembles as large as Endgame make the possibility of individuals shinning enough to warrant recognition difficult (think The Lord of the Rings who only found one acting nomination: Ian McKellen for The Fellowship of the Rings).

Nevertheless, the campaign to award what might be the biggest film of this generation has already begun in earnest by fans:

By giving Black Panther some well-earned praise with 7 nominations, the Academy created a new precedent. By voting for more films with a higher box-office status (Bohemian Rhapsody) they demonstrated a new charge. And by floating the idea of a Best Popular Film category, they made their intentions clear: Recognize higher-profile films to create better ratings.

Still, the Academy does suffer from genre bias. Black Panther “transcended” the superhero genre by creating a conversation around representation that led to a cultural flash-point.

Endgame gives fans another cultural milestone, but said demarcation isn’t built upon a layered examination of race, gender, politics, or society. Instead, the film thrives on a hill of pure entertainment and nostalgia. Endgame‘s greatest cinematic attribute derives from tapping into the 10+ years worth of memories their fans possess (such an argument would make recognizing Star Wars: Episode IX another likely campaign) and the singularity of its achievement (it might be something we’ll never see again).

One outgrowth for recognition: the clamor for Robert Downey Jr. to receive a nomination — springs not just from his good work in Endgame, but his performance throughout the entirety of MCU. The uproar to acknowledge his “lifetime” work mirrors Endgame‘s exact case. Such hopes aren’t completely outlandish. The Academy routinely offers glorified lifetime achievement nominations (check Glenn Close just a few months ago for The Wife). Expecting one for an actor who already possesses two past nominations (Chaplin and Tropic Thunder) appears plausible.

However, Endgame faces a few other uphill battles. For one, the calendar says April. We’ve not remotely entered the glut of releases from the Academy’s favorite auteurs: Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Greta Gerwig, etc. — and anticipated newcomers.

Secondly, and this argument might only be confined to Twitter, but the perceived unhealthy domination of Disney at the box office and the expansion of the mouse company’s media empire has left some worried. The barren release schedule prior to Endgame, makes such concerns not completely unfounded. Mid-budget films just can’t compete, especially as indie theaters are also pushed to allocating more of their screens to big-budget titans like Endgame.

Alarmingly, there are many more such releases coming. Disney has Frozen 2, The Lion King, Aladdin, Toy Story 4, and Episode IX still on the docket. The argument that a multi-billion dollar franchise deserves more recognition than their box-office tally loses some steam when said film competes again the smaller films that struggled to find an audience because of an overly competitive release calendar (don’t hesitate to believe these issues are inconsequential to voters).

The likeliest outcome might be Endgame cleaning up in the crafts categories, receiving zero acting nominations, yet vying for the 8th, 9th, or 10th spot in the Best Picture race like Black Panther did, but not winning.

The Academy is never one thing at once, especially with the recent drive for voter turnover (evident by Moonlight winning top prize one year and Green Book another). However, if the Academy doesn’t recognize Endgame above the craft categories, fans will accuse the voting body of again showering accolades on films “no one’s ever heard of” (though, the case should be made that if you’ve not watched a certain indie film, usually that’s on you, not the Oscars). Endgame represents a litmus test for the Academy. Will they fall back toward their genre bias or will last year’s appeal to ratings continue?

The sequel has yet to be written.

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