Will a Superhero Movie Finally Get a Best Picture Nomination?

The improbable rise of 'Deadpool' has the makings of an awards-season Cinderella story: "The passion projects are the ones that generally get recognized."
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'Deadpool' (left), 'The Dark Knight'

Wade Wilson may accomplish what Bruce Wayne never could.

Deadpool has a legitimate shot at becoming the first superhero movie to earn a best picture Oscar nomination, which would be the latest in a surprising awards-season spree. It has earned WGA, PGA and DGA nominations in recent weeks, while the pic and its star Ryan Reynolds were also nominated, but lost, at the Golden Globes.

A best picture nomination for Deadpool could cool the ire fanboys still feel over one of the most infamous snubs in Oscar history — the Academy's failure to nominate The Dark Knight for best picture in 2009, an omission later credited with the category being expanded from five slots to 10.  

Even just a few months ago, a best picture Oscar nomination for Deadpool sounded as improbable as the crass, R-rated film becoming one of the biggest hits of 2016 might have sounded two years ago. The pic's screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick admit they are surprised by the awards love their film has received.

"Awards season tends to award virtuous movies and movies with messages and political movies and movies that just make statements. And boy, Deadpool couldn't be further from that," Reese tells Heat Vision.

On the other hand, the Oscars also tend to reward passion projects — and Deadpool is definitely that. It was a labor of love years in the making, and though it's a studio movie, it also has the feel of an underdog. With its modest (for a superhero pic) $58 million budget, it eclipsed the box-office take of 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse, which had a budget more than three times that. 

"Come awards season, the movies that are most difficult to make, the passion projects, are the ones that generally get recognized, and Deadpool was very, very difficult to make," says Wernick. "It was a very risky movie for the studio to greenlight — a hard-R, antihero movie about a guy with cancer who's got a scarred face. It's got all the makings of an awards-season movie, it's just told in a much different style and tone than some of those movies are."

Since the Dark Knight controversy, the expanded best picture pool has seen genre movies like Avatar (2009) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) score best picture mentions, but for the most part, the category has seen the Academy nominate the same types of movies it always has — just more of them.

There are rumblings that this year could be different. After last year's #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy made an effort to bring more diversity into its ranks with the 2016 class. Though it did not provide a breakdown of ages, anecdotal evidence suggests its new members are not only more diverse, but also skew younger — the type of voters more likely to embrace a Deadpool.

The closest analogs to a superhero movie that have won Oscar's biggest prize are Silence of the Lambs (1991), the only horror film to win best picture, and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003), the only fantasy movie to win.    

But fans still have trouble moving past The Dark Knight's snub in a year that saw a less-remembered film like The Reader get a nomination while Christopher Nolan's Batman epic was overlooked (Heath Ledger's posthumous supporting actor Oscar win helped soothe troubled waters.)

Blair Erickson, director of the 2013 horror film Banshee Chapter, organized a popular Dark Knight Oscar fan campaign in 2008-09.

"The thing is about The Dark Knight that made it kind of special was it was just absolutely straight-faced. You have a movie about a guy dressed as a clown and a guy dressed as a bat, but they did not wink at the audience. They took it as serious as a heart attack and pulled it off," says Erickson, who still would like to see the superhero genre recognized by the Academy, but is skeptical Deadpool will be the one to break the glass ceiling.

"Deadpool never stops winking at the audience. They know it's silly. They know it's fun," he says.

Even if Deadpool can't break through, Erickson has an idea for what type of superhero film might be able to do it in the future.

"My thinking is a superhero movie that will finally crack into the Oscars will be one that deals with some kind of social issue," he says, citing Netflix's Jessica Jones and Luke Cage as examples of superhero material that also tackles relevant social issues. "Something like that — in film form."

If Deadpool ends up getting the nomination Tuesday, stay tuned. Reynolds has promised an epic response — in character

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