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Why 'Harry Potter' Might End Its Long Streak of Oscar Snubs

2:20 PM PST 11/25/2011 by Gregg Kilday
Illustration by Kagan McLeod

The first seven movies in the Warner Bros. franchise earned only a combined nine Academy Award noms, all in below-the-line categories.

This article appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

During the course of J.K. Rowling's seven novels and the eight movies that have been adapted from them, Harry Potter has managed to get his hands on any number of magical objects -- the Marauder's Map, the three Deathly Hallows, even the seven Horcruxes. But there's one object of desire that so far has eluded the makers of the Harry Potter films: the almighty Oscar.

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There's no questioning the success of the Potter movies. The top-grossing franchise in movie history, they've collected more than $7.6 billion worldwide. But in the Muggle world of awards, the series has received only grudging respect. The first seven movies earned only a combined nine Academy Award nominations, all in below-the-line categories.

This year, Warner Bros., the studio behind the series, is going for the big prize, upping the ante for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which showed its young hero's final, hard-won victory over the evil forces that shadowed his school days. Rowling could not have foreseen it when she began the first book in 1990, but for a generation of kids growing up after 9/11, the movies might have been a way to exorcise the demons of terrorism threats and security alerts. Harry's defeat of Voldemort, coming weeks after the death of Osama bin Laden, had to have real resonance.

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Moviegoers applauded, giving Hallows an A+ CinemaScore, and critics were equally enthusiastic with a 96 percent approval rating on RottenTomatoes.com.

"Historically, the movies have all been received as much more of a commercial venture as opposed to an artistic one," says Sue Kroll, Warners' president of worldwide marketing. "But I do think this newest film is different. It's been one of the best-reviewed movies of the year. It really was an artistic breakthrough."

Although declining to put a dollar figure on the effort, in part because it will ultimately depend on how many nominations there are to promote down the road, Kroll points to several initiatives. Because the movie opened in July, the studio started trade ads earlier than the competition to bring it back to the forefront: A custom-designed book, drawing on the film's strongest reviews, was distributed with The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 11 issue.

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A half-dozen billboards throughout the Westside of Los Angeles also are spreading the message. And the studio has been courting special kudos: The Art Directors Guild, for example, will honor the movie's entire creative team with its outstanding contribution to cinematic imagery award in February.

Fantasy films are a tough sell in the top Oscar categories, though. Peter Jackson's 2003 release The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the only movie in the genre to win for best picture.

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But Hallows can make legitimate claims. Producer David Heyman, who brought the first book to Warners, kept the entire series on track, an achievement that deserves recognition from the Producers Guild of America. Steve Kloves wrote all but one of the movies, a mammoth work of adaptation that earned Rowling's blessing. David Yates directed the last four films with an increasingly sure hand. And if any movie deserves a shot at the Screen Actors Guild's ensemble award, it's Hallows, which brings together most of the series' ever-expanding cast for a final bow while also serving up a particularly affecting moment from Alan Rickman when his Severus Snape reveals the unrequited love he has been harboring for years.

Still, Warners' message faces a number of obstacles, not least of which are two movies, Hugo and War Horse, that come from A-list directors and are based on children's books.

But the word might be reaching some in the industry.

Comments one prominent Academy member, who asked not to be named though he has no connection to the film: "It may not exactly be my kind of film -- I'm hardly a Potter aficionado -- but I think it should win. In a marketplace where the movies' connection to audiences is more tenuous than ever, the adulation and enduring love that a generation has for this series stands apart. It's powerful. For us as an industry not to give it that level of honor is injurious. It's not embracing what there is about the art form that truly endures."

THIS GAME AINT' QUIDDITCH: The previous Potter movies have picked up scattered nominations but not a single Oscar

  • 2001 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Art direction, costume design, score
  • 2004 The Prisoner of Azkaban: Score, visual effects
  • 2005 The Goblet of Fire: Art direction
  • 2009 The Half-Blood Prince: Cinematography
  • 2010 Deathly Hallows Part 1: Art direction, visual effects
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