AFI Awards: Is 'Wonder Woman' Among the Top 10 a Sign of Things to Come at Oscars?

In close calls, AFI tends to break for Hollywood studio films, whereas the Academy tends to break for indie and/or non-American projects — but there is reason to believe that this summer's biggest smash may click with both groups, THR's awards columnist explains.
Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
'Wonder Woman'

Could the fairy-tale success of Wonder Woman continue all the way to the Oscars? That's the question on many minds after the American Film Institute included the summer smash — the first major-studio superhero film ever to center on a female protagonist, namely DC Comics’ most iconic female character — among the top 10 films of 2017 in its AFI Awards announcement today.

Wonder Woman has a lot going for it. Patty Jenkins' film, which has made Gal Gadot the hottest star in Hollywood, not only was a blockbuster — becoming the highest-grossing superhero origin movie ever by raking in more than $821 million worldwide — but also was a critics' darling, clocking in at a formidable 92 percent favorable rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Perhaps most significantly, it is the film that best captures the current zeitgeist, with its story of female empowerment, in a year in which the Academy has more female members than at any other time in history.

Even so, the hard truth is that no comic-inspired movie has been nominated for the best picture Oscar since Skippy 86 years ago.

Does AFI's acknowledgment suggest that that's about to change? It's hard to say.

First, it must be noted that the same films that were chosen by AFI were nominated for the best picture Critics' Choice Award on Wednesday — except for one. The Critics' Choice group awarded a slot to Darkest Hour, but that film, because it is not considered "American," was not eligible for the AFI Awards, which instead gave that slot to Wonder Woman. The point is that Wonder Woman will face stiffer competition for an Oscar nom, not only because Darkest Hour and other non-American films — among them Victoria & Abdul and Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool — will be eligible for a nom, but also because the Academy, unlike the AFI or the Critics' Choice awards, does not guarantee that it will recognize 10 films with its top honor; instead, there can be anywhere from five to 10 best picture Oscar nominees, depending on a complex formula.

Furthermore, while 8,427 Academy members will be eligible to determine this season's best picture Oscar nominees, AFI's picks are made by relatively small juries, the members of which are not all Academy members. Many, however, are trustees of AFI, so the fact that Jenkins is an AFI alum certainly cannot have hurt the film's prospects with this group (although, it must be noted, it didn't help Darren Aronofsky's mother!), nor can the fact that the film was distributed by Warner Bros., since Hollywood's major studios provide the lion's share of funding for AFI.

Indeed, whenever AFI and the Academy have disagreed on top honors, it almost always has been a case of AFI recognizing a big studio film that is then replaced in the best picture Oscar race by either an indie film and/or a non-American film — or by nothing at all.

In 2016, AFI included Paramount's Silence and Disney's Zootopia; the Academy replaced them with The Weinstein Co.'s Lion. In 2015, AFI included Disney-Pixar's Inside Out, Disney's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Universal's Straight Outta Compton and The Weinstein Co.'s Carol; the Academy replaced them with Paramount's The Revenant and Fox Searchlight's Brooklyn. In 2014, AFI included Paramount's Interstellar, Disney's Into the Woods, Universal's Unbroken, Sony Classics' Foxcatcher and Open Road's Nightcrawler; the Academy replaced them with Focus Features' The Theory of Everything.

In 2013, AFI included Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, CBS Films' Inside Llewyn Davis and The Weinstein Co.'s Fruitvale Station; the Academy replaced them with Focus Features' Dallas Buyers Club and The Weinstein Co.'s Philomena. In 2012, AFI included Warner Bros.' The Dark Knight Rises and Focus Features' Moonrise Kingdom; the Academy replaced them with Sony Classics' Amour. And in 2011, AFI included Universal's Bridesmaids, Sony's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Warners' J. Edgar; the Academy replaced them with The Weinstein Co.'s The Artist and Warners' Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

All that being said, those who love Wonder Woman really love it, and nothing matters more on the Academy's nomination ballots, which rewards passion. So Wonder Woman's wonderful season may get even more wonderful on Jan. 23 when the Oscar nominations are announced.

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