Superhero films bulk up with Oscar nominations for ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Spider-Verse’


Superhero movies reign supreme at the box office these days, but they have rarely been embraced by the Oscars beyond the craft and technical categories.

But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saluted superhero stories in a brand new way with its 2019 Oscar nominations.

On Tuesday, Marvel’s “Black Panther” made history as the first comic-book adaptation to be nominated for best picture. Additionally, Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and Disney/Pixar’s “Incredibles 2” were both nominated in the animated-feature film category, making it a landmark year for superhero movies.


“It’s pretty crazy. I don’t think there’s a one of us that, when we started, had any inkling at all that we would be in the [conversation] for Oscars,” Peter Ramsey, co-director of “Spider-Verse,” told The Times.

That might seem surprising with all of the critical buzz surrounding “Spider-Verse,” but it’s understandable given the academy’s track record with superhero movies.

Perhaps voting members have finally realized that these stories are more than just about costumed crime fighters taking out a villain. “Black Panther,”Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Verse” all tackle larger themes such as diversity, identity and family.

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“The core idea [of ‘Incredibles 2’] is more about family than the superhero aspect,” Brad Bird, the film’s writer and director, said in an interview Tuesday. “The superhero genre is used as a way to comment on the institution of family, whether that’s defined as biological family or your friends.”

The three films are also notable because they each expand the idea of who can be a superhero. The leader of a futuristic African nation, a suburban housewife and an Afro-Latino teenager are all just as capable of saving the day as their white male counterparts.

“Superheroes are the myths of our times,” said Ramsey. “With our movie, the hero reflects people we’ve never seen on the screen before who can feel like they can participate in the myth.”

A peek into Miles Morales’ morning routine from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

“Black Panther’s” historic nomination is the first time a film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been recognized in a field outside of visual effects, sound editing or makeup and hairstyling. An MCU movie has yet to take home a win in any category.

That’s not to say the academy has never awarded a prize to any film based on a Marvel comic. Disney’s “Big Hero 6”scored the animated-feature Oscar at the 87th ceremony, and Sony’s “Spider-Man 2” won for visual effects at the 77th edition.

And although it didn’t win, Fox’s “Logan” (a part of the “X-Men” franchise) was the first superhero movie to land an Oscar nod for screenwriting in 2018.

DC superheroes have fared marginally better. Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded the supporting actor Oscar for his turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” The Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman film also took home the sound editing prize in 2009.

An earlier movie about the caped crusader, “Batman,” was awarded the Oscar for art directing in 1990 (the category is now known as production design). And before visual effects became a category with multiple nominees, “Superman” received a special achievement award at the 51st ceremony in 1979.

Most recently, “Suicide Squad” won the Oscar for makeup and hairstyling in 2017.

And, of course, “The Incredibles,” a family-friendly superhero story with no direct comic book roots, won the animated feature and sound editing awards at the 2005 Oscars.

Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige acknowledges that one of the biggest takeaways from “Black Panther’s” success is that there is an audience that wants to see more of these different kinds of superhero stories.

“That is the line going forward: Have lots of different types of people be able to tell lots of different types of stories,” said Feige.

With additional reporting by Times staff writer Sonaiya Kelley.

Twitter: @tracycbrown