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How a superhero movie was finally nominated for Best Picture

 - Black Panther just got nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, andthat's a really big deal. Just 10 years ago, TheDark Knight was snubbed for a Best Picture nomination. It was a huge blow to superhero fans, highlighting the gap between popular films and award-winning prestige films. The public outcry led theAcademy of Motion Pictures to expand its Best Picturenomination category from five films to 10. Still, it took 10 yearsbefore a superhero movie found its way into the Best Picture arena. - I am not dead. - So what happened between2009 and this year's Black Panther nomination? To understand, we have tolook at The Big Picture. The term "blockbuster" as areference to a hit movie dates back to the 1940s,but Steven Spielberg's 1975 thriller Jaws gaveit a whole new definition. The summer it wasreleased, people lined up around city blocks trying to get tickets. It dominated the box office all summer. In May 1977, Star Wars: A NewHope was a similarly huge hit. The era of the summerblockbuster had arrived. Every major studio wanted apiece of the summer action.


 The new breed of blockbustersdidn't often compete for Best Picture at the Oscars, but they would win thingslike Best Visual Effects or Costume Design. But summer blockbuster seasonis starting to disappear. Now, big-budget escapistspectacles come out all year round. 2019 is poised to be one ofthe biggest blockbuster years, with an adventure-packed calendarthat spans all 12 months— a lot of which are superhero films. But it wasn't always this way. Since the 1980s, superherotitles have increased exponentially, and they only first started appearing en masse in the early 2000s. X-Men, The Hulk, and SamRaimi's three Spider-Man films all skyrocketed to thetop of the box office, breaking records andsetting a new tone for what blockbuster films could do for studios. Disney, seemingly realizingwhat was happening to the calendar year, madesome major investments.


It acquired Pixar, MarvelStudios, and Lucasfilm over the course of six years. Warner Brothers also shifted its focus toward grittier, more openly adult-focused superhero movies. By the time The Dark Knightrolled around in 2008, superhero movies were reaching a wider and more dedicated audience. It was the first timethe Academy was forced to take notice of superhero movies as Best Picture contenders. People largely considerthe Dark Knight conundrum as a snub because of theintense fan backlash that arose. The Dark Knight was hailed asone of the most provocative films of 2008, by both critics and fans, who were used to cutesier,more colorful movies. - Why so serious? - The Dark Knight turnedthe genre on its head, and kick-started a conversation about what a superhero movie could achieve. Marvel Studios has released20 movies since then, and its immense financialsuccess has pushed Warner Brothers, Sony, and Fox to compete. Superhero movies nowown every calendar spot, meaning studios have to book openings during the offseasonas well as the summer. Black Panther, the first superhero movie with a majority black cast,opened in February 2018 and immediately startedbreaking box-office records.


 As superhero movies overtook film culture, it became a wake-up call for the Academy, which was already beingcriticized as ignorant. Conversations around promoting diversity in mainstream films hasbecome a talking point around the Oscars in recent years. Movements like "Oscars So White" in 2016 — when no black actor, writer, or director was nominated in majorcategories — forced the Academy to radically change its own makeup. The organization addeda wave of new members, and looked outside itsusual nomination patterns. But Black panther wasn't a shoo-in. With the Oscars' steady anddramatic decline in viewership and anti-Oscar social media campaigns, the Academy knew it wastime for another change. It tried launching a "Popular Film" category to acknowledge fan favorite movies, without having to place themin the Best Picture category. It was similar to when theBest Animated Feature category was introduced. But the Popular Film announcementdidn't go as planned.


The backlash was so immediatethat the Academy backed down almost instantaneously. People considered BlackPanther one of the best movies of the year, not just the most popular. They wanted to see it celebrated as such. It took 10 years, but the Academy realized that if they continued toignore superhero movies, they'd be ignoring modernmovie culture as a whole. They were celebratinga version of Hollywood that average moviegoersweren't participating in. They risked looking elitist. Black Panther, whichwas a monumental success and one of the most culturallygroundbreaking movies of the year, became theideal movie for the Academy to regain its relevance. But superhero movies aren'tthe only new competition for Best Picture. Netflix also just got itsfirst Best Picture nomination with Roma. And actually, thestreaming service released Bright with Will Smith, tryingto make a streaming version of a summer blockbuster. Disney plans to launchits own streaming service later in 2019, and willbe investing in more big-budget content, andso will competing services like Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Prepare for a wholelot more superhero buzz at the box office, and on your laptop, and at awards shows. Black Panther is just the start.


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