Yes. And no.
In the history of the Academy Awards, no film has ever received more than 14 Academy Award nominations, and that’s only happened three times: All About Eve (1950), Titanic (1997), and La La Land (2016). To think that a comic book tentpole released in February could go on to set a new all-time record of 15 Oscar nominations seems, in that context, patently absurd.
And, let’s face it, it probably is.
But few films have ever been this poised to do it.
Even ten months out of nominations being announced for the 91st Academy Awards, it’s not absurd to suggest that Marvel’s Black Panther will be a serious Oscar contender, especially with Disney’s reported plans to give it an awards season campaign push.
As you look down the list of nominations that this critically-raved phenomenon is eligible for, Black Panther will have a legitimate shot to compete for at least 15 of them.
Here are some thoughts on the major categories, and then a brief look at other below-the-line possibilities.
- It’s rare for blockbuster special effects tentpoles to receive a Best Picture nomination (the last to do so was 2009’s Avatar), plus a comic book adaptation has never been up for the Academy’s grand prize. To snag a Best Picture nomination alone would be a grand feat, regardless of how many other nominations come with it. But in Black Panther, it seems, the genre’s time with the Academy has finally come. Sure, The Dark Knight had box office and critical approval but still couldn’t land a nomination for the top prize, but the social resonance of Black Panther should make the difference.
- RYAN COOGLER. There’s an auteur’s stamp on Black Panther not seen in a superhero movie since Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight, especially a thematic one. This is an empowering rally cry for African-Americans – indeed, for all black people – in a way that’s inspiring rather than confrontational or culturally divisive. Director Ryan Coogler is the reason for this, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him receive some initial honors from critics groups. But critic citations or not, it’d be a shock (and, arguably, an insult) if he’s denied a directing nomination. Or, at least, a much more competitive year than can be seen as of now.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- MICHAEL B. JORDAN. Chadwick Boseman gives a solid lead turn as T’Challa / Black Panther, but a lead nomination for him remains a long shot. The film’s tortured heart and soul is its villain, Killmonger, and Michael B. Jordan – already respected both critically and in the industry – seems destined to be recognized for creating a character that you actively root against even as you sympathize for what drove him to bloodlust. Ultimately, Killmonger wants justice, but he let vengeance cloud that virtue.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- There are three possibilities here: Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Guria, and Letitia Wright. Nyong’o seems to have the edge simply because she’s won here before (12 Years A Slave), but in terms of who’s more crucial to the film I think it’s Guria (who plays Okoye, the head of the All Female Wakandan Special Forces) and Wright (T’Challa’s spirited younger sister and Wakandan tech guru). If critics groups have any sway, I think they’ll vote Guria.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
- I don’t know if a superhero / comic book / franchise movie has ever had this level of cultural depth, relevance, or impact. Logan was able to pull off a nomination here by simply being a great genre piece. Black Panther does that but then raises the stakes with legitimate, thoughtful, and honest social commentary.
And for the below-the-line categories:
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – Composer Ludwig Göransson leans way into African tribalism, so much so that his percussive-heavy compositions sound nothing like what you’d expect from a major studio movie, let alone a Marvel superhero movie. It has as much to do with Black Panther‘s unrepentant African identity as anything, as well as its dramatic power and emotional heft.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – rapper Kendrek Lamar did a whole Black Panther album. Just pick a track.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – Rachel Morrison is coming off of her history-making “first ever female” nomination in this category with Mudbound. If this movie gets an Academy embrace, she’ll be a part of it.
BEST FILM EDITING – if this is a serious Best Picture contender, and I think it will be, then a nomination here would prove it. The editing does get a bit too frenetic at times, for my tastes (a Marvel staple), but the fight scenes are indeed kinetic and thrilling.
When you look at other categories like PRODUCTION DESIGN, COSTUME DESIGN, and MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING, the work in Black Panther not only stands out on its own merits but it’s also very symbolic in relation to African culture and the film’s underlying themes.
Then there’s the givens, the ones that at least one Marvel movie is nominated for every year: SOUND MIXING, SOUND EDITING, and VISUAL EFFECTS.
That’s 15 total categories, and 16 to 17 nomination contenders when you consider the multiple possibilities in Supporting Actress and Original Song. With a $1 Billion box office total so far, including $562 million in North America, and still playing strong at #1, the popular groundswell will be there to elevate this movie come Oscar time.
And if critics groups get behind it during the initial phase of awards season, as strongly as they are now (Rotten Tomatoes 97%, and the even stingier highbrow Metacritic score of 88 out of 100), Black Panther could not only be a major Oscar contender; it could actually set a record for total nominations and be the presumptive Best Picture favorite.