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Oscar vs Blockbusters

Many people were outraged to learn that the new Spider-Man is not among the films nominated for this year’s Oscars (the only film nominated will be in the visual effects category at the 27 March gala). “There are 10 nominees and one of them can’t be one of the greatest films of the last three years?” director Kevin Smith also declared. We should know that Spider-Man: No Way Home premiered in December and soon after it became not only the highest-grossing film of the post-Covid era, but also one of the highest-grossing films of all time, with a current gross of $1.8 billion, only five films ahead of it. And Peter Parker’s latest adventure was not only loved by audiences, but critics too. Why do Best Picture nominees have to be so serious all the time? Should a blockbuster be included among the Academy’s favourites, or automatically treated as a category to be discarded?

The attendance, or should I say the prestige, of the awards ceremony is certainly declining year over year. The peak in attendance was in 1998, when a blockbuster Titanic (currently the 3rd highest-grossing film of all time with $2.1 billion) managed to win no less than 11 awards, besting the record set by Ben-Hur. More than 55 million people watched the event this year. Of course, we’re not talking about a superhero movie, but a true story, a disaster movie, the academy didn’t want to shove an art film down our throats. Even though we couldn’t get excited about Leo, and Kate Winslet had to wait a good ten years for her Oscar, fans of the film could rejoice, because she was a huge hit at the gala. A similar triumph had to wait until 2004, when Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy epic The Return of the King was awarded the same number of statuettes – and he converted all his nominations into awards. The film was a huge success not only at the Academy, but also at the box office, grossing 1.1 billion, approaching Cameron’s Titanic and becoming the second most successful film of all time (24 films now precede it).

The show’s audience fell below 30 million in 2018, with the last Oscar before the pandemic spread – although it included the billion-grossing Joker – only 23 million people watched, and last year that number fell to 10.4 million.

Back to the present day, only one film in the Best Picture field in the US has managed to cross the $100 million mark – and you could call it a lone “post-COVID blockbuster” – and that was Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. The film, delayed for over a year due to a pandemic, was preceded by huge expectations. At the time, it was thought almost impossible to make a film of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt was scuttled, nothing came of it, and let’s face it, David Lynch’s wasn’t a great success in 1984. Warner Bros. only decided to go ahead with the sequel depending on its success at the box office, which fortunately was promised for next year. Because Villeneuve has set the bar high, and the film is very good indeed!

Nowadays, streaming services are often better than the cinema, and the number of nominations is growing every year (half of the Best Picture nominees have debuted on Netflix, HBO Max and Apple TV+, or were released shortly after the theatrical release). In this age of luring people back into cinemas after a long-lasting pandemic, perhaps it wouldn’t have hurt to recognise something that has held its own – both in terms of box office and audience – as strongly as our own Spider-Man.