10 Comic Book Movie Performances That Would Have Received Oscar Nominations If They'd Been In A Different Genre
It's time to widen the Oscars' Appeal
It has long been an unfortunate but widely accepted fact that films or shows of certain genres, particularly those based on comic book properties, tend to be overlooked and dismissed as popcorn flicks by more prestigious Award shows such as the Emmys, Golden Globes, and especially Oscars. While these films are recognised in categories such as Make-Up, Sound, and Visual Effects, the actors performing in them are more likely to be snubbed by Academy voters come nominations time, even if a similar character or performance in a film of a different genre would be almost certain to get a nod.
Thankfully, things are slowly beginning to change. Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix, both winning Best Actor Oscars for takes on DC Comics villain the Joker, have proved rare exceptions to the rule, and while the first Black Panther, released in 2018, did not earn any Oscar nominations for acting, it earned multiple nominations in other prestigious categories, including Best Picture. Now, the second Black Panther film, Wakanda Forever, has broken ground for Marvel Studios, with Angela Bassett's Best Supporting Actress Nomination for her role as Queen Ramonda in the film. While Basset is the first actress to score a nomination in the Oscars acting categories for a performance in an MCU film, many fans would claim that she is far from the first to deserve one.
Here are some other performances from comic book movies that probably could have earned Oscar Nominations if they'd been in films of another genre.
1. Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine in 'Logan'
In 2017, Hugh Jackman reprised his X-Men role as Logan/Wolverine in Logan, planned at the time to be his final outing as the character. The film is set in the year 2029, and no new mutants have been born in at least 25 years. Logan is secretly caring for an aging Charles Xavier, who now suffers from Dementia and dangerous telepathic seizures, while also dealing with the deterioration of his own healing abilities. Logan is unexpectedly introduced to his cloned daughter, Laura, and tasked with transporting her across the country to a supposed Mutant sanctuary known as Eden, with the ailing Xavier along for the ride and enemies in hot pursuit.
Logan was a hit with fans and critics, and is often considered one of the greatest comic book films of all time. The performances in the film were widely praised, with particular focus on Jackman in recognition of his long history as the character. Despite this high praise, neither Jackman or any of the film's other main actors were recognised at the 2018 Oscars. However, Logan was nominated for best Adapted Screenplay, a feat yet to be repeated by any other superhero film, despite the fact that they are all, on some level, comic book adaptations.
2. Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark in 'Iron Man 3'
In 2008, Robert Downey Jnr first played Tony Stark in Iron Man, the film credited with launching the now sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the casting of the once troubled actor made some studio executives nervous, Downey soon proved his worth, making Iron Man a hit and Tony Stark the lynchpin of the MCU for it's first three phases.
While often considered one of the MCU's weaker films, Iron Man 3 features what many critics consider to be one of Downey's best performances as Tony Stark. Throughout the film, Tony is seen suffering from anxiety attacks and PTSD after almost suffocating in space in the climax of the first Avengers, with both conditions praised as having been portrayed with sensitivity and realism. Had Tony Stark been a returned combat veteran suffering with these conditions, Robert Downey Jnr's performance would probably at least have been recognised, if not nominated. However, because Tony is 'just a superhero', the film escaped the notice of Academy voters.
3. Karen Gillan as Nebula in 'Avengers: Endgame'
After her turn as popular Doctor Who companion Amy Pond, Scottish-born actress Karen Gillan joined the MCU as Nebula, one of the daughters of Thanos, in Guardians of the Galaxy. Across her four film appearances so far, Nebula is recognised as having some of the greatest character development in the MCU. Beginning as a villain, Nebula is reformed after reconciling with her adoptive sister, Gamora, and declaring a new life goal of destroying Thanos in order to prevent others from experiencing the horrific abuse she suffered at his hands.
While all of Gillan's turns as Nebula have been well reviewed, the actress delivers a particularly powerful performance in Avengers: Endgame. Gillan pulls double duty when a mishap while helping the Avengers in their Time Heist pits Nebula against a past version of herself, one who has not been through the experiences that have begun to heal her and made her a hero. Tragically, this Nebula is not ready to overcome her trauma, and present Nebula is forced to shoot her to save Gamora, proving how far her relationship with her sister has come.
With both fans and critics recognising Gillan's great performance in this film, it's a shame the bigger Awards shows couldn't recognise it too.
4. Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr/Magneto in 'X-Men: Apocalypse'
In 2011, Fox's X-Men film franchise was beginning to show it's age, so the studio attempted to revitalise it with a prequel, allowing them to recast some beloved characters with younger actors. While James McAvoy played a younger Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender was cast as his frenemy, Erik Lensherr/Magneto. While the first two films, First Class and time travel drama Days of Future Past (which combined the original and prequel casts), were praised, critics noted a dip in quality in the third film, Apocalypse, although the performances were still considered top notch, especially that of Fassbender.
It is often said that Oscars can be won on the strength of a single scene, and this could very much have been true of Michael Fassbender's performance in X-Men: Apocalypse. Since the events of the previous film, Erik has assumed a new identity, living a peaceful life in Poland with his wife and young daughter, Nina, but is exposed as a Mutant when he uses his powers to save a work mate's life during an accident. The stress of the Polish Militia arriving to take her Father away causes Nina's own Mutant powers to manifest, and a panicked soldier accidentally shoots she and her Mother dead. A distraught Erik retaliates by killing the Militia with Nina's necklace, and gives up his attempts at reform.
Fassbender has earned Oscar nominations before, for his roles in 12 Years A Slave and Steve Jobs, yet his equally impressive performance in the above scene was overlooked.
5. Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'
When the MCU entered it's second phase, many fans were interested, and concerned, about how Marvel Studios would handle the Captain America sequel. While the first film was a WWI epic, the second, which would be Steve Rogers first solo outing in the present day, would undoubtedly be very different, and some wondered whether the character of Captain America would work in a modern setting.
They needn't have worried. In 2o14, Captain America: The Winter Soldier arrived in theatres, proving an instant hit with critics and fans alike. Part action film, part drama, and part spy/political thriller, Winter Soldier is often considered to be not just one of the greatest MCU films, but one of the greatest comic book films of all time. It also featured not one, but two major twists that forever changed the face of the MCU: S.H.I.E.L.D has been being slowly infiltrated by H.Y.D.R.A ever since the organisation began, and the Winter Soldier, a dangerous assassin pursuing Steve throughout the film, is actually his best friend Bucky Barnes, amnesiac brainwashed by H.Y.D.R.A after suffering a near fatal fall in the first film.
Upon Winter Soldier's release, there was cautiously optimistic Award buzz around the performances of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, as well as Directors the Russo Brothers, but when Awards season came.. Nothing. Nearly ten years after the film's release, this is still considered by fans to be one of the worst Oscar snubs for any comic book film.
6. Chadwick Boseman as King T'Challa in 'Black Panther'
Black Panther, a film following Prince T'Challa's rise to become King of Wakanda following the death of his Father in Captain America: Civil War, was released in 2018 to both the excitement of fans, and great critical acclaim. It broke ground in many ways, as the first MCU film to feature a Black leading superhero, the ninth highest grossing film of all time, and to date, the most succesful Oscars campaign for a comic book film. Black Panther received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and won three, for Costume Design, Production Design, and Best Original Score.
While Black Panther ultimately lost the Best Picture Oscar to Green Book, the nomination was still praised by fans for opening the door for Comic Book films on the Oscars stage.. Yet now, looking back, it no longer seems quite enough. It is quite uncommon for a Best Picture nominated film not to have at least one cast member recognised in the Acting Categories. However, this was the case with Black Panther, despite Chadwick Boseman's performance as the lead, King T'Challa, and Michael B. Jordan's villain Erik Killmonger being among the best reviewed elements of the film, and Boseman winning Best Actor gongs for Black Panther at a few 'lesser' award ceremonies.
At the time, it didn't seem to matter much. Boseman was a brilliant actor seemingly in his prime, he would get another chance at the big award. This was technically true. In 2021, Boseman was nominated for Best Actor For his role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.. But the actor will never know this, as he passed away in 2020 after waging a secret battle against colon cancer. It's a tragedy that he was snubbed for a great performance while he was still alive, just so the Academy could wait for him to appear in a more 'Oscar worthy' film.
7. Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova in 'Black Widow'
In 2021, Black Widow finally hit theatres after being delayed multiple times by the COVID-19 pandemic. It followed Scarlet Johansson as the titular Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff, as she reconnected with her undercover spy family to take down the Red Room. One member of this family is her adoptive sister and fellow Red Room graduate Yelena Belova, played by Florence Pugh. During a mid-film 'Family Dinner', Yelena breaks down over Natasha's assertion that their family life was not real, as for Yelena, who was too young to remember anything before, that was the best part of her life. Often, emotionally charged scenes of this nature are ones to watch when Awards season rolls around, but, you guessed it.. zilch.
Just a year prior to Black Widow's release, Florence Pugh scored a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as Amy March in Little Women, mostly due to a powerful monologue on the marriage prospects of women in the 19th century, and the fact that she manages to make Amy, usually considered the least likeable March sister in the novel and other adaptations, rather more sympathetic. Yet for some reason, her equally powerful performance in Black Widow went unrecognised, despite the dinner scene being considered by many as the best in the film, and Pugh's overall performance as Yelena one of the best in the entire fourth phase of the MCU.
8. Tom Holland and Willem Dafoe as Peter Parker and Norman Osborn/Green
In late 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home was released. The film, which sees the MCU's Peter Parker teaming up with alternate universe versions of himself to battle a multiverse hopping band of villains, is widely credited as reviving the cinema experience in the aftermath of shut-downs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Similar films have often been dismissed as popcorn fanservice fodder by critics, but No Way Home was spared from this by impressive performances from it's leads, most notably Tom Holland as the MCU's main Spider-Man, and Willem Dafoe as villain Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin, reprising his role from the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films.
In most circumstances, the Oscars are suckers for stories where a protagonist struggles in the aftermath of a devastating event or loss, and almost falls from grace, only to ultimately find the strength to remain on the right path. This is a storyline Holland pulls off with aplomb in No Way Home. Dafoe chose to reprise his role on the condition of losing the mask that characterised Norman's villain side in the Raimi films. The end result of this choice was a masterful performance. The shift in Dafoe's facial expression between the rather sweet Norman and the evil Goblin is chilling, cementing him as one of the greatest villains in the history of comic book films.
Dafoe is already a past Oscar nominee, so there's no reason he should not be honoured again. Meanwhile, Tom Holland has been pegged by experts as a future winner.. why not recognise him for an existing great performance?
9. Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness'
In May 2022, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the long awaited sequel to 2016's Doctor Strange, hit theatres. The film received mixed reviews on it's release, with many fans having expected the film to lean into the Multiverse element a little more. However, the film's cast have been praised, particularly that of Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch. Wanda spends most of the film as the antagonist, attempting to steal America Chavez's powers, but eventually reforms after being forced to confront the horror of what she had become.
Olsen's performance is most impressive when looked at as the culmination of her character's journey up until this point.. A journey that occurred over four films and an eight episode mini-series. Admittedly, this is not something the Oscars can easily judge, considering their focus on performances in individual films rather than franchises. However, this may be something worth looking into in the future.
10. Letitia Wright as Princess Shuri in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'
In 2018, young actress Letitia Wright entered the MCU as Princess Shuri in Black Panther. Shuri, the younger sister of King T'Challa, was a cheeky, fun character, while also being useful as a genius tech expert, helping both T'Challa's Black Panther efforts and advancing the technology of Wakanda. The character was well received, and fans looked forward to seeing more of Wright as Shuri. in future films.
This all changed after the shock death of Chadwick Boseman, who had played T'Challa, threw Black Panther sequel plans into turmoil. Once it was decided to move ahead with the sequel in Boseman's honour, the obvious choice was to install Shuri as the new Black Panther, as she has occasionally taken on the mantle in the comics. However, some fans and experts had concerns over whether Wright was ready to take on such a major leading role. They needn't have worried. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Wright delivers a gripping performance as a young woman struggling with grief over the loss of her brother and haunted by her failure to save him, while also trying to honour his legacy and guide her country into the future.
Wright more than proved that she has the acting chops to lead not only this film, but become a driving force in the future of the MCU. While Wakanda Forever has been nominated in an Acting category with Angela Basset's nod for Supporting Actress, but it's a shame Letitia Wright hasn't been similarly recognised for her impressive work as the film's lead.
Hopefully, Basset's nomination heralds the beginning of a change, and we will see more Comic Book films recognised in the future.
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