In 2009, the Academy decided to increase the field of possible best picture nominees from five to 10—a knee-jerk reaction to The Dark Knight’s best picture snub. The thinking went that by casting a wider net, blockbuster films with more mainstream appeal than traditional Oscar fare could potentially squeak in, and people would tune in to watch their favorite films get recognized. It was a ratings ploy that never panned out, as we saw on Tuesday, when Wonder Woman failed to earn a single Oscar nod, let alone one for best picture.
While Wonder Woman was always a long shot to crack the top 10, its ubiquity on the endless stream of snub lists that hit the web following the announcement of the nominations meant that some people expected it to be included. And why wouldn’t they? Despite its comic book roots, Wonder Woman had all the hallmarks of a traditional Oscar contender.
As one of the best reviewed and highest-grossing films of the year, it was the rare summer blockbuster that played as well with critics as it did audiences. And in a year when women fought back, no film captured the zeitgeist or felt more in line with the national cultural conversation quite like Wonder Woman did.
So what went wrong? Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan suggests that it “wasn’t strong enough in below-the-line categories,” meaning its technical achievements weren’t significant enough to best eye-popping rivals like Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049 and The Shape of Water. “There are few paths to best picture if you can’t earn at least one other Oscar nomination, and there was no category this year where Wonder Woman was a sure bet to be included,” Buchanan writes.
Another strike against Wonder Woman was its anemic Oscar campaign. Scoring a nomination is as much about who’s willing to put in the effort of campaigning and glad-handing, and as Buchanan points out, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot—both of whom were considered long shots in their respective categories—just didn’t put enough face time in with voters. And while Warner Bros. launched a Wonder Woman Oscar campaign to much fanfare this past summer, it paled in comparison to other savvy campaigns for films like Get Out, which Universal called “the movie for the world we live in today.”
There’s also the theory that Wonder Woman’s appearance in the tepidly received Justice League tarnished the original film’s shimmering brand, and Gadot’s corresponding press duties for the latter prevented her from properly campaigning. Gadot, for one, doesn’t seem rattled by Wonder Woman’s Oscar exclusion.
“I was very moved and touched by the people who were disappointed that Wonder Woman wasn’t nominated, but we certainly never did the movie for that,” the actress told Entertainment Tonight recently. “I think that you can’t have it all. We’ve done this movie, and it was received in such an amazing, wonderful way, and we want to stay humble and grateful, and we’re going to have another movie, so who knows? Maybe the next one!”
If Wonder Woman 2 hopes to become the first-ever superhero project nominated for best picture, the Academy will have to update the traditional, old-school mindset that excluded worthy films like The Dark Knight and Deadpool in years past. That isn’t to say there hasn’t been progress. When former Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs added over 1,500 new members to the organization—many of whom were young and diverse—she charted a path toward a brave new world for Oscar voting. And while this year’s inclusion of films like Get Out and Lady Bird signal the signs of a real sea change, the inclusion of a stodgy period drama like The Darkest Hour for best picture over a beloved cultural phenomenon like Wonder Woman, reveals that there’s still work to be done.
If you’re among those who hope to see the day a superhero movie makes the Oscar leap, there’s reason to hope. Logan—the dark and gritty road saga that doubled as a Wolverine movie—was nominated for best adapted screenplay, a prestige category where no superhero movie has gone before. It’s the first time a film of its kind has been nominated for something other than a technical category, and it’s a sign that some people are willing to elevate these kinds of films to high art.
That bodes well for the endless slate of upcoming superhero movies. Chief among them is Black Panther, a new kind of superhero movie with so much positive advance buzz that a best picture nomination isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It helps that the woman who shot the film, Rachel Morrison, was nominated this year for her work in Mudbound, becoming the first African-American woman to earn a nod for best cinematography. Wonder Woman may have been shut out, but Tuesday wasn’t without its heroic feats.