Film has long been about art imitating life, or at least aspects of it. Even superhero films, arguably at the zenith of their popularity, reflect humanity—the best of it, the worst of it, and the vast gray area in-between. Despite that, these films are not getting the critical recognition they deserve from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the award-giving body that hands out the prestigious Academy Awards or Oscars.
Health Ledger’s 2009 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, awarded posthumously for his unnerving, anarchistic portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight, was the one notable exception to the prevailing norm of giving superhero films the cold shoulder at the Oscars (outside of technical awards).
Clearly, superhero films receive very little love from the Academy, with nominations for the main categories continuing to go to independent films according to this ABC News report. In the report, Hollywood Reporter senior awards analyst Scott Feinberg points out that there is a manifest dichotomy between what moviegoers want and what the Academy wants. In other words, members of the Academy pay absolutely no heed to the popularity of superhero films, but are seemingly entranced by the arthouse qualities and serious, dramatic undercurrents of movies such as Moonlight and La La Land (to be fair, both films are exceptional).
Yet it can be argued that superheroes have played a crucial part in humanity’s development over the centuries. Superheroes have long been part of different cultures, and proof lies in centuries-old literature that featured deities with immeasurable power and creatures with extraordinary strength and skill. Superhero and comic-book expert Laurence Maslon called superheroes modern Greek myths, noting how superheroes have the same impact now that Greek heroes had to western civilization centuries after they were created: “There are people who grew up with them, seven-year olds who are 57 now. They don’t want to throw them away, but they want to interpret them through the lens of their own time”.
To get a sense of how important superheroes are to modern culture you only have to look at how dominant the genre is across mediums. Several superhero films are already lined up for 2018, including Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Even gaming companies are riding on the surging popularity of the genre. Digital slot games provider Spin Genie is appealing comic book fans by taking inspiration from some notable superheroes of comic lore, including Hellboy and Black Widow. The increased exposure of heroes across platforms shows how humanity now considers them to be a key part of popular culture. The superhero genre has now become deeply ingrained in our cultural fabric compared to a decade or so ago when the genre was in its relative infancy (at least in the film industry).
Based on the above evidence, if a superhero film were to win a Best Picture Oscar it would be an accurate representation of humanity at the moment. In a world filled with difficulty, superheroes have become beacons of hope for many people.