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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a dominating force at the box office for more than a decade now, but there is one area of Hollywood where the films have weirdly failed to find any success: the Academy Awards. Part of this stems from the fact that blockbusters are rarely recognized in the top categories at the show, but even in technical fields it has been all swings-and-misses for the comic book adaptations. Before last year, eight of Marvel Studios' 17 releases were nominated for a total of 10 Oscars, and none of those chances resulted in victory.
Now, however, the situation is very, very different for the franchise. Not only did Marvel produce two billion dollar features in the same year for the first time in 2018, but those movies -- Ryan Coogler's Black Panther and Joe and Anthony Russo's Avengers: Infinity War -- have also made a major impact on the 2019 Oscar nomination slate. Without direct competition in any of the categories, the two titles have been put up for a total of eight prizes, including a Best Picture nod for the February release. The question that remains, of course, is if this mountain of recognition will actually result in a Marvel Studios film taking home some hardware.
To start with the heftiest dose of optimism, there is now a 99.9 percent chance for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to win its first Oscar -- though it's funny that it's Avengers: Infinity War that has the sure thing considering it received only one nomination compared to Black Panther's seven. The movie is one of five films competing in the Best Visual Effects category this year, and while there certainly is some beautiful work on display in the other titles up for the prize, including the action-packed Ready Player One, the cuddly Christopher Robin, the breathtaking First Man, and the gritty Solo: A Star Wars Story, none of them really stand a chance.
Just the scope and scale of Infinity War alone would make it a frontrunner in this field, but it's truly the creation of the performance capture masterpiece that is Josh Brolin's Thanos that should guarantee Marvel Studios receiving Hollywood's highest honor. It's true that the Academy has not done a great job recognizing this kind of work in past years -- with the entire modern Planet of the Apes trilogy never winning the Best Visual Effects prize -- but this year offers the perfect opportunity to buck that trend and pay legitimate attention towards an increasingly important part of modern filmmaking.
Avengers: Infinity War's place during this year's award season has always been fairly clear, but the situation for Black Panther is a lot more complex. Best Visual Effects essentially operates as Academy outreach to blockbusters that otherwise get ignored by the show, but Ryan Coogler's movie is playing a different game (and, in fact, it is the first Oscar-recognized Marvel Studios film not to compete for the VFX prize). It is now the most-nominated comic book adaptation since Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, which is a high honor, but a significant part of competing this way is that the competition becomes a lot more extreme.
With the exception of First Man -- which only got four below-the-line nods total -- none of the other nominees for Best Visual Effects are competing in any other category, but the same most definitely cannot be said about the titles Black Panther is facing off with in Best Picture, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. These are all arenas where the Marvel movie will be going head-to-head with BlackKklansman, The Favourite, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Roma, which are all films to which the typical Oscar voter is more likely to gravitate.
This isn't to say that Black Panther's Academy Award chances are minimal, however -- just less than Avengers: Infinity War's. Returning to the Dark Knight comparison, the Christopher Nolan feature wound up winning two statues from its eight nominations, and while the Marvel movie doesn't have anything in its "story" that compares to the untimely death of Heath Ledger and his posthumous Best Supporting Actor win, the Batman film also won Best Sound Editing. So while Best Picture and Best Original Song are probably longshots for Black Panther, given what it's up against, fans shouldn't count it out in the other categories.
No matter how you slice it, today was definitely a great day for Marvel Studios, with the company nearly doubling the number of lifetime Academy Award nominations it's received. How it will all play out at the end of the season we'll have to wait and see, but you can be sure that it's something we will be keeping a close eye on as the ceremony plays out on February 24th.