Is The Batman A 2023 Oscar Contender?

The vast majority of comic book films find themselves in a major uphill battle when it comes to being recognized at the Academy Awards. Marvel mega-hits like Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home are routinely shunned in every category outside of Visual Effects. However, back-to-back Best Picture nominations in 2018 and 2019 for Black Panther and Joker proved that with the right ingredients, the stringent Academy will embrace comic book fare. Could The Batman join these films in establishing itself as a major Oscar contender?

When the Academy does decide to embrace a comic book film, it has to feel like the work of a real filmmaker, and not just the product of a studio. Black Panther may have the markings of a Marvel film, but it also has the distinct voice of Ryan Coogler weaving political and social themes into his work. It was also seen as a landmark in representation, and all these factors made it appear more significant to voters than just another popcorn superhero flick.

Joker succeeded by positioning itself apart from the DC universe, which The Batman also does. It was a dark, mid-budget, R-rated portrait of a mentally ill man dismissed by the cruel world around him. A prestigious Venice Film Festival premiere certainly didn’t hurt its image either. Joker and Black Panther are also more stylistic than most superhero fare. Ruth E. Carter’s costuming and Ludwig Göransson’s score in Black Panther were elaborate works of world building akin to fantasy epics like Avatar and The Lord of the Rings. Joker was crafted more like a prestige Oscar period film than a studio comic book film, with its hazy, colorful cinematography and grimy production design.

Enter The Batman, the latest exercise in auteur-helmed comic book fare; a serious, dark, realistic crime epic that borrows from David Fincher films and noir. It feels less like a DC film than a Matt Reeves film, and is being praised for its crafts like Michael Giacchino’s score and Greig Fraser’s cinematography. There’s even debate as to whether or not it surpasses The Dark Knight. It certainly has many of the ingredients that lead to the success of past Oscar-nominated comic book films. But can it go all the way to a Best Picture nomination?

Below-the-Line Possibilities

It seems very likely we will see a Makeup & Hairstyling nomination for The Batman. The Academy loves when actors are rendered unrecognizable with prosthetics, and that’s exactly what’s going on with Colin Farrell here. I think it’ll also be a strong contender for a Best Sound, especially with that roaring car chase sequence. Michael Giacchino’s score is so powerful and memorable that it won’t be easy to forget even by next year. However, as we saw with Tenet’s score snub in 2021, and even The French Dispatch’s production design snub this year, nothing is guaranteed if the film isn’t a stable contender above -the-line.

Grieg Fraser has created some of the most immersive and luscious visuals we’ve seen in any comic book film. It’s very possible The Batman could result in his third cinematography nomination. Film Editing and Production Design could see nominations if the film is having a strong showing, and especially if it enters the Best Picture conversation. It’s difficult to spot the Visual Effects in the film, since they’re so sparing, so it’s tough to say whether or not that would see a nomination.

Above-the-Line Possibilities

If Adapted Screenplay is thin, or if the film is in the Best Picture lineup, this could pull off a nomination like Logan did in 2018. There are a lot of strong performances in The Batman, but Paul Dano stands out as the best shot at an acting nomination for his performance as The Riddler (sorry Emo Pattinson). I don’t think it’s likely, however, as Dano has been ignored in the past, and he’s in a mask for half his screen-time. To see a directing nomination, the film would have to be one of the very strongest Best Picture players, but my feeling is that if it is a Best Picture nominee, it would be a lower tier player. 

When it comes to Best Picture, The Batman cannot claim to be reinventing the genre as The Dark Knight did. It doesn’t have the same cultural relevance Black Panther did, and it hasn’t stirred up controversy the way Joker did. Every contender needs a narrative, and it’s not so easy to tell what The Batman’s is. For sure, it’s an aesthetic achievement and a damn good crime film all around, grounded in some of the very real corruption and anxieties that we see in our world today. But I’d hesitate to say the Academy will view it as “important”. It’s also possible voters will feel the film is redundant since we seem to have a new Gotham City set film every few years. All this is unfortunately amplified by the early year release date.

Maybe it gets a measly two nominations. Maybe it performs like Interstellar and Blade Runner 2049 and sees 4-5 tech nominations. Maybe it’ll be a real success story with 6-8 nominations including Picture and Screenplay. All possible outcomes, but if I’m calling it right now, I predict it’ll get just three nominations for Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound, and Original Score.