This story has been updated to reflect the winners of the 92nd Academy Awards, which honored the films of 2019.
Comic book movies have been dominating the motion picture box office for decades, but at the Academy Awards… not so much.
Every year the Oscars highlight the so-called best movies, performances and technical accomplishments of the year, but comic book adaptations rarely make it into the acting and writing categories. In fact, it’s only this year that a director was nominated for the genre with Todd Phillips for Joker, which actually broke the record for nominations for comic book movies with 11. But generally, such films get nominated for a lot of technical awards — and they rarely ever win.
But although it sure seems like the Oscars have it out for comic book movies, they actually do have a long history of nominating them, going all the way back to the 1940s. Join us for a trip through history as we look at every single comic book adaptation to earn an Oscar nomination, and the relatively small number of comic book films that actually won an Academy Award.
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The first of the influential Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, which would later inspire Batman: The Animated Series, was the first comic book adaptation to get nominated for an Academy Award. It was up for Best Animated Short Subject, but lost to the Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lend a Paw.”
Superman returned to the Oscars 37 years later and earned nominations for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. It lost all three categories to The Deer Hunter (Best Editing, Sound) and Midnight Express (Best Original Score), but did earn a special achievement Oscar for the film’s visual effects, which made audiences believe a man could fly.
Superman may have earned the first Oscar nominations for a comic book movie, but Batman won the first comic book movie Oscar. Tim Burton’s iconic film won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction, the only category in which the film was nominated.
Dick Tracy (1990)
Warren Beatty’s ambitious adaptation of the Dick Tracy comic strip earned Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup and Best Original Song, and was the first comic book movie to earn an Academy Award nomination in an above the line category. Al Pacino was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost the Oscar to Joe Pesci from Goodfellas. Dick Tracy also earned nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Sound.
Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton’s sequel to Batman earned two Oscar nominations, for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup. It lost the visual effects Oscar to the horror comedy Death Becomes Her, and the makeup Oscar to the horror epic Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
The Mask (1994)
The Dark Horse comic book adaptation The Mask turned Jim Carrey into a living cartoon and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but it lost the Oscar to the Best Picture winner Forrest Gump.
Batman Forever (1995)
Joel Schumacher’s first Batman movie was nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing. Batman Forever lost Best Cinematography and Best Sound Effects Editing to the Best Picture winner Braveheart, and lost Best Sound to Apollo 13.
Men in Black (1997)
Barry Sonnenfeld’s sci-fi comic book adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, and was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Original Score for a Musical or Comedy. It lost Best Art Direction to Titanic, and lost Best Musical/Comedy Score to The Full Monty. The original Malibu comic book series was acquired by Marvel in 1994, making this the first Oscar win for a Marvel movie… technically.
Ghost World (2001)
The first comic book movie to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay was Ghost World, written by Daniel Clowes (who also wrote the comic book) and director Terry Zwigoff. The film lost the Oscar to the Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind, written by Batman & Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.
Road to Perdition (2002)
Sam Mendes’ adaptation of the gangster graphic novel Road to Perdition won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and was nominated in five other categories, for Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor. Paul Newman lost Best Supporting Actor to Chris Cooper, from the meta-comedy Adaptation.
Sam Raimi’s record-shattering blockbuster Spider-Man was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. It lost Best Visual Effects to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Best Sound to the Best Picture-winning musical Chicago.
American Splendor (2003)
Harvey Pekar’s life story, adapted from his autobiographical comic books, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost the Oscar to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which swept the Academy Awards that year.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man blockbuster won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. The film lost Best Sound Mixing to the biopic Ray, and lost Best Sound Editing to the Pixar superhero comedy The Incredibles (which was inspired by comic books, but not actually based on one).
Batman Begins (2005)
Christopher Nolan’s first Batman movie was only nominated for one Academy Award, for Best Cinematography. It lost to to the historical epic Memoirs of a Geisha.
A History of Violence (2005)
David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the graphic novel A History of Violence was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, for William Hurt. It lost the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar to Brokeback Mountain, and lost Best Supporting Actor to George Clooney, from Syriana.
Superman Returns (2006)
It may not have jumpstarted the franchise, but Superman Returns did earn an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects. It lost to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Marjane Satrapi adapted her own autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis into a celebrated film, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature. It lost the Oscar to the Pixar comedy Ratatouille.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Christopher Nolan’s second Batman blockbuster was the first comic book adaptation to earn an Academy Award in an above-the-line category, for Best Supporting Actor, which was awarded posthumously to the late Heath Ledger. The Dark Knight also won the Oscar for Best Sound, and nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Guillermo del Toro’s superhero sequel earned an Oscar nomination for Best Makeup, but lost to David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Iron Man (2008)
The first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie earned two Academy Award nominations, for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. It lost Best Sound Editing to The Dark Knight, and Best Visual Effects to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The violent comic book adaptation Wanted earned Oscar nominations for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, but lost Best Sound Editing to The Dark Knight, and lost Best Sound Mixing to the Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The second Iron Man movie earned another Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects, but lost to Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending blockbuster Inception.
The Avengers (2012)
The ambitious superhero team-up The Avengers earned only one Academy Award nomination, for Best Visual Effects. It lost to Ang Lee’s epic survival story Life of Pi.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The third Iron Man film kept the streak alive, earning yet another Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects, and losing yet again. The outer space survival thriller Gravity won the Academy Award instead.
The Wind Rises (2013)
Hayao Miyazaki’s adaptation of his own autobiographical manga about Japanese aeronautics engineer Jiro Horikoshi was nominated for Best Animated Feature, but lost the Oscar to the Disney musical Frozen.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Disney’s animated Marvel comics adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making it the biggest Oscar win for a Marvel movie (if not MCU movie) to date.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The second Captain America movie earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but it lost to the Christopher Nolan sci-fi epic Interstellar.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The first Guardians of the Galaxy was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup. It lost Best Makeup to the Wes Anderson comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel, and lost Best Visual Effects to Interstellar.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
The time-traveling X-Men epic earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects, but like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, it also lost to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Scott Derrickson’s trippy superhero blockbuster Doctor Strange earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects, but lost the award to Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book.
Suicide Squad (2016)
The supervillain team-up blockbuster Suicide Squad earned an Academy Award for Best Makeup. It may not have been the first Oscar for a DC Comics movie, but it was the first Oscar win for a DC Extended Universe movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
The sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects, and competed against Blade Runner 2049, Kong: Skull Island, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and War for the Planet of the Apes at the Academy Awards. Blade Runner 2049 took home the statue.
The final chapter in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine saga earned the first-ever Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for a film based on a superhero comic book. It competed against the dramas Call Me By Your Name, Molly’s Game and Mudbound, as well as the comedy The Disaster Artist, with Call Me By Your Name winning.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
One of the best MCU movies ever, Avengers: Infinity War only received one Oscar nomination, for Best Visual Effects. It lost to the Ryan Gosling docudrama First Man.
Black Panther (2018)
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther finally broke the trend of comic-book movies being snubbed in the Best Picture category, while also nabbing nominations in six other categories (Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song). Still, it notably didn’t receive nods in any of the acting, writing, or directing categories.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Sony’s unique spin on the Spidey mythos won Best Animated Feature Film, beating out the likes of Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, and Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Like Infinity War a year earlier, Avengers: Endgame only received one nomination, for Best Visual Effects. It lost to Sam Mendes’ World War I epic 1917.
Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips’ dark take on the Joker received the most nominations ever for a comic book movie with 11, breaking out of the frequent “technical categories only” rut that the genre faces. Joker got noms for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. In the end, the film only won for Best Score and Best Actor, however, making Joaquin Phoenix the second actor to be recognized by the Academy for playing the Clown Prince of Crime after Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for The Dark Knight in 2009.
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What do you think of the comic book movie genre’s history at the Oscars? Let’s discuss in the comments!