Nick Picks | Will a Star Wars Movie Ever Win Best Picture at the Oscars?

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Welcome to Nick Picks, a regular column by Nick Spake. There are countless important questions regarding the current state of cinema and I’m here to answer them.

There’s no denying that Star Wars has had an enormous impact on society and the way we look at movies. Even with the franchise’s incredible influence, Star Wars has never been a favorite with Academy voters. Granted, the original 1977 classic did receive a Best Picture nomination and win six technical Oscars. The big prize ultimately went to Annie Hall, however. Although many consider The Empire Strikes Back to be the best film in the entire series, it couldn’t make the Best Picture race in 1980 and only won one Oscar. Return of the Jedi didn’t do much better, only taking home a Special Achievement Award for its visual effects. As for the prequels…well, we know why the Academy never embraced those.

With The Force Awakens, there seems to literally be a new hope for Star Wars at the Oscars. Prior to the film’s release, I wrote an article entitled, Will Star Wars: The Force Awakens Score a Best Picture Nomination? Ultimately, I said it would largely depend on the film’s overall quality. Now that The Force Awakens has finally been released, we now know that it’s not only good, but it’s actually pretty damn amazing. Some are even hailing it as the best movie of 2015, myself included. With that said, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has a fighting chance at a Best Picture nomination. Could the film win Best Picture, though? If not, will any Star Wars movie ever win Best Picture at the Oscars? Let’s take a look at the big picture.

Time will only tell where The Force Awakens ranks in the whole Star Wars saga. Based on its Rotten Tomatoes score of 95% positive, though, it’s currently the best reviewed Star Wars movie of all time. That’s right, both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back have 94% positive, putting the latest film just 1% higher. Sure, the score for The Force Awakens could still go down if it gets a couple more negative reviews. Nevertheless, the general consensus seems to be that the film is on par with the most beloved entries in the series.

Of course RT scores don’t mean everything, especially when it comes to the Oscars. A few years ago, The Dark Knight received rave reviews and everybody thought it was a safe bet for a Best Picture nomination. Although it scored 94% on RT, the Academy instead went with The Reader, which only got 61%. The lesson? Oscar voters will always go with a mediocre holocaust movie over a revolutionary superhero movie.

That’s probably the greatest hurdle for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Academy is full of snobs that refuse to acknowledge mainstream franchise films. Just getting a Best Picture nomination could be considered a win for The Force Awakens. Expecting it to actually win Best Picture may be asking too much.

Then again, The Dark Knight snub was viewed as a wake up call for the Academy. It pretty much influenced them to expand the Best Picture category from five to ten films. In 2009, we did see the Academy nominate several unconventional films, including Up, District 9, and the highest-grossing movie of all time, Avatar. Of course the gold ultimately went to The Hurt Locker, one of the lowest-grossing Best Picture winners ever.

While we’re on the subject of James Cameron’s mega blockbuster, there seems to be an evident parallel between Avatar and The Force Awakens. It should be noted that both films were released on December 18th. Avatar opened at number one and held onto that spot for seven straight weeks. The Force Awakens could repeat the same formula, especially considering it won’t face much competition until late January and early February. The film has already made $528 million worldwide, meaning that it could dethrone Avatar’s all time record. In that case, The Force Awakens would be too big for the Academy to ignore.

As big as Avatar got, it still couldn’t win Best Picture at the Oscars. It lost for the same reason why the original Star Wars lost back in 1977: it’s a science fiction flick. The Academy doesn’t necessarily award their “favorite” movie of the year. They award what they think is the most “important” movie of the year. The Hurt Locker felt like a very “important” film. 12 Years a Slave also felt like a very “important” film. Even Birdman and The Artist felt like “important” films, at least from a Hollywood perspective. Although Avatar and Star Wars became instant culture phenomenons, neither seemed “important” enough upon initial release.

To be fair, the Academy isn’t incapable of recognizing science fiction and fantasy as “important” genres. It just takes them awhile sometimes. For example, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring received a Best Picture nomination in 2001, but lost to A Beautiful Mind. The Two Towers also got a nomination in 2002, but lost to Chicago. In 2003, the Academy finally decided to put their prejudice aside and award this landmark franchise with a Best Picture win. Something similar may happen with The Force Awakens.

Many older Academy members grew up with Star Wars. The Force Awakens recaptures the magic of the original trilogy, reminding us all that Star Wars isn’t just a great franchise, but an important one. A Best Picture win for The Force Awakens could be the Academy’s way of honoring the franchise. If The Force Awakens gets into the lineup, this just might be the best shot a Star Wars movie will ever have at a Best Picture win. Of course a nomination still isn’t 100% guaranteed for The Force Awakens.

Since The Force Awakens wasn’t screened in time for many award shows, The Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards aren’t going to provide any incite into its Oscar odds. However, support is clearly growing for The Force Awakens. Members of the Critics Choice Awards didn’t get to see the film before marking their ballots. Now that they have, though, many are actually campaigning for The Force Awakens to be included in the Best Picture race. The AFI additionally recognized The Force Awakens on their Top 10 Films of 2015 list. If we see it get into DGA, WGA, and PGA, the film would be a virtual lock for a Best Picture nomination come Oscar time.

The Force Awakens is also helped by the fact that there currently isn’t a surefire front-runner for Best Picture, although it will face stiff competition with Spotlight, Carol, and Mad Max: Fury Road in the mix. Speaking of Mad Max, talk about another unlikely Best Picture nominee that’s been getting a ton of support from significant groups like the National Board of Review. If the Academy will go for a groundbreaking action picture like Mad Mad: Fury Road, there’s a strong possibility they’ll recognize The Force Awakens too. The Academy still may not jump at the chance to give Star Wars an overdue Best Picture prize. They may want to wait and see how Episode VIII and Episode IX turn out. The point is that a Best Picture win is certainly in the cards for the Star Wars franchise. Will this be the year, though? One can only hope.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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