Essays · Movies

Could This Year’s Best Picture Race Be a Battle of the Genres?

A certain superhero movie isn’t the only genre film with Oscar potential this year. 
Wonder Woman
By  · Published on October 25th, 2017

A certain superhero movie isn’t the only genre film with Oscar potential this year.

Awards chatter for Wonder Woman has been buzzing for months, but talk of its contention for Best Picture at the Oscars is heating up lately. We’re getting deep into the season where Academy Awards speculation is high, and the DC superhero blockbuster isn’t the only movie representing a major film genre other than just drama and biopic that could compete in the Best Picture race for this year. Here are 10 genres and their chances of being nominated:


Wonder Woman is pretty good, and it’s definitely very popular, but could the Academy see it as Best Picture worthy? Some could argue that it’s not even the best superhero movie, as Logan was slightly better-reviewed and plays more as a serious western-inspired drama. Spider-Man: Homecoming has the same Rotten Tomatoes score as Wonder Woman and also made a ton of money (more so overseas). But Wonder Woman is much more noteworthy in the zeitgeist.

Awards site Gold Derby has both Wonder Woman and Logan listed as “strong” not “leading” contenders, while Collider counts the former as a “frontrunner,” the Hollywood Reporter calls it a “major threat,” IndieWire’s Anne Thompson calls it a “long shot,” And Awards Circuit puts it 40th in line for the crown. Alas, I don’t think there’s any more likelihood we’ll see the first superhero movie nominated for the top Oscar now than when Deadpool was being buzzed for the honor last year.


From Star Wars to Arrival, science fiction has had occasional luck making its way into the Best Picture race over the last 40 years. More so recently thanks to the increase in number of nominees (eight of the 11 titles achieved the distinction since 2009). This year’s possibilities include the latest Star Wars installment, The Last Jedi, fellow sequel War for the Planet of the Apes, as well as Bong Joon-ho’s Okja. But most likely, if anything, the honor would go to Blade Runner 2049.

The Denis Villeneuve-helmed sequel hasn’t been successful at the box office, but its critical favor and certainty of a cinematography nod might help its chances. Currently, the movie is still a frontrunner according to Gold Derby and Awards Watch, while Collider calls it a “major threat.” Thompson recently moved it from the frontrunners circle to the long shot pile, which speaks the most to its uncertainty in the race. Maybe it’s not this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road after all.


Sci-fi and fantasy go together well, and superhero movies also count as one or the other or both, but this year there is a strong choice that doesn’t quite fit into the other categories. No, not box office champ Beauty and the Beast, which isn’t going to follow in the 1991 animated feature’s footsteps, even if Gold Derby counts the Disney remake as a “strong contender.” Guillermo del Toro’s own original fairy tale, The Shape of Water, has much better odds.

The romantic creature feature might be the best chance for a second fantasy film winning Best Picture a la The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingThe Shape of Water is listed as a frontrunner by Gold Derby, THR, Anne Thompson, Awards Circuit, which ranks it second most likely, Awards Watch, which has it tied for most points in its favor, and Collider, which lists it first. And it’s currently got a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The only thing is that it’s still months out from release, so we don’t know if it will make its mark with wider audiences and voters.


This has been a very strong year for quality horror movies, between the surprise critical favor and box office success of IT, the decent M. Night Shyamalan movie Split (which can also be considered a superhero movie on account of it being a sequel to Unbreakable). But the real powerhouse for the genre is Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which is both one of the most acclaimed films (99% on RT) and biggest hits of the year.

Get Out could be the first horror Best Picture nod since Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (or do we count Black Swan?) and maybe the first win besides The Silence of the Lambs. Most pundits seem to see the movie as a lock for one of the category’s slots, including those at Gold Derby, IndieWire, Collider, THR, and Awards Watch. However, at Awards Circuit it’s ranked 18th in line, questioning the Academy’s favor towards this type of horror. I think they’ll go for it.


If you want to bet on any guaranteed genre showing up among the Best Picture candidates, this one is it. War movies aren’t exactly a rarity at the Oscars, so there’s no surprise here, except if the genre winds up with a superhero movie like Wonder Woman representing in addition to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Joe Wright’s Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, both of which involve the Dunkirk evacuation during World War II.

Every one of the awards sites we’re looking at includes both movies in their bunch of leading contenders, with Awards Watch putting Dunkirk at the top of their democratically determined ranking, tied with The Shape of Water and Awards Circuit featuring Dunkirk and Darkest Hour back to back at third and fourth in line for a spot. While the latter has the current distinction of being a frontrunner for the Best Actor win, though, Dunkirk is the only movie I’ve seen buzzed about for having the best chances of winning Best Picture.


After Beauty and the Beast, we’ve only seen two more animated features squeeze into the Best Picture race (Up and Toy Story 3), again thanks to there being more nominees now than in the past. Of course, there’s also a Best Animated Feature award these days keeping voters from often considering the format for the top prize. If anything this year has a chance, it’s yet another Disney/Pixar release: Coco.

Some reviews have trickled out for the movie, which is still a month away from being released, and most of them are positive. We can be sure it will be nominated in the animated feature category and probably win (it’s been a bad year for animation anyway). Awards Circuit ranks it just above Get Out, but Gold Derby is the only other site to even mention Coco as a Best Picture possibility, and there it’s just a “strong contender.”


Like animation, nonfiction films have their own category, Best Documentary Feature. And while that honor hasn’t always exist and diverted all candidates, in the 90 years of the Academy Awards, no doc has ever been nominated for Best Picture. This year won’t change that. For one thing, there’s not even a frontrunner or even just a few titles vying for the doc feature award. And as a doc lover, I still think the only closest thing to a real lovable nonfiction feature that I could see as Best Picture material is Kedi.


Comedies in general are famously less considered by the Academy for Best Picture, but romantic comedies specifically have a history with Oscar — winners include It Happened One NightAnnie Hall, and The Artist. Yeah, there seems to only be one champ for every four decades, so maybe this won’t be the year for a rom-com to be named Best Picture but there will probably be one named as a nominee: The Big Sick.

Most of the awards sites we’re looking at do consider the movie, which is based on a true story and infused with a lot of drama alongside the comedic elements, a leading contender. Collider lists it as a major threat rather than a frontrunner, though, and Awards Circuit ranks it only 31st in line for the prize. As classifiable as a rom-com, The Big Sick‘s nomination would be a big enough deal on its own considering the genre tends to be very, uh, generic nowadays.


We’re a long time away from the heyday of Hollywood musicals and the era in which they were big Oscar contenders. Last year, La La Land made a major play at Best Picture, enough to be erroneously declared the winner at first. But it’s been 15 years since Chicago won the honor and not a lot of worthy candidates since. This year, excluding Baby Driver as a musical and dismissing Beauty and the Beast, there is hope for The Greatest Showman.

Nobody has seen the movie, which stars Hugh Jackman as circus icon P.T. Barnum, so it’s difficult to properly weigh its chances at this point. Gold Derby does list the musical as a strong contender, Awards Watch lists it as an “other,” and THR doesn’t chime in on those releases “still to come.” For now, neither Thompson nor Collider give it any mention, but Awards Circuit puts it in 24th place in line to be represented at the big Hollywood show.


Another movie that hasn’t been seen yet — or at least hasn’t been reviewed — is Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express. Presumably the Agatha Christie adaptation is a traditional whodunit film, even more so than the 2001 Best Picture nominee Gosford Park. The question is, will it still be strong enough a movie with its likable ensemble cast and pretty production design? Has Kenneth Branagh ever directed a Best Picture nominee? I don’t think so.

I don’t think the movie looks good at all, let alone for Oscar consideration. Yet it does figure in some awards sites’ predictions sight unseen. Gold Derby marks it as a strong contender, Awards Watch notes it as simply being a contender, and Awards Circuit ranks it 35th in line for a nomination. Those isn’t great recognition, but at least the mystery genre is represented more than usual given that, like romantic comedy, it’s an old-fashioned genre that doesn’t shine above as much these days.

The Rest

That would be interesting if every Best Picture nominee prominently represented a different movie genre, but it’s unlikely. At best, I could see at least one war movie, one horror movie, one rom-com, one fantasy film, and maybe one sci-fi flick. Probably two war movies. That’s more than half. As for what else is likely to be nominated, there could be a non-romantic comedy (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and one non-comedic romantic picture (Call Me By Your Name), as well as a good helping, as usual, of dramas.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.