Is 2023 the year of the blockbuster Oscars?
Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick have triumphed at the box office – and at the Academy Awards nominations.
After weeks of predictions and guessing games, the Oscar nominees for 2023 have finally been announced – and in the end, it's Everything Everywhere All at Once which leads the way with a total of 11 nominations.
Other films to feature prominently in the line-up include Steven Spielberg's semi-autobiographical The Fabelmans and Martin McDonagh's dark comedy The Banshees of Inisherin, while as ever there are one or two surprises – including Brian Tyree Henry's nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category and Paul Mescal's welcome nod for his leading turn in the superb Aftersun.
But perhaps the most notable thing about this year's list of nominees is just how well 2022's slate of blockbusters has performed. The Best Picture line-up includes not one but two big-budget sequels – Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water, films that have so far made a combined total of $3.5 billion at the global box office and each now rank among the top 12 highest-grossing films of all time (as a point of comparison, the entire ten-strong Best Picture line-up last year took in just over $650 million, the bulk of which came from Dune).
Meanwhile, two of the other films in this year's line-up – Baz Luhrman's Elvis and the aforementioned Everything Everywhere All at Once – have also crossed the $100 million mark, a feat that only Dune managed from last year's selection.
It's not just in the Best Picture category that big-budget films have flourished. Tom Cruise might have missed out on a Best Actor nod, but Angela Bassett has become the first performer in Oscars history to be nominated for a role in an MCU film thanks to her supporting turn as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Given she's already picked up the Golden Globe Award, it's not too much of a stretch to suggest she might end up picking up the golden statuette in March as well.
Sure, there are other blockbusters that haven't fared so well – at one point it seemed likely that Wakanda Forever might join its predecessor in landing a Best Picture nomination, while some fans have expressed annoyance that Matt Reeves's The Batman has been more or less shut out, scoring nods only in the technical categories.
But while it remains to be seen which film will eventually be crowned Best Picture winner in the wide-open race, and though it still seems relatively unlikely that Maverick or Way of Water will ultimately claim the top prize, there's no doubt that this can go down as a banner year for big-budget films.
The success is especially noteworthy given the Academy's recent botched attempts to more clearly honour films that have played to large audiences. The plan to introduce a Best Popular Film category was met with much derision when it was announced back in 2018 – eventually scrapped before it could be put into place – while last year's decision to bring in two new fan-voted categories, for best film and best moment, proved similarly unpopular.
If anything, the nominations secured by films such as Maverick and Way of Water proves how needless those proposed additions were in the first place – it was always ridiculous to suggest that films were being overlooked just because they had performed strongly at the box office, and this year's line-up only confirms that.
Of course, the relative merits of the films in the line-up will always be the subject of much debate, and for every fan delighted at the inclusion of these big-budget movies there will be those justifiably disappointed that smaller films including the aforementioned Aftersun and Park Chan-wook's terrific Decision to Leave couldn't make it in.
But regardless of the individual quality of the films honoured by the Academy, it's only right that a healthy Best Picture line-up – one that helps make the ceremony seem relevant again in the eyes of the public – should include a good mixture of crowd-pleasing blockbusters and more independent-minded fare, and in that regard at least, this year's line-up is an encouraging one.