In a little more than a month, Avengers: Infinity War will hit theaters. The third entry in The Avengers franchise is the culmination of a decade of filmmaking at Marvel Studios, as well as one of the biggest cinematic productions ever assembled. It wasn't so long ago that we were staring at the first Avengers trailer with awe, marveling (pun intended) at how the studio had managed to assemble all of those characters and movie stars into a single film. Now, Marvel's out to dwarf that, and we can't wait.
Infinity War is already guaranteed to be a massive blockbuster, if not the massive blockbuster, joining a string of Marvel mega-grossers that includes Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, and, most recently, Black Panther. The film is also vying to continue the streak of critical hits Marvel's on lately thanks to massive love for both Black Panther and last year's Thor: Ragnarok. Throw in the huge response to Wonder Woman over at DC Films and Logan at Fox, and it's a pretty good time for comic book blockbusters that are also critical successes.
One place superhero films are still lagging, though, is the trophy case, particularly at the Academy Awards. Superheroes almost always earn some nominations and even take home statues in technical categories (which are, make no mistake, prestigious, but not the sort of thing average at-home viewers remember like Best Picture), but the major categories of the night tend to leave them out. Even in a year dominated by genre cinema like The Shape of Water and Get Out, the 2018 Academy Awards shrugged off Wonder Woman (though Logan got some love in the Best Adapted Screenplay category), and while Black Panther is already gearing up for its own shot at gold, it could very well continue the trend of shutouts.
Now, obviously you can't just lump every film from a particular genre into "deserving" and "undeserving" piles. Each superhero film has to be judged on its own merit, just like each coming-of-age drama or World War II epic. If you had to pick the single biggest genre in terms of sheer eyeballs hitting the screen right now, though, superhero flicks would likely be at the top of the list, so fans naturally ask the question: When will popular success and the increasing number of talented filmmakers flocking to the genre finally correspond to some major Oscar victories? Or, to put in another way: When will an Avengers movie finally get a Best Picture nod?
It's a question Infinity War co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo were asked to ponder months ago, as various press outlets made their way to the film's set for a peek at production and interviews with cast and crew. Those set visits are finally seeing the light of day this week, and so we finally get to hear how the Russos feel about the way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences views superhero films, if they think that might change soon, and whether or not they care. Here's the exchange between the two brothers:
Joe Russo: It’s a hard question, because we’re filmmakers. So all we do, we think these stories are very important. We love them. We find them as exciting and as complex and inspiring and heartbreaking, and we believe that there are real stakes in them, real emotional stakes. So for us, these are exactly the kind of movies we aspire to, and exactly the kind of movies we look for as filmgoers in a movie theater... The Academy has been very effective in promoting movies, and getting eyeballs, on movies that don’t necessarily get large audiences, and I think that’s been one mission of the Academy, and one very effective mission that they play in terms of pulling attention to movies that could use it.
Anthony Russo: And stories that could use it.
Joe Russo: Yeah, and stories that could use it. These movies are so highly visible, I think there’s less of a …
Anthony Russo: An urgency.
Joe Russo: Yeah, less of an inclination to say “Hey, we need to pay attention.” Everybody’s already paying attention, so I don’t know, it’s an interesting question but from our point of view, we take this as seriously as we take anything.
Awards shows are, of course, not only about bringing attention to lesser-seen films. We watch the Oscars, in part, to root for films and stars we like, and many moviegoers only tend to see major releases with major stars, so there's certainly a chunk of viewers out there who aren't too tuned in to what a smaller film like Lady Bird or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has to offer. That said, there is a lot of truth to what the Russos are saying about visibility, and you can tell by how many people thought about seeing Moonlight when it took Best Picture in last year's Oscars' twist ending. That doesn't mean blockbusters can't compete for the big awards (see recent Best Picture nominees like Gravity, Toy Story 3, Avatar, and more), but it does mean there's more to consider.
The bigger point here, though, is not what the Academy thinks, but what the Russos think. You won't find too many filmmakers who don't want to one day put an Oscar on their mantle, but they're clearly not concerned too much with trophies. They're busy making one of the biggest films in the world. We'll soon know what level of acclaim to expect from Infinity War, which hits theaters on April 27, but for the moment these filmmakers are savoring the award that is getting to make the biggest superhero movie ever.