“Black Panther” could well be the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to garner an acting nomination. While a laudable achievement, this also means that in the first 20 films in the franchise, not one cast member has merited attention from the academy.
Surely that’s ridiculous? Yes, fantasy and sci-fi films don’t typically register with the acting branch. The three films in “The Lord of The Rings” series, which received a combined total of 30 Academy Award nominations and 17 wins, only managed a singular acting bid – Best Supporting Actor for Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey. That trilogy featured a bunch of other outstanding performances from a brilliant cast (Andy Serkis as Gollum! Andy Serkis as Smeagol! Andy Serkis!).
What makes a performance in a superhero/fantasy film any less deserving of awards than a performance in a serious drama? Skill, technique and talent are used in both genres. With the MCU looking to finally nab its first acting nomination, let’s look back at five MCU performances that deserved some awards attention but didn’t get any.
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man in “Iron Man,” 2008 – Best Actor
Downey Jr. and “Iron Man” began the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. This was the movie that started it all. In hindsight, given the weight and significance of the film and Downey Jr’s performance as Iron Man (a character he would play a further eight times – and counting), he should have been nominated. His performance, charismatic, hilarious, iconic, is worthy of awards recognition. As Jon Favreau (director of “Iron Man”) said when he cast him, “Robert Downey Jr. is to the MCU what Johnny Depp is to ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.'”
Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in “Doctor Strange,” 2016 – Best Supporting Actress
Bit of a left-field choice, this one. But Swinton as the Ancient One transcends the racial and gender barriers of the character in the comics with a neutral, almost androgynous portrayal of the Sorcerer Supreme. While fans reacted negatively at first (they wanted an older, Asian man to play the role to fall in line with the comics – which could have verged on racial stereotyping), she won them over with a spiritual, wise performance. And, spoiler, Swinton’s death scene is as quietly sad as it is loudly philosophical and beautiful.
Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man in “Captain America: Civil War,” 2016 – Best Supporting Actor
Yes, yes. I know, back to Robert Downey Jr. already. It may be the easy choice to return to another Downey Jr. performance as Tony Stark/Iron Man. But there’s a reason for that: he’s just so damn good. In “Civil War,” Downey Jr. is more Tony Stark and less Iron Man (more Tony Stark than in any other appearance, too) and it makes for a truly great performance. If you took away all of the fantastical, superhero, sci-fi plot elements of the story and left it with what it is (a man struggling to keep his team together in a geopolitical fight while finding out his mother was murdered by someone he knew and wanting revenge, while his best friend betrayed him), Downey Jr. would have been nominated. Watch this film again and look out for all of the nuances in his performances, the facial expressions, the twitches of his mouth, the slight physical movements, the desperation is his voice. It’s a brilliant, emotional performance that deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Kurt Russell as Ego in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” 2017 – Best Supporting Actor
While most would probably go for the more colourful, scenery-chewing performance of, say, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, I prefer the villainous performance of Kurt Russell as Ego. He’s a charismatic father figure and romantic lover with something to hide. You can’t help but route for Chris Pratt‘s Peter Quill and Ego to forge a father-son relationship, such is the believable chemistry of the two. And that’s what makes Ego’s betrayal and villainous plot twist all the more affecting and heartbreaking. Russell goes from warm, kindly father-figure with a Santa Claus beard to a carnivorous, ruthless megalomaniac with a Santa Claus beard. Great stuff.
Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster in “Thor: Ragnarok,” 2017 – Best Supporting Actor
Is there a more entertaining performance in the MCU than Jeff Goldblum having a complete and utter ball as The Grandmaster? I think not. The Grandmaster is charming, childish, petulant, hilarious, off-kilter and just great. Taika Waititi did a great job in bringing out the off-kilter humour in “Thor: Ragnarok” and while Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk) are really good in their own comic timings, Goldblum steals the show as the colourful Grandmaster.
What do you think? Do you agree with these five? Or do you think there is another performance by an actor or an actress that deserves a shout out? Let us know in the comments section.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.