Comic book movies aren’t usually Oscar bait, but “Black Panther” could change that this year. The size and demographics of the motion picture academy are gradually expanding, and we’ve seen genre movies contend in top categories in recent years like “Avatar” (2009), “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and “Get Out” (2017). But while “Black Panther” has looked like a potential Best Picture contender almost since its release (it currently ranks in the top 10 in our odds), what about for acting?
Among the cast members, Michael B. Jordan probably stands the best chance at the Oscars for his role as villain Erik Killmonger. In fact, six of the Expert journalists we’ve polled think he’ll be nominated, and two of them even think he’ll win: Claudia Puig (KPCC) and Glenn Whipp (LA Times). Here are four reasons why I think they might be on the right track.
1. He’s due
Jordan is only 31-years-old, but he’s already an industry veteran with credits dating back almost 20 years, including acclaimed roles on the small screen (“The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights”) and the big screen (“Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”). He has proven himself as both a critical favorite and a box office draw, so he might be in that sweet spot where the academy is primed to vote for him the next chance they get. This could be that chance, especially if “Black Panther” really does make the cut for Best Picture.
2. Oscars love showy villains
There’s precedent for scenery-chewing villains from the comics to be Oscar contenders. Al Pacino was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for playing crime boss “Big Boy” in “Dick Tracy” (1990). And Heath Ledger won that award posthumously for playing the Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008). Beyond that voters have anointed killers and sociopaths like Anthony Hopkins (“The Silence of the Lambs,” 1991), Charlize Theron (“Monster,” 2003), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland,” 2006), Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men,” 2007) and Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” 2009).
3. He’s surprisingly sympathetic
It doesn’t hurt that Jordan’s character is more morally ambiguous than many of the villains who came before, giving the actor more nuances to play. Erik Killmonger is motivated by legitimate grievances, having been radicalized by a lifetime of racial injustice. Amid the Black Lives Matter movement and on the heels of the “Get Out” Oscar windfall, his storyline is especially resonant.
4. “Creed II” is on the way
“Creed” (2015) earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone, who reprised his iconic role as Rocky Balboa, but Jordan was snubbed for his starring role despite plaudits from critics groups including a Best Actor win from the National Society of Film Critics. The sequel opens in November, which gives Jordan two films for the price of one (they could nominate him for “Black Panther” as de facto recognition for both performances), and it may also remind voters that he’s holding an Oscar IOU. Will this be the year he cashes it in?
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.