Oscars: Could we see a record number of sequels nominated for Best Picture?

It’s not quite an elephant in the room, as much as maybe a tiny chihuahua hiding behind the couch waiting to pounce when Oscar nominations are announced on January 24, but there is a chance that more than one movie in the Best Picture race will be a sequel. It would indeed be historic, since sequels are already a rarity at the Oscars as it is. 

As of this writing, over 4,900 Gold Derby experts, editors and users think Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” will get nominated for Best Picture and over 3,900 think James Cameron’s “Avatar: Way of the Water,” which just opened in theaters, will get nominated as well. Far fewer (around 300) have “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in the running to get a Best Picture nomination, although it’s the follow-up to a movie that received seven Oscar nominations, winning three. There’s also Rian Johnson‘s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” the sequel to his 2019 hit “Knives Out,” which did not get a Best Picture nomination but received an Oscar bid for Johnson’s original screenplay; approximately 1,500 think that sequel will make the Oscars lineup in the top category.

Before we get to this year’s sequels, let’s look at the recent history of sequels receiving Best Picture nominations. The last to get a Best Picture nomination was George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015, a follow-up to his trilogy from the late ‘70s and ‘80s, none of which got any Oscar traction. By comparison, “Fury Road” won six Oscars, though it lost Best Picture with Miller losing the directing Oscar as well.

Five years earlier in 2010, Pixar Animation’s “Toy Story 3” became the very first animated sequel to get a Best Picture nomination, making that Pixar’s second year in a row to release a Best Picture nominee (following “Up” in 2009). To be fair, though, 2009 was the start of the era of more than five movies being nominated for Best Picture, so there was more room for animated films and sequels in general.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” became the third movie in Peter Jackson’s trilogy to receive a Best Picture nomination, but that movie swept the Oscars, winning 11 gold men including Best Picture.

Before that, you’d have to go all the way back to 1990 when Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part III” received a Best Picture nomination, following the Best Picture wins by 1972’s “The Godfather” and its own 1974 sequel, “The Godfather Part II,” an even rarer case of two out of three chapters of a trilogy winning Best Picture Oscars.

Oddly, “Top Gun: Maverick” is the sequel that’s likeliest to make waves at the Oscars even though the original “Top Gun” didn’t make huge Oscar waves back in 1986, despite being the highest grossing movie that year. It received four Oscar nominations, all in technical categories, but only won a single Oscar for the Berlin song “Take My Breath Away,” written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock. It didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.

By comparison, both “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” have much better chances at replicating the below-the-line nominations for which their original movies won, although “Avatar” has more potential for additional Best Picture and Best Director nominations than “Panther” judging from the early evidence of Golden Globes and Critics Choice nominations. Neither of their original movies won Best Picture, but both were nominated, and “Avatar” ended up winning three Oscars out of nine nominations, while Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” also won three but out of seven nominations.

“Glass Onion” is an outlier in that it could also get an Adapted Screenplay nomination — remember that sequels are automatically placed in that category even if based on an original idea  — but there are other categories where it’s worthy of notice, including Best Production Design. It has already received two Golden Globe nominations in the Best Film Comedy/Musical category and for Daniel Craig as Best Actor Comedy/Musical, but the Critics Choice Association nominated it for five awards, including for Janelle Monáe‘s supporting performance and for Best Picture.

How each of those four sequels might fare at the Oscars in the important crafts and technical categories might determine which of them has the best chance at a Best Picture nomination (and even a win). Right now that seems to be between “Avatar” and “Top Gun,” although the latter has potential for an acting nomination (for Cruise) while Angela Bassett is also in the discussion for a possible supporting nom for “Wakanda Forever.” If “Glass Onion” does get nominations in other categories besides screenplay, maybe it will be deemed one of the year’s 10 best by the Academy as well.

A few other sequels that are even more outliers, like the other two Marvel sequels, “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which are probably vying for Visual Effects and Sound nominations but not much else.

Either way, 2022 may be the first year where more than one sequel is considered awards-worthy, but we’ll have to see when Oscar nominations are announced whether the academy’s love for the original movies will carry over to one, two, three or even four sequels.

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