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Four ways the Oscars are playing it safe for the 2022 Academy Awards

A man in a Spider-Man costume at the 88th Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Sorry, Spider-Man.
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The nominations for the 94th Academy Awards have been released, and anyone hoping the Oscars would finally bow to superhero hits like Spider-Man: No Way Home, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, or Black Widow will be very disappointed. 

Instead, the 2022 Academy Awards are just as sedate and predictable as in previous years, but with a few notable modifications. 

Normally the Oscars take place in February, but the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences postponed the event until March 27 in hopes that covid-19 cases will have subsided by then. The event will be held at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, where proof of vaccination and masks are required, and air live on ABC.

That’s not the only realm in which the Academy is playing it safe this year. Consider the other ways in which the Oscars are taking few risks.

The 2022 nominees for Best Picture 

The Oscars aren’t generally known for using box office success as a barometer for its nominations, but this year’s Best Picture nominees faced unique challenges given the pandemic hurdles faced by movie theaters, with low-grossing “Oscar bait” films likely seen by even fewer movie fans this past year. Nominees like Power of the Dog pulled in just $54,000 worldwide, while West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg, bombed at the box office, pulling in just $36 million domestically. Similarly, other nominees like Belfast, Coda, and Drive My Car pulled in less than $10 million apiece in the US.

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Slightly more mainstream fare like Will Smith’s King Richard, the star-packed Netflix space satire Don’t Look Up, and Denis Villeneuve’s reboot of the 1980s classic Dune are also on the 10-picture nominee list. However, as Hollywood has struggled to keep its theatrical business model alive through the pandemic, it’s noteworthy that the Oscars failed to deliver a single nod to the box office successes that kept the film industry afloat during its darkest days. 

Answering criticism with regular people

This year, the Academy invited various members of the public to help announce the nominations, including healthcare professionals, firefighters, middle school students and college students of color, and a regular movie fan. It was a nice way to honor frontline workers who stepped up during the pandemic, and a not-so-subtle acknowledgement of the critiques the Academy has gotten over the years for the historic lack of diversity at the Oscars and the extent to which it does, or rather doesn’t, pay attention to the opinions of regular movie fans. 

The hosts of the 2022 Academy Awards

One of the most controversial issues shadowing the Oscars in recent years has been its choice of a host for the event. After the Academy announced Kevin Hart as its 2019 host, his past homophobic tweets were surfaced, eventually leading the comedian to step down as host. After three years without a host, the difficult task has been given to two hosts instead of one: widely admired—and, presumably, controversy-free—actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Leslie Jordan.

The Oscar snubs superheroes, aka the Visual Effects dump 

Historically, box office hits that don’t reflect the less mainstream tastes of the Academy generally find themselves relegated to the Visual Effects category. Although the award is often well deserved in terms of craft, the category’s very presence usually serves as a stark reminder that mainstream-friendly box office successes shouldn’t expect much at the Oscars.

Four of the top 10 grossing movies of 2021, including Spider-Man: No Way Home, No Time To Die, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Free Guy, all appear in the Visual Effects category. Not one was nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. Welcome to the new Oscars…same as the old Oscars. 

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