If you were to ask famed director Steven Spielberg, like Deadline did, about the Oscars expanding the number of films that could be nominated for best picture, he’d talk about a crime noir that he thinks should have been nominated a decade ago.
The movie that Spielberg highlighted in the Deadline interview interrogated what happens when an anarchist villain pursues true chaos and a vigilante hero confronts whether he’s doing good or evil. It blurred the lines between heroes and villains, and it was more or less a treatise on human nature.
But it didn’t get a best picture nod. Spielberg said he thinks it would have if the Academy had allowed more than five nominations that year.
Perhaps surprisingly, the movie that Spielberg was praising was Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” which follows the vigilante hero Batman as he struggles to defeat his latest nemesis, the Joker.
Batman, who is Bruce Wayne, also wrestles with the limits of being Batman. The love of his life, Rachel Dawes, is seriously dating Gotham’s district attorney, who Wayne believes could render the Batman useless. If that happens, Wayne believes he can win over Dawes again.
When the movie was being considered for major awards, there was buzz about whether or not it would earn an Oscar nod.
A 2009 CNN article had the headline: “Can ‘Dark Knight’ leap into Oscar contention?”
In order for “The Dark Knight” to get the nomination, “Hollywood will have to get past its disdain for ‘comic-book movies,’” an expert told CNN.
As it happened, Hollywood didn’t embrace the comic book movie that year.
But one year after “The Dark Knight” went through awards season, the rules governing the Academy Awards changed. “The best picture category was expanded to 10 nominees in the hopes of providing room for popular yet still respected films like ‘The Dark Knight,’ and perhaps drive more viewers to the show as a result,” according to Variety.
Then, as Variety reported, blockbusters started popping up on the list of best picture nominees that likely wouldn’t have made the cut before.
“Many assumed the 2009 change was a direct response to ‘The Dark Knight’ not getting a nomination,” The Associated Press reported.
Although “The Dark Knight” didn’t end up with a nomination for best picture, it made history in another way.
Heath Ledger, who portrayed the movie’s villain the Joker, posthumously won the Oscar for actor in a supporting role. It was the first time an actor in a comic book movie achieved that feat, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Nolan still hasn’t won an Oscar for best picture. It wouldn’t be until 2018 that one of his films would receive a nomination: “Dunkirk” ended up doing that for him.
Now, it’s widely expected that his latest movie, “Oppenheimer,” will receive a best picture nomination, if not win the category, in 2024.