If box office numbers determined success at the Oscars, directors like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron would need wagons to haul off how many trophies they would be taking home. Cameron, arguably the king of the box office, currently has three films—Titanic, Avatar, and Avatar: The Way of Water—in the top ten highest-grossing films of all time. And even though Spielberg began mega-franchises like Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, his three Academy Awards stemmed from more serious films, like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
The two filmmakers will face off against each other in the Best Picture race at the upcoming 2023 Academy Awards—but one director’s film was clearly a bit more beloved by the Academy than its competitor. Spielberg’s The Fabelmans received seven nominations, including Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best Score. Meanwhile, Avatar: The Way of Water only received three technical nominations outside of its Best Picture nod. Comparing box office numbers, however, it’s not even close. Though the long-awaited Avatar sequel premiered in theaters just this past December, the film has already grossed over a billion dollars worldwide.
Even though blockbusters like Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick likely won’t walk away with Best Picture, Spielberg is still thrilled to see them both nominated. “I’m really encouraged by that,” he told Deadline. “It came late for the film that should have been nominated a number of years ago, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight,” the director said. “That movie would have definitely garnered a Best Picture nomination today, so having these two blockbusters solidly presented on the top ten list is something we should all be celebrating.”
The Dark Knight was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 2009, including wins for Sound Editing and Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. The clown prince of crime would win again a decade later when Joaquin Phoenix took home Best Actor for Todd Phillips’s Joker. The polarizing film was also nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture—alongside seven other technical nominations. Is the Academy slowly learning to change with the times?
“We have a social need to be together in the world,” Spielberg said about why people are showing up to catch blockbusters like the Avatar and Top Gun sequels in theaters, instead of from their televisions at home. “It can be frustrated by the pandemic, but eventually we’ll see more adult films doing decent numbers in movie theaters.” Until then, you can always catch Avatar: The Way of Water again. If the Academy is ready to evolve with the box office, it may be time to paint that Oscars trophy man blue.
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