Is Hollywood Turning on Superhero Movies? A List of Oscar Nominees & Winners from Superhero Films

Batman holds an Academy Award

Over the weekend, Hollywood took two shots at superhero films. Obviously no one wants nothing but superhero films but the majority of the the Marvel and DC adaptations over the last few decades have been very good for the most part. It isn’t even a genre, so much as a supergenre – Guardians of the Galaxy is a sci-fi movie while Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an conspiracy thriller. At the Independent Spirit Awards, director Dan Gilroy (whose film, Nightcrawler, is very good and is definitely NOT about the X-Men superhero) said: “Independent film, the foundation and everybody here today, I think are holdouts against a tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry. We have survived and we have thrived and I think that’s true spirit.”

What is he talking about? His wife, Rene Russo, plays Frigga in the Thor films. And a lot of the audience was in superhero films as well. At the Oscars, Jack Black joked about superheroes taking over and being generic but that was a joke so we can’t take it seriously. Still, there seems to be a backlash within parts of Hollywood against the success of superhero movies. So I thought I’d list some of the most notable Oscar nominees and winners and the roles they’ve played in superhero films. I understand an actor’s desire to play different roles. But in the end, it’s all about the quality of the script and director, not the overall genre, that’s important.

Historical nominees and winners:

  1. Marlon Brando won Best Actor Oscars in 1954 for On the Waterfront and 1975 for Godfather but we know him as Jor-El, Superman‘s father from the Richard Donner movie
  2. Jack Nicholson won for Best Actor in 1975 for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and again in As Good as it Gets (1997) with other nominations and supporting wins like Terms of Endearment (1984) but is often best remembered as Joker from 1989’s Batman
    ben kingsley with an Oscar
  3. Ben Kingsley won Best Actor in 1983 for Ghandi and went on to play Mandarin in Iron Man 3
  4. Louis Gossett, Jr. won Best Supporting Actor in An Officer and a Gentleman in ’83 and went on to play police officer Berkowitz in the first Punisher movie (1989)
  5. Jeff Bridges was nominated for Best Actor in 1985 for Starman (and won for Crazy Heart in 2010) and went on to play Obadiah Stane in Iron Man
  6. William Hurt won Best Actor in 1986 for Kiss of the Spider-Woman and went on to play General “Thunderbolt” Ross in The Incredible Hulk
  7. Also in 1985, Whoopi Goldbert was nominated for The Color Purple and went on to play April O’Neil’s boss in last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot (ok, not all these superhero movies are “good”)
  8. Eric Roberts received a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 1985 for Runaway Train and played crime boss Sal Maroni in Dark Knight (and voiced Superman villain Mongul on the animated series Justice League)
    michael caine with an oscar
  9. In 1987, Michael Caine won Best Supporting Actor for Hannah and Her Sisters (he has been nominated in every decade he’s worked and won a second time in 2000 for The Cider House Rules) and famously played Alfred in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy
  10. Also in 1987, Willem Dafoe was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Platoon and went on to play the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films
  11. Michael Douglas won Best Actor in 1988 for Wall Street and will play Hank Pym/Ant-Man this year for Marvel
  12. Sean Connery won Best Supporting Actor that year for The Untouchables and his last film ever was… League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (okay, that one’s an F you to the comics and Connery’s career but I felt it had to be included for accuracy)
  13. Morgan Freeman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor that year for Street Smart and famously played Lucius Fox in all three of Nolan’s Batman movies
  14. Gene Hackman was nominated for Best Actor in 1989 for Mississippi Burning (and won as Best Supporting Actor for Unforgiven in 1993) and had played Lex Luthor in three of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies
  15. That same year, Michelle Pfeiffer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Dangerous Liaisons and went on to play Catwoman in Batman Returns
  16. Kenneth Branagh was nominated in 1990 for Best Actor for Henry V and went on to direct Thor
  17. Jeremy Irons won Best Actor in 1991 for Reversal of Fortunes and will play Alfred in Batman v Superman
  18. Bruce Davison received a Best Supporting Actor nomination that year for Longtime Companion and later played Senator Robert Kelly in X-Men and X2
    anthony hopkins with an oscar
  19. Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor in 1992 for Silence of the Lambs and went on to play Odin in Thor and Thor: The Dark World
  20. Warren Beatty was nominated that year as well, for Bugsy and famously played Dick Tracy
  21. Tommy Lee Jones picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the ’92 awards for JFK (and won Best Supporting Actor in 1994 for The Fugitive) and went on to play Two Face in Batman Forever as well as Colonel Phillips in Captain America
  22. In 1993, Robert Downey, Jr. was nominated for Best Actor for Chaplin and arguably made his biggest mark as Tony Stark in the Iron Man and Avengers movies
  23. Laurence Fishburne was nominated for Best Actor in 1994 for his work in What’s Love Got to Do with It and currently plays Perry White in the Superman films
  24. Liam Neeson was also nominated that year for Schindler’s List but he changed his career into an action movie dad when he played Bruce Wayne’s mentor in Batman Begins
  25. Also in 1994, Anna Paquin won Best Actress for The Piano and would famously play Rogue in four X-Men movies
    Anna Paquin with an Oscar
  26. John Travolta was nominated for Best Actor in 1995 for Pulp Fiction and later played villain Howard Saint in a rebooted Punisher movie
  27. His hitman partner in Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson, received a Best Supporting Actor nomination and became Nick Fury who has appeared in a lot of the Marvel films (and Agents of SHIELD)
  28. Nicolas Cage picked up a Best Actor win in 1996 for his work in Leaving Las Vegas and played Ghost Rider twice
  29. Sharon Stone received the Best Actress nomination that year for Casino and played some villain in Catwoman but let’s all forget about that
  30. Kevin Spacey won that year as Best Supporting Actor in The Usual Suspects (he also won Best Actor in 2000 for American Beauty) and went on to play Lex Luthor for the same director in Superman Returns
  31. Tim Roth was nominated as Best Supporting Actor that year (Rob Roy) and later played Emil Blonsky/Abomination in The Incredible Hulk
  32. Edward Norton was up for Best Supporting Actor the following year for Primal Fear and later played Bruce Banner/Hulk in The Incredible Hulk
  33. Peter Fonda was nominated for Best Actor in 1997 for Ulee’s Gold (he’d also previously been nominated for 1968’s Easy Rider) and went on to play the Devil in Ghost Rider
  34. Kim Basinger won Best Actress that year for L.A. Confidential but is still well known as Vicki Vale from Batman (1989)
    kim basinger with an oscar
  35. In 1999, Ian McKellan was nominated for Best Actor in Gods and Monsters but is often remembered for his four times playing Magneto in the X-Men films
  36. Russel Crowe received a Best Actor nomination in 2000 for The Insider (he won next year for Gladiator) and played Jor-El in Man of Steel
  37. Michael Clarke Duncan was nominated as Best Supporting Actor that year for The Green Mile and went on to play Kingpin in Daredevil
  38. Benicio del Toro took home Best Supporting Actor in 2001 for Traffic and now plays The Collector in Marvel films including Guardians of the Galaxy
  39. Will Smith got a Best Actor nom in 2002 for Ali and is signed to play Deadshot in a Suicide Squad movie next year
  40. Tom Wilkinson was also nominated for Best Actor that year and played crime boss Carmine Falcone in Batman Begins
  41. Halle Berry won Best Actress in 2002 for Monster’s Ball and had been playing and continued to play Storm in four X-Men movies (and also made Catwoman, unfortunately)
    halle berry with an oscar
  42. In 2003, Chris Cooper won Best Supporting Actor for Adaptation and later played Norman Osborn in Amazing Spider-Man 2
  43. John C. Reilly was nominated for Best Supporting Actor that year for his work in Chicago and recently played a Nova Corps officer in Guardians of the Galaxy
  44. Also nominated in that category that year was Christopher Walken (Catch Me if You Can) who had previously won in 1979 for The Deer Hunter and played villain Max Shreck in Batman Returns
  45. Naomi Watts was nominated as Best Actress in 2004 for 21 Grams and played Jet Girl in 1995’s Tank Girl
  46. Djimon Honsou was nominated as Best Supporting Actor that year for In America and recently played Korath in Guardians of the Galaxy
  47. Also nominated was Ken Watanabe for The Last Samurai who played a version of Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins
  48. Shohreh Aghdashloo was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in House of Sand and Fog and later played Dr. Rao in X-Men: Last Stand
  49. In 2005, Jamie Foxx won Best Actor for Ray and he later played Electro in Amazing Spider-Man 2
    jaime foxx with an oscar
  50. Don Cheadle was nominated in that category for Hotel Rwanda and went on to play War Machine/Iron Patriot in Iron Man 2, 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron
  51. Thomas Haden Church was also nominated for Sideways and played Sandman in Spider-Man 3
  52. Natalie Portman picked up a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Closer (and won Best Actress in 2011 for Black Swan) and then played Dr. Foster in Thor and Thor: The Dark World
  53. Terence Howard was nominated at the 2006 Academy Awards for Best Actor in Hustle & Flow and played James Rhodes in Iron Man
  54. George Clooney won Best Supporting Actor that year for Syriana and had previously played Batman in Batman & Robin (which he still apologizes for)
  55. Rachel Weisz won Best Actress in 2006 for The Constant Gardner and also played Officer Dodson later that year in Constantine
  56. Amy Adams received her first nomination that year (with many more to come) for Junebug and now plays Lois Lane in the Man of Steel films (she also played a supervillain who eats fat in Smallville)
  57. Jackie Earle Haley got a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 2007 for Little Children and played Rorschach in 2009’s Watchmen adaptation
  58. In 2008, Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for La Vie en rose and then played a key role in The Dark Knight Rises
    Marion Cotillard with an Oscar
  59. Also nominated that year was Ellen Page for Juno and she later played Kitty Pryde in two X-Men films
  60. In 2009, Mickey Rourke was nominated for Best Actor for The Wrestler and the next year he played Whiplash in Iron Man 2
  61. Frank Langella was also nominated for Best Actor for Frost/Nixon that year and he previously played Perry White in Superman Returns
  62. Also that year, Anne Hathaway received a Best Actress nomination for Rachel Getting Married (and Best Supporting Actress in 2013 for Les Miserables) and she ultimately played Catwoman in Dark Knight Rises
  63. Arguably the most important Oscar win on this list, Heath Ledger (posthumously) won Best Supporting Actor for playing the Joker in Dark Knight
    heath ledger as joker
  64. Also nominated for Best Supporting Actor that year was Josh Brolin for Milk and he went on to portray both Jonah Hex for DC and Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy
  65. In 2010, Jeremy Renner was up for Best Actor for Hurt Locker (losing to Jeff Bridges) and he later played Hawkeye in Avengers
  66. Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor that year for Inglourious Basterds (and again in 2013 for Django Unchained) and then played the villain in Green Hornet
  67. Also nominated in that category was Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones and he went on to play Dr. Erskine in Captain America
  68. Maggie Gyllenhall received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Crazy Heart and previously played Rachel Dawes in Dark Knight
  69. In 2011, Jesse Eisenberg got a Best Actor nomination for The Social Network and he will play Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman
  70. James Franco was also nominated that year for 127 Hours and had played Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3
  71. Jennifer Lawrence was up for Best Actress for Winter’s Bone that year (and won Best Actress in 2013 for Silver Linings Playbook) and later played Mystique in 2 X-Men movies (with another on the way)
  72. Christian Bale won Best Supporting Actor in 2011 for The Fighter and we all know him as the Dark Knight from the Nolan trilogy
    christian bale with an oscar
  73. Mark Ruffalo was also up for Best Supporting Actor for The Kids are All Right and then played Hulk in Avengers
  74. Gary Oldman received a Best Actor nomination in 2012 for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and played Commissioner Gordon from Batman Begins through Dark Knight Rises
  75. Nick Nolte was up for Best Supporting Actor for Warrior that year and previously played a version of Absorbing Man in Hulk
  76. In 2013, Bradley Cooper was nominated for Best Actor for Silver Linings Playbook and later voiced Rocket Racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy
  77. Hugh Jackman was also nominated for his work in Les Miserables and has famously played Wolverine in five X-Men movies (one is a cameo) and two Wolverine films
  78. That year, Argo won Best Picture, directed by Ben Affleck (who previously won an Academy Award for writing Good Will Hunting) who has now played both Daredevil and Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman v Superman
    Ben Affleck with an Oscar
  79. In 2014, Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for Dallas Buyers Club and he will soon play Joker in Suicide Squad
  80. Michael Fassbender was also nominated for 12 Years a Slave and has played Magneto twice in X-Men movies
  81. This year, Benedict Cumberbatch was up for Best Actor for The Imitation Game and will soon play Dr. Strange
  82. Michael Keaton was also nominated for Birdman which plays off of his personal history playing Batman
  83. Felicity Jones was nominated for Best Actress in The Theory of Everything and previously played Felicia Hardy in Amazing Spider-Man 2
  84. J.K. Simmons won for Best Supporting Actor in Whiplash and was a fan favorite playing J. Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3
  85. Emma Stone was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Birdman and played Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel

That list doesn’t mention every nomination, just the first one and any wins. It doesn’t include actors who played characters in non-superhero comic books. It isn’t looking at the directors or costume designers or sound engineers that have won dozens of awards. The point is, Hollywood should not be quite so quick to bite the hand that feeds.