Superhero films may be all the rage, but as with all genres it’s rare for them to receive official recognition at the Academy Awards, at least outside categories for technical excellence. The Oscars don’t tend to nominate superhero movies for more prestigious awards. The last big winner was 2008’s The Dark Knight, which earned the late Heath Ledger a posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor.

2017’s superhero films have changed all that. Although the Academy Awards have passed on Wonder Woman, Logan has been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. This is the first time a superhero movie has ever been recognized for its story. It’s an absolute game-changer for Hollywood.

Superhero Movies Have Grown Up

Movie Still
[Credit: 20th Century Fox]

Genre films are rarely recognized at the Oscars, and superhero films are no different. That can lead to a backlash against the Academy Awards. Fans were furious when 2016’s Deadpool failed to earn any nominations. The snub led The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg to tell ABC News there’s never been “a greater divide” between the public and the Academy Awards. “There’s just a sense among academy members that they are the last wall of resistance against these things, popcorn movies taking up the whole year,” he explained.

Logan is different. Director James Mangold views the superhero franchise with more than a little disdain. In one podcast interview, he explained that he doesn’t really view most tentpole films as movies. “They are bloated exercises in two-hour trailers for another movie they are going to sell you in two years,” he critiqued. “You take 120 minutes, you take 45 of it for action, what are you left with, divide it by six characters, you have the character arc of Elmer Fudd in a Warner Brothers cartoon. That formula is empty for me.”

Mangold resolved to make a superhero film that broke the mold. He abandoned the high-stakes, world-threatening plots, and instead focused on a more intimate story. His film was purely about the characters, exploring the strange dynamic between Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Patrick Stewart’s aged Professor Xavier, and Dafne Keen’s X-23. He deliberately avoided diving into the X-Men franchise’s complex continuity, and didn’t try to set up any sequels. Logan is a stand-alone movie, with personal stakes and dramatic character moments.

An Important Lesson For Studios

Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. have both focused on complex interwoven cinematic universes – just the kind of franchises Mangold criticized. In contrast, Fox seems to be moving away from that approach. Their X-Men spinoff movies almost seem to reject the notion that there is such a thing as a superhero genre in the first place. Deadpool was a raunchy, self-aware comedy; Logan was a bloody and brutal Western. Next year’s New Mutants will be a haunted-house horror film.

Logan‘s nomination is a reminder that superhero franchise films can be remarkably creative. The film has been nominated because of its script, one that isn’t all about setting up future franchises, and that wasn’t compromised by the need to build up to the next tentpole Avengers movie. Meanwhile, a relentless focus on characters encouraged each actor to give some of the best performances of their careers. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart were both challenged to reinterpret their characters in breathtakingly dramatic ways, while newcomer Dafne Keen shone as the savage X-23.

Disney recently made a bid to purchase the bulk of 21st Century Fox. The bid will go before regulators, and a decision will be made within the next 12 to 18 months. Should the purchase be approved, the Logan nomination will remind Marvel that they’re acquiring something unique in the X-Men spinoffs. It’s certain Marvel will aim to integrate the X-Men franchise into their cinematic universe, but they need to ensure they do so without losing what it is that makes the films unique.

Regardless of what happens with Fox and Disney, Logan‘s nomination ushers in a new era for Hollywood as a whole. It caps the period in which superhero films went from niche to mainstream. The Oscars helped legitimize other genres in the past. Now a blockbuster superhero film, part of the X-Men franchise, has been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. At the same time, the nomination is also a signal to Marvel. It reminds that the franchise has something unique to offer, and that Marvel shouldn’t simply integrate it into the MCU without a great deal of care and forethought.