How Many Sequels Will Score Best Picture Nods at the 2023 Academy Awards?

At this time in the 2022-2023 awards season, it seems that we’re headed for an uncharacteristically populist Best Picture line-up. If you recall, that was the original point of expanding the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten (following The Dark Knight‘s Best Picture snub in 2008), which gave us line-ups like 2009’s, where Avatar brushed shoulders with films like The Blind Side, but even with those intentions in mind, the Best Picture category at the 2023 Academy Awards is shaping up to be the most mainstream friendly in perhaps the last decade. Not only has Top Gun: Maverick – this summer’s smash hit that quickly became the highest grossing film of the year (before James Cameron had something to say about it this December) – had a spot secured essentially for the past six months after exceeding every conceivable expectation that had been set for it and winning over crowds and critics, but now, Avatar: The Way of Water, on the heels of huge headlines centered around its own boffo box office, seems all but assured a space too, giving us not only two blockbuster behemoths in this year’s field, but two sequels as well.

That last point is the most interesting as, there has never been more than one sequel nominated for Best Picture at the same time at the Oscars. In fact, only seven have been nominated total (while only two have won):

  • 1945: The Bells of St. Mary’s (sequel to 1944’s Going My Way)
  • 1974: The Godfather Part II (sequel to 1972’s The Godfather)
  • 1990: The Godfather Part III (sequel to 1972’s The Godfather and 1974’s The Godfather Part II)
  • 2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (sequel to 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
  • 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (sequel to 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and 2002’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
  • 2010: Toy Story 3 (sequel to 1995’s Toy Story and 1999’s Toy Story 2)
  • 2015: Mad Max: Fury Road (sequel to 1979’s Mad Max, 1981’s Mad Max 2, and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Lo'ak and Payakan in Avatar: The Way of Water

Which sequels tend to be most favored by The Academy? Usually, those that hail from franchises that have already been embraced by the Oscars. The Bells of St. MaryThe Godfather Part II (and Part III), and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (and The Return of the King) were all sequels to films that were Best Picture nominees themselves (Going My WayThe Godfather, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), with The Godfather even being a winner. This gives Avatar a leg up in this year’s race, as, on top of The Way of Water‘s own advantages itself (in the form of its staggering technological showmanship and promising commercial performance), its predecessor was not only a Best Picture nominee, but arguably the runner-up in its year as well behind Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (it won three Oscars – for Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, and Best Visual Effects – and had previously won Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director at the Golden Globes).

Conversely, in Maverick‘s case, the original Top Gun was only nominated for Best Film Editing, Best Original Song, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing at the 59th Academy Awards (winning Best Original Song for Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”) and was never a critical darling either, remembered mostly due to its place as a commercial pop culture phenomenon. However, thus far, its awards trajectory has paralleled the “Mad Max path” to the Best Picture line-up – the next installment in a franchise that was never much of an Oscar favorite, but now finds itself as a major contender due to its obscene overperformance with crowds and critics (and even moreso in Maverick‘s case, where its $1.5 billion worldwide gross towers over Fury Road‘s $415 million). But while most wouldn’t argue with the fact that Top Gun and Avatar have solid footing in this year’s Best Picture field of ten, they’re also not the only sequels in contention.

Gold Derby Best Picture Predictions 1-10

Gold Derby Best Picture Predictions 11-20

As of this piece’s publication, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which recently had its premiere on Netflix and managed 82.1 million hours watched in its “opening weekend,” is ranked tenth in Gold Derby’s combined Best Picture predictions from editors, experts, and users. To be fair, those final two spots – currently occupied by Babylon and GO – are the most “in flux” of this current field of ten, but that’s not to diminish the latter’s chances whatsoever, as they do remain rather high. Not only is Glass Onion essentially guaranteed a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at this rate (the field is absurdly weak, Rian Johnson is a prior nominee, and it’s a big contender with big backing from Netflix), but Janelle Monáe has started to show up more and more in countless Best Supporting Actress categories either at critics groups and even the Critics Choice Awards (and she’s cited as a strong contender for a SAG nomination in the coming weeks too). Should Glass Onion score both these nominations in the end, the path to Best Picture looks a lot more likely.

The one thing holding it back though might be the fact that the first Knives Out failed to score a Best Picture nomination in 2019. It still did fairly well that season, landing a PGA nomination (which this one seems poised for as well) and three Golden Globe nominations, but it surprisingly missed a SAG Ensemble nod, and ultimately, at the Oscars, only ended up with a Best Original Screenplay mention. There are other factors to account for for its omission in certain categories at certain ceremonies (that year, Best Picture was a field of nine instead of ten, and at the SAG Awards, its distributor – Lionsgate – prioritized Bombshell over it, while this time around, it’s Netflix’s main horse in the race), but without the Best Picture precedent for it to follow or the overwhelming commercial adoration that Top Gun: Maverick is currently enjoying, Glass Onion could remain a bubble contender until the bitter end, and we need to see all the guild nominations before being sure of its place in the race.

Letitia Wright as Shuri in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

But even then, Glass Onion *still* isn’t the last sequel in Oscar consideration this year, as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is further down the charts in Gold Derby’s rankings, but should not be counted out completely. Unlike Glass Onion, there is a Best Picture precedent for Wakanda Forever, as its predecessor was not only nominated for seven Oscars (including the top category) but won three – Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score. Additionally, when the Oscar shortlists were announced last week, Wakanda Forever tied with Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front as the film with the most mentions (both picked up five a piece) and received mentions in every category it could possibly contend in – Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects. Furthermore, this Black Panther is even excelling in one area the original couldn’t: the acting categories. Yes, although there was a push for Michael B. Jordan to receive Best Supporting Actor consideration for the original film, he ultimately only managed a Critics Choice Award nomination when all was said and done, but this time around, Angela Bassett has picked up Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award nominations, becoming the first actor to ever receive a nomination for a Marvel movie at the former ceremony, and she’s widely seen as a potential winner in the category too.

What obstacles does Wakanda Forever have to overcome? Well, the fact that it’s not as big – critically or commercially – as the first Black Panther, for one.

  • Rotten Tomatoes: Black Panther (96%) vs. Wakanda Forever (84%)
  • Metacritic: Black Panther (88) vs. Wakanda Forever (67)
  • Domestic Box Office: Black Panther ($700 million) vs. Wakanda Forever ($428 million)
  • Worldwide Box Office: Black Panther ($1.4 billion) vs. Wakanda Forever ($803 million)

The truth of the matter is that the original Black Panther was a revolutionary watershed moment for Black representation in mainstream blockbuster cinema, and that the sequel – while still performing “fine enough” – hasn’t quite captured the cultural zeitgeist in the same way (and sure, you can say that The Way of Water won’t top the original Avatar‘s box office either, but it’ll still come a lot closer than Wakanda Forever to Black Panther, and it’s doing a lot better for itself overall, earning $1 billion in over/under two weeks). And though it did earn all those Oscar shortlist mentions, it remains to be seen how many it will turn into actual nominations – and that’s what matters most. In the end, there’s the possibility that many voters may see Wakanda Forever more as “another Marvel movie” as opposed to the original feat of filmmaking the first Black Panther was regarded as, and it doesn’t help that the other three sequels in the race have racked up far more nominations from precursors thus far. Let’s see what the guilds (and particularly PGA) say, and no matter what, it should be solid for a slew of tech nominations, but as of now, it seems the least likeliest of this quartet to climb any higher.

Daniel Craig and the cast of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

When considering historical precedent, I’d usually feel incredibly uneasy about predicting more than one sequel to receive a Best Picture nomination in a given year, but given the very unique cases and campaigns for Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water, I have no problem putting them in my field of ten, and I believe their spots should be secure all season long. As for Glass Onion and Wakanda Forever, I’m far more confident in the former than I am in the latter, but ultimately, I need to see how much the guilds – the actual voices of the industry votership – rally around it. Can it get SAG and PGA this time around (especially since a WGA nomination is already a given)? Can Janelle Monáe hold strong in the Best Supporting Actress final five? There are too many questions surrounding its campaign for me to feel comfortable putting it in my own Best Picture predictions at the moment, but it’s right on the outside looking in, and this year – one of the most populist in Oscar history, where franchises are being given more focus than ever – is the best year any sequels have had at scoring nods alongside one another.

Written by
Though Zoë Rose Bryant has only worked in film criticism for a little under three years - turning a collegiate passion into a full-time career by writing for outlets such as Next Best Picture and Awards Watch - her captivation with cinema has been a lifelong fascination, appreciating film in all its varying forms, from horror movies to heartfelt romantic comedies and everything in between. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, she made the move to Los Angeles in 2021 after graduating college and now spends her days keeping tabs on all things pop culture and attempting to attend every screening under the sun. As a trans critic, she also seeks to champion underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ+ community in film criticism and offer original insight on how gender and sexuality are explored in modern entertainment. You can find Zoë on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd at @ZoeRoseBryant.

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