Critics' Choice Awards: Is 'Mad Max' next 'Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'?

More than a decade ago, 'King' became the first fantasy movie to win the Oscar Best Picture. What's changed since 'King' won? Can 'Max' succeed like 'King' did?

Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
'Mad Max: Fury Road' stars Tom Hardy.

The summer blockbuster “Mad Max: Fury Road” continues to look like a serious awards season contender, with “Max” scoring a best picture nomination for the Critics’ Choice Awards alongside such heavy hitters as “Spotlight” and “Brooklyn.” 

The other movies to earn best picture nods from the Critics’ Choice Awards are “The Revenant,” “Room,” “Sicario,” “Bridge of Spies,” “The Big Short,” “Carol,” and “The Martian.” Most of these movies are ones that have gotten nods at pre-Oscars awards already like the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors Guild Awards, though “Sicario” got a needed boost from these nominations. 

"Max" got the most Critics' Choice Awards nominations total.

Among these Critics’ Choice Awards nominees, “Max” stands out like a sore thumb. Most of the movies are either dramas about serious contemporary issues (“Spotlight,” “Sicario,” “The Big Short”) or historical films (“The Revenant,” “Carol,” “Brooklyn,” “Bridge of Spies”), genres that are normal Oscar fare.

“Martian” stands out a bit but it echoes the success of “Gravity,” the 2013 science fiction movie that was viewed a serious contender for the Best Picture prize. In addition, it’s directed by Ridley Scott, a director who’s found success with the Academy before, earning nominations for such movies as “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down.” And it’s a story set in space but also in our own time like “Gravity” or past Oscar contenders like 1995’s “Apollo 13.” 

The familiar world depicted in “Martian” is a far cry from that of “Max,” which takes place in a dystopian world where water is a precious commodity, violence is commonplace, and people survive by battling in their cars. 

No traditional sci-fi movie has ever taken Best Picture, but a fantasy movie has – the 2003 film “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” became the first (and to date only) in the genre to take the award. 

Could “Max” duplicate that success? 

The two have some factors in common. The movies were both blockbusters and both were the newest in a series. Both tell stories of people dreaming of a better world, with the “King” characters trying to take down a villain and the people in “Max” trying to make it to a green oasis. 

“Max” will most likely have more competition. “King” won Best Picture in a year when there were still only five nominees. Now between five and 10 films can be nominated. The Academy has tended towards the larger side of that spectrum in the past, with eight movies being nominated last year.

It was believed that part of the reason the Academy expanded the field was to give more crowd-pleasing movies a chance to get a nomination (the announcement came after 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E” failed to get nominations for Best Picture, which prompted an outcry). This expanded roster gives a movie like “Max” more of a chance to get a nod.

Whether it increases its chances to win, however, is a different question. While each movie and its Oscar chances are of course different, an animated movie like “Up” or a crowd-pleasing movie like “Inception” still hasn’t taken the prize despite this expansion. 

As for the chances of “Max” in comparison to “King” winning, the “Rings” series had a history of acclaim from the Academy. The two previous films, “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers,” had both been nominated for Best Picture. 

This is the first time a “Max” movie will get a nomination, if it does. “Max” director George Miller has discussed a sequel. Perhaps the Academy will wait to see what Miller can do in the future with this fictional universe rather than give “Max” the statuette immediately.

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