The Year Of Best Picture Sequels...Maybe [Contender Countdown]

Over the past few months, there have been rumblings. At Cannes, one studio executive remarked that this Oscar season was going to be a “strange” one. In July, another industry executive described the quality of the fall festival offerings as “unusual” (and that wasn’t meant positively). Now, with three of the four major festivals almost completed, their warnings have been right on target. With just two films truly emerging as potential Best Picture nominees from this year’s fall fests, “The Fablemans” and “The Banshees of Inisherin,” this may be the Oscars the sequels, yes, the sequels take the reigns.

READ MORE: Steven Spielberg and Viola Davis set their Oscar sights after TIFF

It seemed hard to believe at first, but it’s been obvious for most of the summer that Joseph Kosinski’s “Top Gun: Maverick” was an easy Best Picture nomination contender. And, at this point, it would be shocking if it didn’t make the cut. There are few naysayers, and the fact it’s made over $1.3 billion worldwide only helps its standing. The industry is impressed, The Academy has likely seen it on a big screen, and it’s an example of the sort of cultural impact only a theatrical release can attain. Throw in the fact that star and producer Tom Cruise insisted on waiting out the pandemic and avoiding a streaming release (granted, Paramount execs were on board, too), and it’s the sort of narrative that gives Academy members warm fuzzies. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a tearjerker that moved them too. And all this from a sequel to a film released 36 years ago. But, wait. There’s more.

Two upcoming sequels are setting themselves up as potential nominees: James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” and Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The former is the long-awaited second installment of the 2009 global blockbuster, which was nominated for Best Picture, earned nine nominations overall, and won three. Cameron, of course, also helmed “Titanic,” which won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Sources have described the new “Avatar” glowingly as a “technical marvel.” Other studios have practically abandoned the Christmas release calendar as the Disney/20th Studios release is expected to dominate the frame. Frankly, the story could just be “O.K.,” and it might still make the cut.

The latter, of course, is the sequel to Marvel Studios’ first Best Picture nominee, “Black Panther” in 2019. Coogler and his creative team have had to rejigger their original story after the unexpected passing of star Chadwick Boseman in 2020. Will the inhabitants of Wakanda carry the torch back to the Dolby Theater in his memory? Like “Avatar,” the original “Black Panther” was a cultural touchstone. We’re not betting against Coogler yet.

Notably, The Academy has nominated many sequels over its 94-year history. Two different “Godfather” sequels, two subsequent “Lord of the Rings” installments, the third “Toy Story” film, and, most recently, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The only thing unprecedented about it all is if more than one sequel is nominated in the same year. And throw in the chance that “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” sneaks into the ten, and four sequels could be announced on January 24.

But wait, there’s more.

Gina Prince-Blythewood’s “The Woman King,” one of the few well-received world premieres at TIFF, is also in the Best Picture nomination mix. It opens in theaters today with strong reviews but will likely need some great word-of-mouth box office to make the cut. We might suggest you grab a friend and see it on the big screen.

There’s also Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” which is selling itself as a party-fuelled look at Hollywood’s debaucherous era, the 1920s (gonna be honest, don’t think much has changed since then). It’s got Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt and is hoping to grab some box office coin when it goes wide in January. And, don’t forget, there’s The Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” which is just a smidge under $100 million globally and is distributor A24’s highest-grossing U.S. release to date. Also waiting in the wings is Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” a $284 million worldwide hit which you could argue certainly is just as good a movie as, cough, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” There are more hits or “expected” hits in the Oscar race since at least 2016, when almost six of the eight nominated films grossed over $100 million worldwide. Who’d a thought, huh?

Considering all the complaining about Best Picture winners such as “Parasite” and “Nomadland” from media watchers obsessed with Oscar ratings, it will be interesting to see if the inclusion of these expected hits lifts the telecast to pre-pandemic numbers. But, alas, that’s a story to wax over many, many months from now.

Granted, one or more of these unseen studio tentpoles could fall by the wayside. Perhaps the larger portion of international members will prop other films into the final ten nominees. But we’re halfway through September, and the field of prestige players has mostly been screened. If the studio films falter, it’s a wide, wide-open race.

In the meantime, here’s your inaugural Contender Countdown for the 2023 Oscar season. Asterisks mark films not yet screened at the time of publication.

September 16, 2022

1 “The Fablemans”
Everybody loves Stevie Spielberg!

2 “Everything Everywhere All At Once”
And to think that even just a few weeks ago, some pundits didn’t think it would make the cut.

3 “The Banshees of the Inisherin”
Don’t bet against Marty McDonagh!

4 “Top Gun: Maverick”
It’s such a weak Best Actor year that a Tom Cruise nomination is feeling more likely than not.

5 “Avatar: The Way of Water”*
Don’t bet against Jamie Cameron!

6 “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”*
Perhaps the most tenuous of the sequels vying for a nomination, but we have faith. For now.

7 “The Woman King”
Really, really needs to be that word-of-mouth hit everyone thinks it will be

8 “Babylon”*
Holding it for press and guilds till the last possible moment. Honestly, not a bad strategy.

9 “Women Talking”
It was one of the films most talked about at Telluride. That matters more than the obvious “it’s good” response at TIFF, which translates to “we’re annoyed we saw it after everyone else.”

10 “TAR”
Is it winning NYFCC or LAFCA, or both?


11 “Close”
Watch out for the Cannes tearjerker. Blew the roof off Telluride. The fact it wasn’t at TIFF or scheduled for NYFF is sort of nuts.

12 “Elvis”
Never thought it would be a legit Best Picture player after its debut in Cannes, but hey, ya need ten nominees, amirite?

13 “Empire of Light”
Raves for Olivia Coleman, mixed reaction to the movie. Will it play better with AMPAS and guild members?

14 “Triangle of Sadness”
Curious how NEON is going to position the English-language Palme d’Or winning comedy for Oscar.


“She Said”
Buzz for this NYFF premiere is good, but is it more “Spotlight” or “Bombshell”? And is its subject matter too close to home for The Academy to handle?

“The Pale Blue Eye”
Could be Netflix’s December surprise. Or not.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”
Plays like gangbusters. It will be a big hit on the streaming service, but is it too broad for Oscar voters? Even in this open race?

David O. Russell
has a track record, and it’s got an impressive cast. We’ll know more soon.

Netflix isn’t giving up after the negative reception at Venice and Telluride, but an International Film nomination (not a given) and some below-the-line placements might be its best bets.

The Inspection”
Somehow got lost at TIFF, but Jeremy Pope‘s performance needs more hype.

Historical subject matter. Talented director. The trailer looks rough, though.

“The Son”
And you thought “Bardo” was polarizing.

“Armageddon Time”
Feels like an Original Screenplay and Supporting Actor play for Anthony Hopkins. Then again, as more contenders fall to the wayside, maybe it rises to the top.

“A Man Called Otto”
We’re just hoping Tom Hanks has one performance he’s proud of this year.

“Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio”
Word is that Netflix will push it for a traditional Best Picture campaign. As “Nightmare Alley” demonstrated this past year, never bet against Guillermo.