Could Heath Ledger save the Academy Awards -- How a posthumous nomination for the Aussie actor would likely boost the flagging telecast's ratings

Thanks to The Dark Knight, you might actually care about the Oscars next year. Though summer blockbusters don’t usually show up in the big races at the Academy Awards, the film’s glowing reviews make it a possible contender in the Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay categories, and it will surely be considered a front-runner for technical prizes. But its greatest Oscar hope has to be Heath Ledger, who’ll likely become the seventh-ever posthumous acting nominee for his mesmerizing performance as the Joker. And it’s safe to say that several million Dark Knight fans would tune in to the telecast to see if he can become the second such winner (after Network‘s Peter Finch in 1977).

The Academy Awards could use the boost. For the last several years, the gala has been filled with lesser-known nominees and seen its ratings plummet. This past ceremony, all four acting winners were foreigners, only one major-category victor (Juno) grossed more than $75 million — and the show attracted an all-time-low audience of 32 million.

Next year’s telecast could end up being quite the A-list affair. Possible contenders include Brad Pitt, who ages in reverse for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Angelina Jolie, playing the mother of a missing child in Clint Eastwood’s Changeling; Will Smith, reteaming with Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino, in the character study Seven Pounds; Nicole Kidman, once more under the tutelage of Moulin Rouge maestro Baz Luhrmann in the epic Australia; and the Titanic duo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, who’ll reunite for the first time in the suburban drama Revolutionary Road.

Of course, not all of next year’s nomination slots will be filled by blockbusters. But the presence of hits like The Dark Knight could go a long way toward keeping Oscar viewers from changing the Bat-channel.

The Dark Knight
  • Movie
  • 152 minutes