'X-Men' spinoff marks the first FYC DVD sent to awards voters

By Joey Nolfi
September 15, 2017 at 07:41 PM EDT

With just under six months to go before the Oscars are handed out, the claws of competition — particularly the Adamantium kind that belong to a certain superhero — are already coming out on the awards trail.

A worldwide box office smash and an unexpected critical favorite, 20th Century Fox’s Logan, the third and final Hugh Jackman-fronted Wolverine spinoff among the studio’s X-Men film series, is also the first Oscar hopeful to land in the hands of Academy members as, according to Deadline, DVD screeners of the film were distributed to industry voters Thursday afternoon.

What does this mean for the contest ahead?

For starters, let’s examine the role screeners play in the run-up to the Academy Awards. Ensuring films are being seen by the right people (guilds, critics groups, awards journalists) is paramount when it comes time for a studio to turn pre-release curiosity into active viewer support, so studios typically hold private showings, distribute physical copies, or link digital versions of their respective titles to those with an opinion that matters.

Screeners have long been a part of the pre-Oscar commotion, though, in an attempt to combat piracy, the MPAA actually banned the sending of DVD materials to Academy members back in 2003, later reversing the policy. The Academy has also shifted its policies on digital screeners over the years, finally embracing the technological evolution in 2011, when it began allowing the dissemination of digital screeners for Oscar consideration.

Does launching first really impact a film’s Oscar chances?

It might seem like plopping a free copy of a film into the lap of AMPAS constituents would earn some brownie points, but with the volume of screeners hurled at voters from September through the end of the year, being first has rarely provided an optimal boost for the horses of the race — at least since the Academy embraced cyber distribution of screeners. Dozens of factors play into a film’s standing with the Academy, including its reception with critics, its monetary earnings, the timeliness of its release (recently, October has seen more gilded entries in the Best Picture arena than any other month), and the accessibility of screeners (awards watchers will remember that Ava DuVernay’s Selma, unfortunately, missed out on essential guild nominations, as Paramount sent DVDs to the Academy, but not industry unions).

According to Oscar prognosticator Clayton Davis of Awards Circuit, in 2016, Maggie’s Plan and Miles Ahead fronted the charge; Blythe Danner’s first lead performance in a feature film sought to get ahead of her foes, as her I’ll See You in My Dreams launched in the pole position in 2015; 2014 saw Ira Sachs’ same-sex romance  Love Is Strange and Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight reach voters first; the Matthew McConaughey/Reese Witherspoon drama Mud preceded them in 2013; and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel did the same in 2012. Aside from the shared status as the first screeners to land during their respective year of release, the common thread is that not one of these films received a single Oscar nomination.

Some of them did, however, fare well with other awards bodies. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel scored two Golden Globe nods, Mud won an Indie Spirit Award for its ensemble cast on top of recognition from a slew of critics groups, and Love Is Strange similarly racked up four nods at the Indie Spirits as well. With a bigger budget and a large studio pushing it into the conversation, Logan‘s prospects are probably loftier than landing a nomination here or there at the Satellite Awards and being the first screener is by no means an inherently detrimental statistic. What’s more important, however, is managing expectations, pushing categories where films have a realistic shot at bagging Academy attention (genre films often score in the technical categories) instead of throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Ben Rothstein

So, where does Logan stand in the Oscar race?

While it didn’t pan out for Logan‘s freshman screener forerunners, building support through precursors can be a key stepping stone on any film’s path to Oscar glory. While some (I’ll See You In My Dreams and Miles Ahead, most notably) began their theatrical runs with light Oscar buzz, Logan is a film of a different breed, a global phenomenon that critics overtly championed as an early awards contender upon its debut in March. Particular praise came for Jackman’s final bow as the iconic comic book character, and Patrick Stewart — who’s played Professor X alongside his Aussie costar in the X-Men franchise for 17 years — earned sturdy notices (perhaps stronger than Jackman’s) for his supporting performance as well. Stewart has yet to win an Oscar despite his prolific work on the big screen, and in a year where a clear-cut race in Supporting Actor has yet to take shape, putting him ahead of his is a decent way to put him front and center as a constant amid a pile of scattered pieces that have yet to gel.

As a superhero film has yet to be nominated for Best Picture (The Dark Knight probably came the closest, its 2008 snub widely speculated to have influenced the Academy’s decision to expand the category’s list of potential nominees to 10, and later to an alternating scale between five and 10 based on the results of the preferential ballot), Fox’s ambitions are probably loftier than the reality of the situation. If any hero is going to make waves at the Oscars this year, it’s Wonder Woman, who starred in her first standalone picture that rocketed to the top of the summer box office ($410 million and counting) in June, with Warner Bros. reportedly mounting a hefty campaign for the blockbuster hit in multiple categories.

Still, with but a single screener in the hands of voters thus far, Logan can lay claim to a first-place finish at least once this season.

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