The Academy Awards are notorious for ignoring genre films, and it’s extremely rare to see an action or horror film get any attention. That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise for movie fans when Mad Max: Fury Road earned ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The film didn’t win the grand prize, but it set new guidelines for what is deemed Oscar bait.
There are countless acclaimed genre films that were snubbed by the Academy Awards throughout the years. These include Toni Collette’s performance as Annie in Hereditary and Lupita Nyong’o dual performance in Jordan Peele’s Us. Meanwhile, blockbuster style films like The Dark Knight often fail to be nominated in categories like Best Picture or Best Director despite positive critical reception and groundbreaking work for genre films and the art of filmmaking.
Plenty of genre films get nominated for awards such as visual effects and editing, but they hardly ever get nominations for the so-called Big Five. These categories consist of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay. There have been a few exceptions. 1974’s The Exorcist was nominated for Best Picture as well as District 9 in 2010 and Get Out in 2018. However, Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the few big action/sci-fi films to be nominated for Best Picture in the 2010’s decade, paving the way for movies like Black Panther to also get a Best Picture nomination.
A major reason this explosive action flick received the accolades it did is the environmental and gender commentary sprinkled throughout the two hour runtime. In the film, an apocalyptic wasteland is run by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a monstrous dictator who imprisons women and forces them to bare his children. When one of Joe’s lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), is sent on a mission to gather up ammo and gasoline, she steals the war rig and has Joe’s five wives stowed away inside. Furiosa is set on getting away from Joe and rescuing the women while giving fans a car chase featuring extraordinary vehicles and stunts.
When describing the synopsis of this film, it’s interesting that the titular character is not essential. Max (Tom Hardy) ends up in the war rig and helps the main heroine on her rescue mission, but no matter what the film is called, this is Furiosa’s movie. Immortan Joe represents corruption in the world by being a dictator who sees women as objects and the world as his plaything. Furiosa helps these women break free of the notion that they are breeders, treating them as capable, valued members of her crew. The empowering acts done by the wives and Furiosa challenge the patriarchy while also developing this dynamic cast of characters. This also creates a heavier, more direct theme than is usually seen in action blockbusters.
Mad Max: Fury Road takes a familiar set up and creates a huge spectacle that features intense action, in depth world building, breathtaking visuals and an examination of political themes. The Oscars love films that celebrate multiple aspects of filmmaking while also blending in poignant messages. With Mad Max: Fury Road, while it isn’t the traditional Oscar bait film, it does just that by pulling the best from the action, adventure and apocalypse genre; celebrating filmmaking with its set pieces, stunts and overall design and presenting contemporary political issues in a fantastical setting. Watching Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t feel like watching an action spectacle but rather a cinematic magnum opus.
The film also brilliantly examines a world led by a selfish dictator in a realistic way despite the stylized elements. While Immortan Joe has a cartoonish appearance, his personality is reminiscent of real, corrupt leaders. The way he is able to control the population is fleshed out and seems like a warning for audience members. The fact that this movie is willing to go so far with it’s examination of oppressive politics makes it easy to see how it earned itself a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
Released five years ago this month, Mad Max: Fury Road has a legacy that will forever shine with its groundbreaking Oscar nominations and its iconic execution. The film was named best movie of the year by 58 different film critics, but it did not win any of the big five Academy Awards; although, it did win six others and continues to be one of the biggest spectacles of the 2010s.
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Mad Max: Fury Road surprised many when the action film earned ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Director.