Wonder Woman isn’t the only major blockbuster getting a serious Oscar campaign this year. 20th Century Fox is planning to mount a major push—including Best Picture—for the well-reviewed third installment of the new Apes franchise, War for the Planet of the Apes. Director Matt Reeves returned to helm War after successfully directing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to swell reviews and big box office, and with War he turned in an even more somber and reflective film. There are gunfights and explosions to be sure, but War has far more in common with The Searchers than Transformers.
Per Deadline, Fox is mounting a serious push, hoping not only to land Oscar nominations but also aiming for those all-important precursors like a nomination or award from a critics group or one of the guilds to get things rolling. There may even be a concerted effort to get Andy Serkis a special achievement award, as the actor has been at the center of acclaim/controversy for every one of these Apes movies. On the one hand, his performance is incredible, but on the other hand many in the industry are dubious of the blurred line between performance and technology re: motion-capture. At this point, a special achievement Oscar is probably Fox’s best bet, as past efforts to nab a Best Actor nomination for Serkis proved fruitless.
Fox will also, unsurprisingly, target several crafts categories like production design, cinematography, costumes, music, visual effects, and makeup—and for good reason. The craftsmanship on display in War for the Planet of the Apes is tremendous, and Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino turns in one of his best scores yet. The studio has hired a couple of top awards consultants and plans to revolve the entire campaign around the movie itself instead of singling out the technical achievement or any one piece.
Indeed, War received wildly positive reviews this summer and currently sits at a pretty 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, so the critical support may be there. Where War may run into trouble, however, is that for a blockbuster of its size, it underperformed. The film has yet to open in China, where it could score as much as $100 million more, but its worldwide total currently sits at $359.2 million. That’s a sharp contrast to the $710.6 million Dawn grossed worldwide, and it’s quite possible the national mood was such that the prospect of seeing a dour blockbuster just wasn’t very enticing. But Fox has another shot at raising awareness throughout the fall with more screenings and Q&A’s tied to this campaign, so that could boost the film on some peoples’ radars.
There’s also the new diversity of the Academy to consider. Nearly a quarter of the Academy makeup consists of new voters since 2015, and these professionals are younger and more diverse than your traditional Academy member. Could this result in more commercial films getting praise, or will it just be a concerted move away from more “traditional” Oscar movies like Philomena towards more ambitious dramas like Moonlight?