Can Harry Potter Power His Way to a Best Picture Nomination?

With record-breaking box office figures and rave reviews, the final Potter film takes aim at the fantasy-resistant Academy

Last Updated: July 18, 2011 @ 5:44 PM

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" has gone where no movie has ever gone before, setting box-office records both in the United  States and around the world. 

But can it go where no Potter film has gone before at the Oscars?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2That's a germane question in light of the remarkable debut of the final "Harry Potter" film, which made $169 million in North America and more than $300 million worldwide in its first three days.

It has also enjoyed almost near-unanimous raves, currently standing at 97 percent positive at Rotten Tomatoes — by far the best showing of any 2011 wide release.

Also read: 'Harry Potter' By the Numbers: Audience Grew Older, Series Grew Richer        

Normally, you'd think a movie that had made that much money and been that well-received would be a clear contender for a Best Picture nomination, particularly now that the field has been opened up to more than five films.

After all, Potter is the top-grossing series of all time, eclipsing the 23 James Bond and six "Star Wars" films. It's also considered an exemplary  case of major-studio filmmaking – just the kind of thing that the Best Picture category was expanded to include.

And with the release of "Deathly Hallows, Part 2," the film has made the leap from being a hugely popular franchise to an inescapable pop-culture phenomenon, with surprisingly few naysaysers chiming in.

But when I surveyed a group of Academy members about whether the film had a shot at being the first Potter movie to receive a Best Picture nomination, the first response I got back was a succinct, "Guess not really. It's still a silly movie."

And that's the true obstacle "Harry Potter" needs to overcome: the feeling on the part of the Academy that the saga is a children's story, and that fantasy films in general are not as awards-worthy as adult dramas.

Then again, another member was equally terse when asked if a fantasy film could land a Best-Pic nod: "I do. 'Return of the King.'"

Despite the Academy's historical bias against fantasy films, the final installment in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" saga, 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," was nominated for 11 Oscars and won all 11, including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.

On the other hand, that historic sweep came after the first two movies in the "LOTR" series had already received 19 total nominations, including two Best Picture nods, and won six Oscars.

Harry's saga, as well-liked and profitable as it has been, has no such track record: no Potter movie has ever been nominated for Best Picture; in fact, no Potter film has ever won an Oscar of any kind.

The first film in the series, 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone," is the most-honored entry, with three Oscar nominations and no wins.

Two other films in the series, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," received two nominations each, but didn't win any trophies.

Two more of the films, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," received single nominations and, yet again, went home empty-handed on Oscar night.

And two of the films were completely overlooked.

Certainly, the series of films drawn from J.K. Rowling's beloved books has engendered an enormous amount of goodwill for the way in which the filmmakers and Warner Bros. cast wisely and kept up a high level of quality, with most observers feeling that the films got better as they went along.

But will that be enough to overcome the Academy's antipathy toward — or, more likely, disinterest in — fantasy films in general, and Potter in particular?

Some certainly think so. In a plea at the NextMovie website, Sandie Angulo Chen wrote that the film "has it all: phenomenal acting, brilliant filmmaking, thrilling visuals and unforgettable storytelling. There may never be another franchise with as much longevity and universal appeal.

"Hear that, Academy voters? That kind of movie magic should equal a chance for Oscar gold."

Commented one Academy member (who, like the others I contacted, didn't want to be identified speculating on the film's Oscar chances): "The real question is whether this new movie is the tipping point where the members feel that they have to take Harry Potter seriously. It's certainly closer to that point than any of the other movies have been. But to tell you the truth, I have no idea if it's all the way there."

My guess is that it's a longshot to think that this "Potter" will go where none of its precedessors have, particularly with the new Best Picture rules that went into effect this year.

Alan RickmanIn 2010 or 2009, when the rules guaranteed 10 nominees, the accumulated goodwill for the films could well have landed "Deathly Hallows" a slot.

But this year, only five nominations are guaranteed, and the slate will be expanded only by films that get five percent of the vote in the early rounds.

Essentially, that means it'll need about 250 of the Academy's near-6,000 voters to put rank it first (or at worst second) on their nominating ballots.

That could be a tough figure to reach when you're dealing with a famously conservative (though changing) body of voters, one of whom summed up the franchise to me this way: "In the end, it's still wands and gremlins."

Still, Harry has performed more formidable feats than persuading some Academy members that he's worth noticing. (All that task requires is an imperius curse, right?)

And even if "Deathly Hallows" doesn't get that Best Picture nomination, it still figures to have a real presence on Oscar night. It will certainly be honored in some of the craft categories, where three of the series' previous nominations came for Art Direction, and others for Visual Effects, Music, Costumes and Cinematography.

And Harry himself, Daniel Radcliffe, has been lobbying for a Supporting Actor nod for Alan Rickman, whose seven films of glowering and muttering darkly finally get a vivid emotional payoff in the new film. No Potter actor has ever been nominated, but Rickman certainly stands a chance of turning that particular trick.

In addition, the Potter kids — Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson — will no doubt be high on the Academy's wish list of presenters. And if Watson has any interest in hosting the Sci-Tech Awards (which typically go to a young actress who's appeared in effects-heavy movies), I'd imagine that the gig is hers for the taking.

And if the forces of darkness triumph and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" doesn't get that nomination, this will no doubt be one of those cases for which the cliché "laughing all the way to the bank" was invented.