The 2024 Best Picture Oscar Race: The Initial Spring Outlook
As I write this two weeks have passed since the 95th Academy Awards which saw history made with Everything Everywhere All At Once winning the most Oscars for a Best Picture winner in almost fifteen years, becoming only the third movie ever to win three acting awards, and completing a sweep of the critics circles and guilds not seen in a good while. This past awards season proved to be dramatically different than the one that came before it by having a juggernaut heavy favorite sweeper rather than an underdog late surger. The lineup of contenders was also much more populist and less predictable than the year prior.
But that’s the thing, each year is different, and each path to the grand prize has its own story. We just saw a genre-bending, comedic sci-fi, box office hit go all the way; but before that we saw the first ever film from a streamer get to go up on stage to end the ceremony. That same streamer, Apple TV Plus, made zero splash other than in the Animated Short category this time around; and this year’s winner came from a studio that became the first ever to win all acting awards just a year after it made no major noise at the previous Oscars. Many will try to look for the next Everything Everywhere All At Once this upcoming awards season, just as some were looking for the next CODA this past season, but ultimately our eventual next Best Picture winner will have its own unique travels to that Oscars stage, and in all likelihood will be different than those two films were in both plot and awards narrative.
Its not too early to start looking at what could compete for the biggest prize at the 96th Academy Awards which will take place around this time next year and honor this year in film. In fact I’m coming out with my initial projections for Best Picture a little later than other major outlets and pundits are. So give me some credit for letting some time to settle in comparison. But this time two years ago I wrote about the start of the race for this last Oscars season and correctly listed 7 eventual nominees out of the 25 I wrote about – with the eventual winner coming in at #20. Last year at this point I correctly listed 8 eventual nominees out of the 50 I wrote about – with the eventual winner coming in at #11. In other words, even this far out from key phases in the season movies are being positioned for a run.
I believe the awards season can be broken down into several parts. There’s the initial outlook of things in the Spring, the post high of the Cannes Film Festival, the Summer blockbuster season which could have an unexpected or longshot populist contender emerge, the Fall Film Festival season when studios begin to make their push, the FYC season followed by the critics circles having their say, the industry guilds’ awards, and of course the main event at the Dolby Theatre. We are obviously in the very first one of these phases. The previous ceremony has finished, the award shows and the studio spending millions on campaigning has been put to a rest for now, last year’s movies have become just that, and there’s a whole fresh slate of competitors all with high hopes of making noise by this time next year.
Below you’ll find my initial outlook on next year’s Best Picture race. I’ve chosen 50 movies I believe are in the hunt from those who start out favorites to those who are hoping on a prayer and the perfect storm of events to happen so they can climb up the ranks. Plenty here will not age well, some listed here will even end up being pushed to the next awards season, but given history I think at the very least six to eight of our eventual nominees are somewhere in this bunch. Now we just have to be patient and let the year play out to see whether most of them are higher on the board like they were two years ago, or in the middle to lower part of the board like they were last year. And if anything else, this list could also provide you with movies to look out for in general for the rest of the year regardless whether they end up awards players or not.
Tier 1: The Initial Frontrunners
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 01. Killers Of The Flower Moon; 02. The Color Purple; 03. Dune: Part Two; 04. Oppenheimer; 05. Blitz
– Details: Movies that start out in my top tier of potential Best Picture nominees should feel great in the moment to begin things way up here. These are films that as of today I don’t just think get a Best Picture nomination, but are win-competitive to actually go all the way. But notice I said they should feel great in the moment, not that they should feel confident for the future. Last year only one movie, The Fabelmans, started out in this tier and got a nomination – and that film went on to only get a Golden Globes win that ultimately meant nothing by Oscar night where it went winless. Furthermore you probably have to go back to maybe the 12 Years A Slave year when the eventual winner was considered such a top tier contender this way far out. Just because you start out considered a frontrunner, doesn’t mean you’ll keep that status all year long. Even the sweeper that was this year’s winner was considered an underdog last Spring.
As we start this journey we have Apple’s number one priority in Killers Of The Flower Moon as the initial favorite to go all the way. The upcoming Martin Scorsese western crime epic which has dealt with multiple delays stars an ensemble that features names like DiCaprio and De Niro. Rumor is that Apple will premiere the film at one of the festivals, maybe even Cannes in the Summer, and then go for a theatrical run.
Apple also has Steve McQueen’s next project in Blitz which will be all about the bombing raids on London during the second World War, though the film is still in production and could easily be pushed back to next year.
Universal will try to bounce back after having the award slip away from their hands this past season with Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer which may be his most Oscar-bait movie yet as its a biopic on the man responsible for the atomic bomb.
And of course we have Dune: Part Two which could end up becoming a juggernaut all to itself if voters see it as a culmination of a sci-fi epic in the way they saw the third Lord Of The Rings movie as an incredible achievement in delivering an epic trilogy, though one wonders what are the chances we see a sci-fi film win the big prize in back-to-back years.
But the biggest obstacle all four of those movies will have is that they all have Directors that have already had films in the race. We’ve been on a streak of the Best Picture prize going to a movie directed by someone who is new to the Oscars spotlight. You also need a big ensemble with a cast that actors go crazy for, and a diverse group being featured prominently doesn’t hurt either. The movie that meets all those factors is the adaptation to the musical version of The Color Purple. If this gets rave reviews, if it doesn’t flop at the box office, and its musical tracks become hits, this could easily be the movie that wins the big prize. And given the 1985 classic lost to the not aging as well Out Of Africa, voters could see it as a chance to right history. It wouldn’t be the first time a musical version to a previous Best Picture loser won the grand prize, just ask My Fair Lady.
Tier 2: The Initial Heavyweight Contenders
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 06. Asteroid City; 07. Saltburn; 08. Poor Things; 09. Maestro; 10. Our Apprenticeship
– Details: For the second tier of potential nominees we have movies I believe currently look good to get a nomination (at least on paper), but I wouldn’t call win-competitive just yet.
We have a new film from Wes Anderson in Asteroid City, about a science convention of some sorts which happens to be rumored to be a love story as well. Focus Features seems to have this as a potential top priority for them.
Emerald Fennell will follow up having a debut movie get a Picture nomination with Saltburn, a period piece about a young man who starts to obsess over a wealthy classmate. MGM looks to make this their biggest player.
Yorgos Lanthimos has his next project in Poor Things, a movie about a young woman being brought back to life by a Frankenstein-type mad scientist. The strange sounding film will be pushed by Searchlight Pictures who knows a little something about pushing a strange, fantasy movie to win the big prize.
Then there’s Bradley Cooper’s next movie in Maestro, a biopic on Leonard Bernstein that could bring him that acting Oscar, and which seems for now to be Netflix’s biggest priority.
The other film I have featured in this tier is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s follow up to his Picture nominated film Drive My Car in Our Apprenticeship. While it most certainly could end up another big international awards player like his previous project was, I have to be frank and say this is more of a placeholder for the tenth spot for now. Its clear there’s always one international film that gets into the race and we’ve even recently seen one win (Parasite) and two others finish runner-ups (All Quiet On The Western Front; Roma). The problem is the international player tends to be very unpredictable to figure out this far out and this is the only movie from that slate that pops out as a plausible contender. Chances are next time I look at the race post-Cannes in the Summer I’ll have a better grasp on what foreign films could be part of the chase for the grand prize.
Tier 3: The Initial “On The Bubble” Serious Contenders
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 11. Past Lives; 12. The Bikeriders; 13. May December; 14. Rustin; 15. Napoleon
– Details: For the third tier we have films that at this super early stage I consider to be serious contenders to climb up into my predicted lineup of ten nominees.
We have a potentially interesting ensemble period movie in The Bikeriders about a sixties motorcycle club that descends into criminal activity. It seems to be the top priority for 20th Century Studios.
We also have a character drama with May December in which an actress studies the older woman, younger man relationship of the woman she is supposed to portray in her next film. I couldn’t find what studio is tied to this, but this is from Todd Haynes who came super close to getting a movie of his into Picture a few years ago with Carol.
Netflix will have a second option to push for the big prize in Rustin, a film about a civil rights leader that was to be a contender last year before it was pushed to this year.
And Apple will have Ridley Scott’s next project in Napoleon about the infamous French emperor which may or may not end up delayed to next year depending on the studio’s reportedly aggressive awards planning post last season’s faceplant.
The elephant in the room here is what I have at #11. Ironically the same spot I had last season’s winner at last Spring, and from the same studio nonetheless. A24 has seemingly chosen the Sundance Film Festival hit Past Lives as their biggest contender for the year. They are planning to replicate what they did last year with a word-of-mouth slow burn campaign via releasing the movie in the Summer rather than the Fall. Its a debut movie from a new Director in playwright Celine Song, about a married woman who meets up with a childhood friend after years apart at the behest of her husband if the trailers are anything go by. The movie has rave reviews from critics so far, and the “Film Twitter” sphere seems to already want to crown it a major contender to perhaps go all the way.
At the risk of eating crow months down the line I have to say I have some growing doubts. Granted I haven’t seen the movie for myself yet, but I’ve noticed it underperformed at the Berlin Film Festival by losing in competition to a documentary after many considered it a slam dunk winner there. I also have suspicions this won’t be the kind of movie that audiences adore as much as critics do, but I could prove to be wrong about that. And finally, its a really small movie with a small cast and little box office potential. I can see it getting bad financial headlines and perhaps blanking with the important Screen Actors Guild. I’ve ranked it this high out of respect to its early and strong buzz, but its going to have to show me it belongs in the top ten.
Tier 4: The Initial Longshots On The Verge Of Being Taken Serious
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders:
16. Air: Courting A Legend; 17. The Piano Lesson; 18. The Holdovers; 19. Magazine Dreams; 20. Barbie
– Details: In the fourth tier of potential contenders I have five films that I believe are longshots at the moment, but are on the verge of being taken much more seriously depending on how things play out.
We have Amazon Studios’ big push in Ben Affleck’s Air: Courting A Legend. A movie that premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival (the festival last season’s winner premiered at) to high praise as a crowd pleaser that could become the big sports drama of the season.
Denzel Washington’s plans to have a film adaptation of all of August Wilson’s plays will continue through Netflix with The Piano Lesson which will star Samuel L Jackson in what could be his Oscar vehicle, but the movie is kind of a tossup as to whether it will even come out this season.
A very interesting dark horse could be The Holdovers, a film about a hated teacher who has to spend Christmas break with students. Word is it was screened privately to sellers and it played so well Focus Features paid a pretty penny for it and has plans to give it an awards run. However its director, Alexander Payne, has some scandal in his personal life that could hurt the movie’s chances overall.
And if the mad scientist brings a young woman back to life movie flops, Searchlight Pictures seems very serious about Magazine Dreams as an alternative, a film that could be Jonathan Majors’ breakthrough into Oscar glory in which he plays a roided-out bodybuilder who’s life starts to fall apart. The movie already premiered at the Sundance Film festival, but word is Searchlight will be re-working it a bit to make it more accessible come its Winter release to the public. However in the middle of me writing this piece Majors was accused of assaulting a girlfriend of his and that could prove to be the death nail to this movie’s chances if not his career.
Then you have a movie some of you reading this will balk at being ranked this high, and yet others in tune with the awards race will consider I have too low – Barbie. That’s right, the upcoming film adaptation about the iconic doll is Warner Brother’s third priority in pushing for awards. Its directed by Greta Gerwig who the Academy loves, it has an incredible ensemble of big names lead by Margot Robbie, and word is it’ll be much less of a kids movie as it will be for older audiences. I can see why some are actually daring to place this one in the initial predicted ten already. Its probably going to be a major part of the Summer movie conversation, it could become a major part of the mainstream culture of 2023 and thus become that populist contender we get every year, and if either or both of Warner Brothers’ top two awards players flop or fade down the stretch, they can easily use this as backup if it has the right amount of passion behind it.
However I will caution that its extremely hard for a studio to get three movies in the lineup, and understandably this won’t be seen as big of an awards player as Dune: Part Two and The Color Purple. This could end up just being a commercial play for Warner Brothers that ends up getting some tech and crafts nominations and nothing more. But there is a multiverse where it starts climbing up my board as the year goes on.
Tier 5: The Initial Longshots Within Striking Distance
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 21. Tetris; 22. Dumb Money; 23. The Iron Claw; 24. The Killer; 25. Wonka
– Details: The fifth tier features movies that I believe to be longshots within striking distance, but I’m not going to yet say are on the verge of becoming much more serious contenders either.
Apple has Tetris coming out this Spring, a movie about the crazy real-life events that brought the game to the public. It needs some strong word of mouth and to survive a long year’s road of relevancy but based on what I’ve seen and heard it has some of the goods that make movies into Oscar bait.
Then you have Dumb Money from Sony which could end up being sort of a The Big Short type of dramedy crowd pleaser examining a financial controversy that goes on a run with the right amount of passion behind it.
A24 has The Iron Claw as an alternative contender, a movie that will examine the legendary Von Erichs of wrestling and their “curse” that lead to so many of them losing their lives in the spotlight.
Last year I had the next David Fincher film, The Killer, in my initial predicted ten but since the movie was delayed to this year I’ve been thinking things over, and I think the sort of movie it is as a dark thriller through the perspective of a hitman might not be up the Academy’s alley but we’ll see given this will have Netflix’s muscles behind it.
Then you have the upcoming musical prequel that is Wonka, starring Timothee Chalamet in the lead role and directed by Paul King, the man behind the two Paddington films. Word is the film’s already getting positive buzz, and if Barbie doesn’t pan out as a potential populist contender, perhaps this one could climb the ranks as the year goes on. I do think there’s an outside shot it could be delayed until next year, but for now it seems slated for a release at the end of the year.
Tier 6: The Initial Viable Contenders With A Slim Path
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 26. Next Goal Wins; 27. Beau Is Afraid; 28. Spaceman; 29. The Book Of Clarence; 30. The Way Of The Wind
– Details: The sixth tier of potential contenders is reserved for five movies that I believe to be viable contenders, but which are counting on a slim path that may or may never open up for them. I should note All Quiet On The Western Front started out in a similar tier last Spring and ended up the runner-up in Picture.
Taika Waititi’s newest film, Next Goal Wins, about a coach who has to deal with one of the worst Soccer teams in the world was supposed to come out two years ago and last year, but will finally get to see sunlight this year. Waititi is no stranger to the Oscar spotlight having won Adapted Screenplay thanks to a movie that may have finished top 3 if not top 4 that year in Picture. Perhaps this will become a major player down the stretch? Maybe Searchlight Pictures puts more weight behind it given the issues that have come out for Magazine Dreams.
A24 may have confidence in Past Lives and may have something with The Iron Claw, but they’re going to need more than a few dominos to fall to make Beau Is Afraid Ari Aster’s breakthrough to that Oscars stage. The film might be too out there for voters, but we’ve seen such a movie dominate the awards season before.
Talking about out there movies, Netflix has Spaceman coming out this year after it was delayed last; a trippy sci-fi film in which Adam Sandler’s lead role will be having conversations with some sort of space creature voiced by Paul Dano.
And there’s not one but two films featuring Jesus Christ that perhaps could end up finding that slim path. Fresh off his debut feature film, Jeymes Samuel will have The Book Of Clarance about a disciple of Jesus who tries to profit off of his celebrity status. That will likely be more accessible than Terrance Malik’s next project, The Way Of The Wind, which will examine certain episodes of Christ’s life. Not sure the Academy is ready for a Jesus-centric film to compete for Best Picture these days, but I’ve seen stranger things happen.
Tier 7: The Initial Viable Contenders Searching For A Path
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 31. Untitled Bob Marley Biopic; 32. Ferrari; 33. Shirley; 34. Priscilla; 35. Golda
– Details: This brings us to the seventh tier which features viable movies that on paper seem like Oscar bait, almost always biopics, but are still searching for that path to climb up the board. Last year Elvis was in a very similar tier and rocketed up the board to be in my predicted ten by winter.
The movies this year that are along those lines for me is an untitled Bob Marley film Paramount will be pushing and directed by the same director behind King Richard, a bio-pic on the founder of the Ferrari sportscars, a Netflix backed biopic on politician Shirley Chisholm, an A24 backed new Sofia Coppola project on Elvis’ wife Priscilla, and that Bleecker Street contender starring Helen Mirren in incredible makeup as Golda Meir for a biopic on the icon’s life. The latter had been delayed from last year to this as the small studio is really going to be careful pushing this one after they botched the campaign for the critically revered Mass two years back.
Tier 8: The Initial Atypical Contenders With A Slim Path
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 36. The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar; 37. Bottoms; 38. Theatre Camp; 39. Joy Ride; 40. Talk To Me
– Details: When we get into the eight tier, we’re getting into movies that are by no means Oscar bait. Atypical contenders, but unlikely awards players that I currently can see a very slim path for to start climbing up the board as the year goes on.
Wes Anderson could have a second movie coming out later this year via Netflix’s The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, but the movie might get delayed for next year and of the two Anderson films I think Asteroid City will get a much better push than this one will.
We have a big South by Southwest Film Festival hit in Bottoms, a comedy about two queer girls who start a fight club just to try and hookup with cheerleaders. I can see this having a Lady Bird type of awards run but its going to have to make some major noise when it starts playing to the public.
There’s also Theatre Camp which has gotten a great reception as a big crowd pleaser, but I do question how it’s chances will survive what will likely be a lowly box office performance when it has its theatrical run.
Then you have another South by Southwest hit in Joy Ride, pretty much a rated R road trip comedy starring an Asian female ensemble. With there being a hard ten for Picture nominations and Lionsgate only having so many awards options, I can see this perhaps squeezing in if it ends up the next Bridesmaids.
And finally there’s the A24 horror film about a group of young people contacting spirits in Talk To Me, which technically came out to festivals last year but will be getting its public run this year. There’s been a significant amount of praise for it and maybe just maybe it could be that rare horror flick to squeeze into the race.
Tier 9: The Initial Atypical Contenders Searching For A Path
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 41. Spider-Man: Across The Spiderverse; 42. How Do You Live?; 43. Elemental; 44. Wish; 45. Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny
– Details: Now we’re getting into the ninth tier of what I see as initial potential contenders for next year’s Best Picture Oscar race. These are atypical contenders just like the eight tear, but I would argue where I can currently see a potential slim path for those, I still need to see a path open for these and it may or may not come for any of them.
Spider-Man: Across The Spiderverse has been getting a lot of buzz as potentially being such a big thing it can break into the race. But I would argue that its 2018 predecessor had the benefit of going up against weaker competition and this year looks much more stacked for animation.
Among other animated films that could try and join the small list of Best Picture nominees from the medium, we also have How Do You Live? which is going to be the final film from anime movie icon Hayao Miyazaki. I understand the buzz around this one, but we’ve never had an anime movie get into Picture, and I would point out that when Spirited Away won the animation Oscar it too faced less than stellar competition however well respected that movie has gone on to become.
Of course you always have to consider Disney Animation and Pixar, and after a less than stellar showing from both studios last season they have movies that could become big in Elemental and Wish. When you have a hard ten in Picture, you have to always keep in mind the possibility of an animated movie getting in and at the outset these four all look like plausible ones to pull it off.
And then there’s Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny which could be our Top Gun: Maverick of this year. The fifth installment of the franchise could be the one that does what none of the sequels to the original did and become a Picture nominee. But it’ll need rave reviews, great audience reception, amazing box office, and a real aggressive awards push from Disney and Lucasfilm. Harrison Ford presenting the Best Picture prize at the Oscars this past season could be the beginning of something for this film.
Tier 10: The Initial Longest Of Longshots
– Best Picture Oscars Contenders: 46. John Wick: Chapter 4; 47. Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1; 48. Creed III; 49. The Little Mermaid; 50. Fast X
– Details: And now we get to the tenth and final tier. We are now at the point I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for potential nominees. Before people jump down my throat on the five films I have listed here, keep in mind I think its extremely long odds as of today that any of these end up in the Best Picture conversation a year from now. However I did have Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in this similar range at this time a year ago. two movies that ultimately ended up bubble films by nominations morning. And had you given me another two weeks or so I may have placed Top Gun: Maverick here last year and we all know how far that film got. In other words if we see another handful of Fall Film Festival contenders flop, perhaps one or two movies listed here could attempt a run at being that tenth movie that squeezes in.
Given all the love for Tom Cruise in the industry right now you have to take into account we could see Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1 get some buzz when it comes out.
Then you have Creed III which got a ton of praise for its directorial efforts and performances, and could end up getting a DGA nomination for Best Debut for Michael B. Jordan. However given the problems that have arisen for Jonathan Majors who is a big part of the film, perhaps any hopes of this becoming a dark horse are already over.
Given its big Oscar trailer premiere (which got a great reception from the audience only for the trailer not to play for those in attendance) maybe The Little Mermaid live action remake becomes such a massive hit that it becomes an unexpected player. Probably not as critics already seem to have their guns drawn on this one before even seeing it, but the Academy has been known to go a completely different way than critical reviews. Still, I’m really just stretching it to consider this one.
There’s also Fast X which I would typically not place here even as much as I’m scraping to come up with a few longshots, but I was stunned to see a Variety article hint that this was Universal’s second priority for awards season. Now I think chances are that’s a placeholder for a studio that seems to be going Oppenheimer or bust for awards love; but if they think they can make it their Top Gun: Maverick, then I guess I’ll humor them this far out.
Out of all these five super longshots though I think John Wick: Chapter 4 could be the one to potentially keep an eye on. What is presumed to be the final film in the Keanu Reeves action saga has gotten rave reviews and audience reception that remind me of the opening weekend of some past populist contenders. Its even triggered conversations about potentially making the Academy finally start to recognize stunt coordinators. Its in that borderline of a movie looking for a prayer to enter the conversation, and an atypical contender that could be on the verge of a very real path to climb up the board in the months ahead. We’ll see where it stands come the Summer.
Potentially Keep An Eye On: About Dry Grasses; And; Back To Black; Caste; Challengers; Chevalier; El Conde; Eric Larue; Fairplay; Fingernails; Firebrand; Flint Strong; Foe; Freud’s Last Session; Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3; Haunted Mansion; Here; Joyland; Leave The World Behind; Lee; Long Day’s Journey Into Night; My Mother’s Wedding; Nightbitch; Nyad; One Life; Rebel Moon; Strangers; The Actor; The Boys In The Boat; The Collaboration; The Flash; The Marvels; The New Boy; The Nickle Boys; The Outrun; The Zone Of Interest; Untitled Ethan Coen Movie; Untitled ‘The Exorcist’ Movie; Winner; Without Love
– Details: These are another forty potential future contenders I wanted to list that for whatever reason I wasn’t convinced to add to my initial prediction board. They’ve been mentioned by other pundits I follow or are just movies that almost got a mention from me here. Maybe one of these will join the actual tiers of contenders I’m keeping an eye on come the next time I assess the race, after the Cannes Film Festival has come and gone. But for now these are at best honorable mentions that are trying to even be considered by me in the near future.
Remember this is an insanely early look into the race and there’s bound to be a few contenders that I don’t even know will exist at this moment. There’s going to be ups and downs, there’s going to be movies that fall off the board and then get themselves back in, there’s going to be movies that climb the board as the months pass but hit a ceiling, there’s going to be contenders that go from underdog to top tier frontrunner, and I know there’s going to be some serious favorites that will topple down the board after one bad weekend. Whatever the roller coaster ride this awards season has in store for us, I will be there to keep track of it.