The last several years have seen a growing call to create a Best Stunts Oscar, to recognize the stunt coordinators and choreographers who make thrilling action part of cinema. The drumbeat supporting a Best Stunts Oscar is primarily driven by two things: a return to practical, in-camera stunt work throughout the 2010s, particularly in film series such as Mission: Impossible and John Wick, and the desire to feature more blockbuster films at the Oscars, especially as the Academy has grown ever stingier about recognizing action/blockbuster films, even as they dominate the cinematic landscape. Just because a movie is popular—and thus, financially successful—does not mean it deserves to be nominated for Best Picture, but having an Oscar recognizing stunt work would open the door to nominating films like John Wick: Chapter 4, which is otherwise guaranteed to be overlooked by the Academy (even though the production design is off the charts).
We are one step closer to Best Stunts being a real category, as Friday the Academy announced the formation of a new branch: Production and Technology. This branch has not yet added members to the Academy, it instead absorbs about 400 existing “members-at-large”, including members working in pre-and-post production technology at the executive and production department head levels (so basically everyone touching computers outside the VFX department), preservations and restoration specialists, script supervisors and line producers—the people who keep productions on track—choreographers, music supervisors, associate producers, and STUNT COORDINATORS.
There are a number of potentially new Oscar categories that could come out of this new branch, all of which would be considered part of the untelevised Scientific and Technical Awards. For instance, they could hand out a trophy every year to the history nerds working in restoration, they could recognize lifetime achievements for the script supervisors and line producers who make directors appear organized, if there was a great dance number in a given year, they could recognize that choreographer.
But on the big night, they should absolutely be presenting the Best Stunts Oscar to some combination of the stunt and fight coordinators, and the actual choreographers who plan the moves moment by moment. The 2022 nominees in a stunt category would have overlapped with the Best Pictures nominees with Top Gun: Maverick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Avatar: The Way of Water, but also could have recognized Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, RRR, The Batman, Ambulance, and France’s Athena and its breathless one-take opening scene and the ferocious long-take police raid sequence (a high-level technical challenge given the amount of live fire going off in close proximity to dozens of performers and crew, rivaling Maverick for personal risk).
However, we are still not talking about recognizing stunt PERFORMERS. An Oscar for stunt performers is an entirely different matter and is less likely to happen. The number one roadblock to a stunts Oscar has always been the acting branch, given how many actors “do their own stunts”, and even have been known to campaign for Oscars on the idea that they mastered some complex art and performed it as well as a professional for camera (ahemNataliePortmanahem).
The SAG Awards recognize stunt performers as an ensemble, but they do not single out specific performers for specific roles. If there were to be an ensemble option for the Oscars, that MIGHT make some headway, but starting with a Best Stunts Oscar for the department heads making the stunts happen is far more likely, at this time, than a stunt performer award.
But a Best Stunts category solves the problem of the Oscars recognizing popular films that don’t necessarily pass muster for Best Picture, while also acknowledging the critical role stunt coordinators and choreographers play in contributing to the final look of the film. They’re as important as costume designers, production designers, the VFX teams, et cetera, and yet, they are totally ignored on Oscar night. Creating a branch of the Academy to represent stunt coordinators—presumably, “choreographers” will cover more than just dance choreographers—is a big step in the right direction of assuring that the stunt community is properly credited and celebrated for their work in cinema.