What Does 'Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens' Making AFI's Top 10 Films Of 2015 List Mean For Its Oscar Chances?

Normally, the American Film Institute's list of the best movies of the year is published during the first week of December. However, last month the group announced that they would be postponing their announcement by one week in order to take Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens into consideration following its world premiere on Dec. 14. Well, that delay turned out to be fortuitous, since the AFI declared The Force Awakens as one of 2015's 10 best films this Wednesday. So what does this mean for the film's Oscar chances?

Here's this year's AFI Top 10 in its entirety:

  • The Big Short
  • Bridge Of Spies
  • Carol
  • Inside Out
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • Room
  • Spotlight
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Straight Outta Compton

That's a diverse list, to be sure, containing everything from action movies to indie dramas, from comedies to musical biopics. Many of those 10 movies are projected to be heavy hitters at the 2016 Academy Awards. Afer all, six of those 10 films also earned Best Picture nominations from both the Golden Globes and the Critics Choice Awards: The Big Short, Carol, Mad Max, The Martian, Room, and Spotlight. Of course, The Force Awakens couldn't be considered by either of those groups since it hadn't screened in time; if it had, would it have been nominated? Sadly, we'll never know.

So, does The Force Awaken's inclusion in such prestigious company mean anything significant for its Oscar chances? The film already seems like a veritable lock for many technical categories, including Best Score for John Williams, Best Visual Effects, and perhaps nominations for Hair & Make-up and either or both Sound Editing and Mixing. But could this major recognition by the AFI help boost The Force Awakens above the line into some of the ceremony's more major categories, like Screenplay, Director, or Picture?

Oddly, that latter category is actually the movie's best shot at a major nom, considering its flexible number of available slots. (Anywhere between five and 10 films can earn a Best Picture nomination depending on the percentage of first-place votes.) If the category falls on the higher side of that range this year, it's conceivable that The Force Awakens could slip in. However, considering that Mad Max and The Martian — two other science-fiction action blockbusters, a genre the Academy isn't exactly known for embracing — are already considered strong contenders, should we really expect a third to be able to make it into the race?

Deadline's Pete Hammond has is optimistic: "A Star Wars nomination might be something the Academy itself would be praying for," he noted. "It is a fact that when gigantic crowd-pleasers like Titanic and Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King win big, the ratings soar. Among those spotted in the crowd [at the Force Awakens premiere] was Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and former Academy president Sid Ganis who instituted the move to 10 potential Best Picture nominees in order to encourage the inclusion of more blockbuster-type pictures like this one."

Even if the Academy itself is invested in seeing The Force Awakens nominated for Best Picture, history is still working against the film. The only one of the Star Wars films to date that has landed a nom in that category was the first in 1977 — and it lost to Woody Allen's Annie Hall. It is also very rare for the Oscars to acknowledge sequels of any kind in the top race of the night: the Godfather saga, the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and the latest Toy Story movie are some of the few exceptions.

So why couldn't The Force Awakens be another exception, you ask? Well, it still might. The AFI Top 10 list has a fairly good track record of predicting eventual Best Picture nominees. Last year, of the eight nominees for the top prize, six had been previously been selected by the AFI. (The group only missed The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Theory Of Everything.) And that was actually their weakest year so far this decade. Every other year since 2010, the AFI has correctly predicted somewhere between seven and nine eventual Best Picture nominees, for an overall success rate of 82 percent.

It's highly unlikely that all 10 of the AFI's picks will also end up competing for Best Picture at the Oscars this year. But it's certainly not impossible that The Force Awakenswill be nominated... especially if it ends up shattering all of the records that Avatar (itself a science-fiction action blockbuster Best Picture nominee) set six years ago.

Cross your lightsabers and hope for the best, Star Wars fans! We'll find out one way or another when the Oscar nominations are finally announced on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016.

Images: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (3)