Some of this year’s best picture nominees were easy to figure out. For instance, The Fabelmans is Steven Spielberg’s love letter to movies, so that was a given. Likewise, maverick was a big hit with audiences and critics, which was expected. But All Quiet on the Western Front, one of the movies that made the shortlist, surprised the experts.
The famous World War I book by Erich Maria Remarque was made into a movie. But it was only shown in a few theaters before it was put on Netflix. It starred Felix Kammerer, an Austrian actor who had never been in a movie before, and it was directed by Edward Berger, who had mostly worked on TV. Also, it was German, and no German movie had ever been nominated for best picture.
Many critics thought All Quiet on the Western Front would be nominated for best international feature, but it was also nominated for best picture and eight other awards. Then it won the Bafta for best film, and a movie that wasn’t a big deal at first became a big hit. Lastly, Will Smith’s hit on Chris Rock was the biggest Oscar surprise since 2022.
Still, you might be thinking about it in an old way. In the past few years, both the Oscars and the movie business have changed in many big ways. So when you think about all these things at once, Berger’s epic war drama is the best choice for the best picture.
In 2009, the Academy announced that the number of films in the best picture category would go from five to ten. This was a big change. Theoretically, this would make it possible for blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Wall-E, passed over earlier that year, to be nominated for the top prize. Unfortunately, blockbusters still need more luck in real life. Only Black Panther and Joker have been up for an Oscar since 2009. But because of the new rule, the best picture list now includes more unusual movies and movies that must be in English.
Before 2018, only nine of these kinds of movies were in the category. That is about once every ten years. But since Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma was nominated for the top Oscar in 2019, one non-English-language film has been nominated every year. In 2020, the best picture award went to the Korean movie Parasite.
He talked about how some English-speaking audiences wanted to avoid watching movies with subtitles, but that attitude changed quickly. In 2021, researchers found that four out of five 18–25-year-olds who watched TV turned on the subtitles. This was four times as many people did the same thing between the ages of 56 and 75. For young people who are used to watching videos on their phones wherever they are, subtitles are a normal part of the screen experience, so they have no trouble getting past the “one-inch tall barrier.”
All QUiet on the Western Front: A global revolution
On the other hand, streaming giants have been focused on growing their subscriber bases worldwide. They have done this by funding, distributing, and promoting movies that aren’t in English with a passion that old-school Hollywood studios could never muster. Netflix made both Roma and All Quiet on the Western Front. The most popular show on Netflix is still Squid Game from South Korea, and Call My Agent! from France was such a huge hit on the same platform that the English show Ten Percent seemed like a waste of time. Movies and TV shows from other countries have always been hard to find or more popular.
All Quiet on the Western Front is the way it is now because of Netflix’s power and money. The movie is based on a first-person, present-tense account of how being in the trenches made a German soldier feel less human.
Netflix paid for All Quiet on the Western Front and did a great job promoting it, making it hard to get on the platform without seeing something about it. Because of this, it was nominated for 14 Baftas, which was more than any other film this year, and it won seven of them.
People persuaded by that marketing campaign saw a story of the war at its worst told in a way that was technically amazing and powerfully acted. Watching it was almost too sad, but the music and cinematography made it amazing and beautiful. They watched something that took a lot of hard work to make. It was just as hard to make as it was to watch. It shows how quickly things are changing in the business world. All Quiet on the Western Front is an unlikely contender for best picture, but it is too much of a best picture contender to be a good movie.