‘Hamilton’ Might Have Been Disney’s Best Shot At Ending Its Best Picture Drought

Disney doesn’t do “off” years.

Sure, in the pre-pandemic days of 2020, it might have seemed like the company was taking it easy after a record-breaking 2019 which had the highest-grossing movie ever, a new Star Wars, and Toy Story and Frozen sequels. But in February, Disney paid $75 million for the rights to Hamilton, the Tony Award-winning sensation that ensured no one will ever again confuse the guy on the ten-dollar bill with a president. The original plan was to release the musical in 2021, but then These Uncertain Times happened and, again, Disney doesn’t do “off” years, especially “off” years with baffling stinkers like Artemis Fowl. So, Hamilton was released on Disney+ over the Fourth of July weekend.

Disney is not throwing away its shot (at getting you to sign up for Disney+).

Hamilton was not only a huge get for Walt Disney Studios, it was also, I assumed, an expensive tactic to win a boatload of Oscars. But nope, it turns out the film, seamlessly made up of three performances from 2016, isn’t eligible. “Despite the various historical precedents that would seem to point toward Hamilton’s inclusion — most notably, the filmed version of Give ‘Em Hell, Harry, a one-man show about Harry Truman that earned a Best Actor nomination for James Whitmore at the 1976 Oscars — an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences source says plainly that, as a recorded stage production, Hamilton is not eligible for awards consideration,” according to Vulture. Lin-Manuel Miranda will have to settle for multiple Tonys and Grammys, an Emmy, a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and a Kennedy Center Honor. Poor guy.

If Hamilton had been eligible, a Best Picture nomination would have been likely in a weird year for movies. Deserved? Maybe, maybe not, for the same reason that I’m still angry at everyone who listed Twin Peaks: The Return as one of the best movies of the 2010s (IT’S A TV SHOW), but I digress. Let’s say, hypothetically, it was nominated for the top prize at the Oscars. And, hypothetically, it won. That would snap one of the oddest streaks in Academy Awards history, one that Disney desperately wants to end. Walt Disney Studios is a prestigious film studio that has been around since the 1920s and is considered part of the “Big Five,” along with Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, and Paramount Pictures. But no Disney film has ever won Best Picture.

Some of its subsidiaries have found success on Oscars night, like when the Disney-owned Miramax dominated the 71st Annual Academy Awards with Shakespeare in Love (two reasons it shouldn’t have won Best Picture: 1: “produced by Harvey Weinstein,” and 2. The Thin Red Line is better) and Pixar and Marvel have been nominated for Up and Toy Story 3 and Black Panther, but those companies were acquisitions. If we’re talking DISNEY movies, there have only been two Best Picture nominations: Mary Poppins in 1965 and Beauty and the Beast (the first animated movie to score a Best Pic nom) in 1992; they lost to My Fair Lady and The Silence of the Lambs. That’s tough competition.

With Hamilton out of the running, it’s unlikely there will be a third nomination, unless the “Bryan Cranston talks to gorillas” movie The One and Only Ivan turns out to be a masterpiece. No wonder Disney acquired 20th Century Studios, which, coincidentally I’m sure, is the production company with the most Best Picture noms. Not the most wins, though: that honor belongs to Columbia Pictures, which Disney should own by 2023.