Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new column all about The Oscars! New writer Donovan Warren will be examining films and their chances at Oscar glory leading up to the big statuette presentation. 

There’s still a good amount of time between now and the official kickoff of Oscar season – that wonderful time of the year when film distributors try to appease their clients, like parents who venture to find the right toy for their children during the holidays or for birthdays – but it’s never too early to start talking about the next Oscar ceremony.

Obvious Oscar-baiting films like Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables  and Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina haven’t arrived in theaters, and distributors haven’t bothered with For Your Consideration ads (yet), but we’ve already seen at least one Oscar contender make its way into theaters and into the awards conversation. Without any further ado, let’s talk about Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.

I initially intended to post this at a later time, possibly near the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (just for fun). However, I figured I might as well address The Avengers’ Oscar candidacy sooner rather than later. Sasha Stone of Awards Daily noted that “one of the ways you judge the viability of a non-Oscar-y contender is if it becomes ‘too big to ignore.’”

The Oscar expert happened to make that statement soon after the film became the third highest-grossing film in motion picture history, quite an accomplishment in the “too big to ignore” department. The Avengers’ 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes isn’t something to ignore either, as it suggests enthusiasm from the critics rather than the critical disgust many box-office smashes inspire.

The Academy often lowers its guard against mainstream films when they make Hollywood a nice load of cash and have reviews that can buttress, if not fully validate, major nomination love. In short, voters like films with favorable reviews and favorable receipts, and The Avengers fits that bill perfectly. What’s more, the crafts branches will probably hop on board to praise the film to some degree (a Visual Effects nod seems fully plausible).

In other words, The Avengers is undoubtedly a contender, so why is it that, even with more than enough evidence to validate its status as an Oscar contender, my own recognition of it being a major contender, and an Oscar expert giving the possibility credence, I’m still not convinced that “Best Picture nominee The Avengers” is happening?

Well, the Oscar race isn’t a fair one, especially when it comes to honoring sequels. Having mentioned The Avengers’ status as cinema’s third highest-grossing film ever earlier, we should probably consider the film that previously held that claim: last year’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. The fantasy finale predictably broke box-office records and won the hearts of critics; people argued that it would be, that it should be, that it had to be a Best Picture nominee. However, it wasn’t meant to be.

In Oscar’s eighty-four years, only six sequels became Picture nominees, with two – 1974’s The Godfather, Part II and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King– actually going on to win the Academy’s top prize. Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story hit theaters in 2010 and became the most recent of these six nominated sequels. It’s also the only one whose franchise predecessors weren’t Picture nominees. That little milestone seems to give The Avengers some credence as a potential Picture nominee, but the first Toy Story film still earned an Original Screenplay bid. In other words, The Avengers will become the first Picture-nominated sequel whose predecessors were completely ignored in the major races if it actually makes the cut.

Last year, a good amount of Oscar watchers understandably thought that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 would break that mold (though I don’t recall if anyone made a note of that little factoid regarding major nominations). The National Board of Review, undoubtedly aiming to start a trend, even named it one of 2011’s ten best films. The NBR is one of the first Oscar precursors to announce its winners, making it – for better or for worse – a rather strong indicator of how the season will turn out. In the end, though, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 picked up three crafts bids at the Oscars and not even a single mention in the major races, let alone Best Picture.

Let’s keep in mind, too, that Harry Potter’s adventures at Hogwarts clearly trump Marvel’s superheroes, having more than double the success both with Oscar nominations and the box office – even when you average out both franchises to make up for the fact that the former boasts more films than the latter.

There’s no way to deny that Marvel has greatly succeeded with The Avengers franchise, creating continuity with its various characters and earning critical and financial praise along the way. Still, will voters care too much about The Avengers if they didn’t recognize Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 with major nominations? Even with its phenomenal success, Marvel’s franchise has had very little to sing about in the awards department. Aside from some well-deserved crafts nominations, that might also be the fate of The Avengers.