For this year’s Oscars, it will be an ode to the honorable.
Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced Tuesday that this year’s Academy Awards will have a movie hero theme. Meron made the announcement through an Instagram video saying the night would be a celebration of all heroes: popular heroes, real-life heroes, animated heroes, and superheroes.
Does that mean we can expect host Ellen DeGeneres in a Wonder Woman suit? Probably not. However, many of the stars in contention for Oscars this year have already played heroic parts. Here is a look at some of the best (cape not required):
Tom Hanks as Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia
The two-time Oscar winner won his first of back-to-back Best Actor statuettes in 1994 for playing a closeted homosexual lawyer who is fired after being diagnosed with AIDS. Hanks has played many heroes in his career, including the title character for this year’s Captain Phillips, but it was his vulnerability as an actor to portray Beckett that makes his work and role heroic. Beckett sues his law firm with the help of a homophobic lawyer played by Denzel Washington. Though they do win at the end, the true victory is Beckett being able to change the way his lawyer views him and other homosexuals and the world as a whole. The character of Beckett is inspired by the real lives of attorneys Geoffrey Bowers and Clarence B. Cain who felt similar discrimination after they revealed their AIDS diagnoses. Probably the most heroic thing about Hanks’ portrayal of Beckett is that he is never intended to be a hero in any way but only to stand up for what is right and the justice he deserves.
Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich
Roberts earned both Globe and SAG nominations this year for playing Meryl Streep’s eldest daughter in August: Osage Country in a role that could weirdly be described as heroic, or at least tries to be. However, it was a woman named Erin Brockovich that allowed Roberts to show off some real superpowers in acting. Roberts won the Best Actress Oscar in 2000 for playing the title role in Erin Brockovich, an unemployed single mother of three who fights to take down the energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company after discovering the groundwater in Hinkley, California, was contaminated with carcinogenic hexavalent chromium and kept a secret for almost 30 years. After a case in court, the judge ordered PG&E to pay a settlement of $333 million to be distributed among the 634 plaintiffs with medical problems who Brockovich found. Like Beckett, what makes Brockovich such a great hero is that she isn’t trying to be one. She is an ordinary woman who puts herself in an extraordinary circumstance and realizes she still has the power to win. Not only was Brockovich a hero for the 634 people she directly helped, but also to single mothers everywhere, showing that sometimes the biggest heroes are the ones we discover within ourselves.
Robert Redford as Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men
In AFI’s list of the Top 50 movie heroes, Redford actually makes two appearance on the list, both as a pair. Though AFI ranks his performance as the Sundance Kid with Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid higher, political heroics are always a little more interesting. Redford also makes this list with Dustin Hoffman as two Washington Post reporters uncovering the Watergate scandal in All the President’s Men. Redford played Bob Woodward, who in 1972 was just a young reporter assigned to cover a simple burglary in the Watergate complex. When the story begins to turn into something more, Woodward is paired with Carl Bernstein, played by Hoffman, and they work together with the help of Woodward’s anonymous source Deep Throat to uncover scandals that led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. This year, Redford is hoping to score an Oscar nomination for his one-man survival tale All is Lost. But it was Woodward and his journalistic heroism that made sure our country was still heading in the right direction.
Meryl Steep as Karen Silkwood in Silkwood
Before there was Brockovich, there was Silkwood. Meryl Streep’s 1983 film, directed by Mike Nichols, told the real-life story of Karen Silkwood, a labor union activist investigating alleged wrongdoing at the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant where she worked. Silkwood infamously died under mysterious circumstances when she was killed in a car crash on her way to meet with a New York Times reporter about what she had discovered. Like she did as the pill-popping matriarch in this year’s August: Osage Country, Streep completely disappears into the life of this everyday character. You are rooting for her from the start, and even when her personal relationships get in the way, she is still determined to expose and fix the problem.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Katniss is probably the closest thing you’ll get to a superhero without any special powers or sidekick (though Peeta does have a certain Robin quality to him, doesn’t he?). The Oscar-winner is currently in the awards mix for her boozy performance in American Hustle, but the sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, also came out this year, and we simply can’t get enough. Not only is Katniss a great hero, but she is arguably a better role model. She has shown little girls (and some boys) across the world that strength comes only from yourself. She made archery cool again and has reintroduced the significance of the French braid. And the even better part? We aren’t done seeing the heroic things this girl can and will do. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 comes out in November. By that time, Lawrence could be a two-time Oscar winner!