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The Iron Claw’s Biggest Tragedy: An Oscar Snub 

The Snub of The Iron Claw: Why was this critically lauded tragic tale about wrestling royalty nowhere to be found at the Oscars?

The Iron Claw's Biggest Tragedy: An Oscar Snub
The Iron Claw / Image Courtesy of A24 Studios

The Von Erichs were the original professional wrestling family that rose to such prominence that they became synonymous with wrestling itself. These five brothers, led by their father, were on their way to unprecedented success in the sport until tragedy struck, as four of them suffered heartbreaking fates.

Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw depicts this heartbreak: it makes us connect with these brothers and shows us the devastating loss through the eyes of Kevin Von Erich, played by Zac Efron in a career-best performance. 

The Iron Claw transports the audience into this world of awe-inspiring wrestling and an unbreakable bond between brothers. The perfectly paced film then shifts into delivering blow after blow through each brother’s passing.

This film is like Mike Tyson repeatedly punching you over and over again, and there’s nothing you can do but wait for the pain to subside so you can take another hit, as he sometimes feints when the movie subverts the tragedy, only for the next blow to be even harder than the last. 

To add to the tragedy, the Academy did not end up nominating this film in any category. In many people’s eyes, this film got skipped over by the Academy despite the incredible critical and audience reception it received. If we look into it from the lens of how well the film was received, The Iron Claw had all the makings of an Oscar-nominated film, but is that enough in today’s climate to pull off a nomination? 

The Iron Claw's Biggest Tragedy: An Oscar Snub
The Iron Claw / Image Courtesy of A24 Studios.

This film had everything going for it. It boasts an incredible central performance by Zac Efron, who gives his absolute best to the film. It features rising stars, such as current awards circuit darling Jeremy Allen White of The Bear fame, Harris Dickinson, who starred in a best picture nominee the previous year, and other notable names such as Lily James and Holt McCallany rounding out the cast.

The film had a real-life story driving it, which the Academy historically loves to celebrate and reward. It had critical success, moderate box office success—making $44 million—it had everything the Academy rewards, yet it fell short of any nominations.

Of the ten films nominated for Best Picture, a whopping eight debuted at a major film festival. Killers of the Flower Moon, The Zone of Interest, and Anatomy of a Fall all went to the Cannes Film Festival. Poor Things and Maestro both went to the Venice Film Festival. Past Lives premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival. American Fiction went to the Toronto Film Festival, and The Holdovers went to Telluride.

The two films that didn’t have a film festival premiere? You guessed it, Barbie and Oppenheimer. Both the juggernaut blockbusters that debuted in theaters ended up rocking the world side by side.

The Iron Claw had neither of these luxuries as it opened to a small audience at the Texas Theatre in November. The film didn’t end up reaching audiences nationwide until a week before the end of 2023. The film simply did not have time to gain any steam, while the other films had months to garner critical praise that translated to other major awards, whether that be the SAG Awards, BAFTA, or the Golden Globes.

The Iron Claw's Biggest Tragedy: An Oscar Snub
The Iron Claw / Image Courtesy of A24 Studios.

The film was never really given a chance, but in a way, it was by design. A24, the company that produced and distributed Iron Claw, has had seven films nominated for the Oscar Best Picture list, two of them coming this year, a first for the independent studio.

The drawbacks of being independent are that they have to choose their battles—they have to meticulously pick which films to promote for these Oscars because, simply put, it’s expensive. At some point, A24 would just be competing against themself if they promoted too many films. A24 had The Zone of Interest and Past Lives to promote for various categories, and it paid off, resulting in both being nominated for best picture.

As a result, The Iron Claw got the short end of the stick, not because it wasn’t good enough but simply because it fell through the cracks. It was the wrong time to release the film, despite it being award season. This is why you didn’t see Zac Efron and his supporting cast host SNL or appear on late-night shows.

Maybe if A24 had opted for a 2024 release date to compete instead for the 2025 Oscars, it’d have had a different fate. It’s a loss that a film like this was essentially dumped because of the circumstances surrounding it, but being snubbed shouldn’t be the end of the journey for this film.

I’m not sure how this film’s journey will end, but I sure don’t hope the journey ends there. It’s a film that is fantastically written, directed, and performed, and it’s a relevant subject matter with the never-ending rise of wrestling, whether it’s through the WWE or AEW.

The Iron Claw's Biggest Tragedy: An Oscar Snub
The Iron Claw / Image Courtesy of A24 Studios.

While wrestling may be the selling point, what lands is the bond between the brothers, showcased masterfully by the film through the first act of the film. It builds the brothers up with their own ambitions and dreams, whether that be wrestling or being a musician like one Von Erich dreams of.

The brothers support each other through it all, that’s the heart of this film. That’s why this film is as brilliant as it is—it builds these tragedies into characters, which makes it all the more heartbreaking in the end.

Will this film find a larger audience in the near future? Will this film achieve cult status? These are questions that I don’t have the answer to, but it falls on those who love this film to push it to audiences who may not have ever heard of the film.

The legacy of this film shouldn’t be about being snubbed at the Oscars, it should be about what it can achieve after being snubbed, whether that’s viewership on a streaming service, video on demand doing well, or simply just eternality in the hearts of those who have seen it because it sure as hell will be in mine for a long time.

If you liked this article, please be sure to check out some of our other exclusives, articles, and reviews here at Feature First. Thanks for reading!

An aspiring screenwriter based in California obsessed with the inner and outer workings of Film and TV. Vishu serves as an editorial writer for Film, Music and TV.