The Oscars are at a crossroads and Batman is standing right in the middle of the road. Like the Scarecrow says in The Wizard of Oz (not the Scarecrow in Batman Begins), the Oscars can go this way, or they can go that way.

In recent years, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has increasingly honoured independent films that haven’t exactly done huge box office business. At the same time, moviegoers have been most interested in coming out to see blockbusters — particularly superhero films.

Enter The Dark Knight.

Christopher Nolan’s latest Batman installment grossed $531 million US, second only to 1997’s Titanic. Not only was it an enormous hit, but it also drew largely glowing reviews, ranking among many critics’ year-end top 10 lists. The same could also be said for Iron Man and WALL-E.

But if the academy can’t get behind a movie like The Dark Knight that resonated throughout both culture and critics, will it ever rediscover common ground with the mainstream?

“If a film is very successful, it shouldn’t be automatically relegated to the minor leagues,” said Peter Guber, chairman of Mandalay Entertainment and producer of the 1989 Batman.

“It’s not a popular vote — it is artistic,” he added. “But the reality is, The Dark Knight and Iron Man were the most popular, the most successful and — arguably by me — maybe the most interesting films this year. And they were also the least acknowledged by the artistic community.”

Many Oscar prognosticators believe The Dark Knight will squeak in with a best picture nomination Thursday. Many, though, peg it for the fifth and final spot. The logic is that the big Golden Globes winner Slumdog Millionaire is a shoo-in, and will be followed by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon and Milk.

But Tom O’Neil, a columnist for the awards website, believes the best picture category will come down to a face-off between Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight. There are about 5,800 members in the academy, and O’Neil believes Batman will have strong support from technical craftsmen. “You could just see them picking a Dark Knight because it’s a technological ach­ievement,” he said.

The 81st Academy Awards nominations will be announced Thursday at 5:30 a.m. PT in Los Angeles.