Oscar Trophies

Poll: Is the “Popular Film” Oscar a Good Idea?

Ever since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in all its estimable wisdom, announced the creation of a new “Popular Film” category at the Oscars, debate has raged about whether this is a smart move or the dumbest decision ever. Where do you fall?

Regardless of which side you take, this is clearly an act of desperation on the Academy’s part. Ratings have fallen in recent years and this past spring’s ceremony was the least-watched ever. That’s largely due to the strong correlation between the show’s ratings with the box office success of the nominated films. Put simply, people don’t bother to watch the awards if they haven’t seen any of the movies that are likely to win. When blockbusters like Titanic and Return of the King steamrolled through awards season, the Oscars got great ratings. However, when the front-running nominees are smaller films like Spotlight or Moonlight, viewers lose interest. Even this year’s winner The Shape of Water was only a modest box office success.

The Oscars have taken a lot of heat for being out of touch with popular opinion since The Dark Knight failed to land a Best Picture nomination in 2009. In response to the backlash against that, the Academy expanded the Best Picture category from five nominations to as many as ten, which allowed the populist hits District 9 and Avatar to be nominated the following year. The thing about that change, however, was that nobody believed those movies really stood a chance of winning. They were obviously token nominations, the “It’s nice just to be recognized” contenders. As if to prove that they never had any intention of voting for movies like that, the Academy voters that year snubbed Avatar (still the biggest box office hit of all time) for The Hurt Locker, which ended its theatrical run at just $17 million and remains the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner ever. Many viewers read that as a big “F.U.” to James Cameron’s monster hit and to all the people who spent over $2 billion watching it in theaters over and over again.

Creating a new “Popular Film” category seems unlikely to make any difference in that regard. Doing so will only serve to ghettoize populist movies and keep them out of contention for Best Picture, in much the same way the Best Animated Feature and Best Documentary categories have. If anything, it’s an insult to the filmmakers. It’s practically an admission that the voters think their movies have no actual serious artistic merit, because if they did, they’d be nominated for Best Picture.

The criteria for this “Popular Film” category haven’t even been revealed yet. Is it based solely on box office revenue? If so, wouldn’t that automatically make the highest-grossing movie of the year the winner? I can’t wait for the year when a Transformers or Fast and Furious sequel is validated as a bona fide Oscar winner.

No doubt, a lot of people are clamoring for Black Panther to rack up Oscar nominations next spring. I’d say that a case can be made that it actually should be nominated for Best Picture. Creating a new category just to give it a token trophy is not the best way to address fans’ complaints.

The simple fact of the matter, which should be plainly obvious to just about anyone, is that the biggest box office hits of any given year are rarely actually the best movies that year. The alchemy that drives a movie to be a big box office hit has more to do with successful packaging and marketing than the quality of the film itself.

For all their faults (and they have many), the Oscars are supposed to be a recognition of artistic merit, not popularity. That may not be how it works out in reality, but that’s the intention. There’s no reason a big box office hit couldn’t also be one of the strongest artistic works of the year, and it does sometimes work out that way (The Godfather, Platoon, The Silence of the Lambs), but let’s be honest, we all know the two things don’t usually overlap like that.

In my opinion, the purpose of these awards should be to draw attention to worthy movies that viewers may have overlooked during the year. The blockbusters already received the validation they need in the form of all the money they raked in. A “Popular Film” Oscar seems like a terrible idea to me.

What Do You Think About the Oscars Adding a "Popular Film" Category?

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25 comments

  1. Stephen Fox

    What I’ve seen from other commentators online is that they are fine with this if they also rename Best Picture as ‘Outstanding Achievement in Unpopular Film’

  2. I voted “don’t give a damn” but am wondering if something good could come of it, if you really good recognize the “best” of the popular films.

    But I don’t think so. Once “popular” is the criterion then best = biggest box office.

    And, as you say, it will be used as a consolation prize for films that lack artistic merit but are market powerhouses.

    Black Panther as best picture? I suggest a new category: Biggest Superhero Beat Down.

  3. Warner

    I think the creation of this category was largely pushed for by Disney so that they can win an Oscar every year, between the MCU and Star Wars! If they do dominate this new category will they create a second new category “Outstanding Achievement in a popular film not done by Disney”.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      With $1.1 billion, Transformers: Age of Extinction was the highest-grossing movie of 2014. Clearly, that must mean it’s also one of the greatest movies ever made and deserves to be lavished with Oscars.

      • Is that globally though, I wonder if the Oscars will go with American box office? Anyway, I don’t think it will be solely box office take, although that will be a factor. I think it will have more to do with “buzz” and popularity – so something like “Get Out” could win the Oscar, even if it had no chance otherwise. I think we’ll see movies nominated for Best Picture ALSO be nominated for Most Popular, but have a better chance of winning the smaller award. It would finally be a chance for films like “Star Wars”, “Jaws” and “E.T” to get recognized. I DON’T think you’ll win it by making a billion dollars, unless it’s also a good film.

        The problem, of course, is that the Academy used to have NO PROBLEM giving Best Picture to movies that were also huge hits – Rocky, Forrest Gump, TItanic, Return of the King, etc.

  4. I almost voted with the response “I think its a great idea” because my reasoning was “It might get people to start thinking about the Oscars again”. Then I saw “I don’t care about the stupid Oscars” and said “well, that’s a better fit!”

    Truthfully, People’s Choice, Teen’s Choice and Kid’s Choice are already there for Popular movies. The Oscars are supposed to be about the industry recognizing outstanding achievements (although about the last two decades, the more shocking and controversal the movie, the more likely it is to get an Oscar. They don’t care if the movie is any good, just did they try something daring).

    Truthfully, a “popular movie” category is too little too late. Nobody cares about the Oscars anymore. I am not sure if, rating wise, the event can still be saved. Yeah, the show still gets pretty high ratings, but to get a niche when the public has hundreds of channels to choose from and streaming services – the show just is not pulling in the ratings like it once did, and it is because no one has even heard of most of the stuff that they nominate, so why should anyone even care.

    • Bolo

      I voted for not caring about the Oscars also.

      I like drama movies and the Oscars have traditionally favoured serious dramas, especially in the big categories. They used to help direct me to movies I was glad I saw. In the past twenty years, by the time the nominees are announced, I’ve either seen or are planning to see whatever I’m going to see from that list. Some of the nominees are good, but the winner is frequently the worst of the lot. I agree with you, the winner almost always seems like it was picked to make a statement rather than the quality of the film.

      The show itself also struggles with who to appeal to. When they try to get edgy hosts like Seth MacFarlane, it just feels like a bad fit for all the glitz and glamour. However, the right fit for an event this steeped in tradition is usually a very bland host. Safe performers like Billy Crystal and Steve Martin at least felt like they were part of Hollywood, even though their humour felt a few generations out of date. Somebody like Jimmy Kimmel just feels like he should be serving drinks.

    • ‘Although about the last two decades, the more shocking and controversal the movie, the more likely it is to get an Oscar. They don’t care if the movie is any good, just did they try something daring).’

      Nah. Not really. Remember when the excellent ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was snubbed at the 11th hour in favour of the safer ‘Crash’?

  5. C.C.

    Popularity and box office has nothing to do with outstanding achievement.
    What they are doing is turning it into THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD.
    Academy Awards always have been Artisans votings on their peers. Actors voting for actors, directors voting for directors, etc.
    The general public, box office, and popularity have nothing to do with it.
    It is craftsmen evaluating other craftsman. And I think great cinematographers/directors/actors have a better idea of what is great in their field than John Q. Public.

  6. Opinionhaver

    The Oscars should be dismantled entirely. The entire idea of an industry awarding itself things is preposterous in today’s day and age, especially since they get it wrong so often. Example: The King’s Speech is a trash movie. Even if you don’t agree, there’s no way to convince me that its script is objectively any richer or better-performed than The Social Network, Black Swan, or even Toy Story 3 really. There’s a hundred other examples but the point is, people are getting sick of this obnoxious glad-handing dosed with political commentary and that’s why they’re tuning out, so it’s time to think about shutting the shit down. Maybe the 100th show should be the last.

  7. EM

    The Academy should switch to a live simulcast in theaters. That way, the ceremony can qualify as a theatrically released film, and it can present itself the Best Film Award Film Award. You know the Academy wants to.

  8. Nestor

    This move reeks of desperation.

    If the award show doesn’t have Sgt. Frank Drebin, Detective Lieutenant, Police Squad, then I want nothing to do with it.

  9. Timcharger

    Looking out into the future, if the “popular” category has a box office criteria, then future nominees may one day look like these films:
    Wolf Warrior 2
    Operation Red Sea
    Detective Chinatown 2

    MAGA red hats would livid at this coming future. Read the tea leaves. It’s where the gross is growing. So maybe the Best Popular Film category will one day inform American viewers of the cinema outside our walled border. That could be a good thing. That would be hilarious if the Popular nominees list is filled with films very few Americans saw, and we’ll be back to the same issue.

  10. Timcharger

    An Academy will select the winner of the Popular category? Hmmm… An “electoral college” of Academy voters will determine the popular winner. Yay! We can now look forward to an electoral college f#cking things up annually.
    🙂

  11. Peter

    I don’t get why they do this move, ostensibly to get movies large numbers of people have seen into the broadcast so more people watch, and at the same move the categories that the big-blockbuster movies do and have been getting nominated in to be awarded during the commercials. That seems to be working at cross purposes to me.

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