The Oscars Go “Popular”: An Analysis

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dropped a rather big bombshell today with some announced changes to their Oscar telecast. First off, they’re claiming the show will now be just three hours (I’ll believe it when I see it). Additionally, some categories (I imagine numerous tech ones) will be announced live during commercial breaks and then edited into the show later. This probably won’t make the individuals in those races happy, but it should speed up the program.

However, the most noticeable and interesting change is the addition of a new category (something the Academy rarely does). The addition is described as “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”. No other details have been provided, but this would appear to be an attempt by the Academy to include blockbusters that haven’t made the cut in Best Picture.

So what does that mean? What is the criteria? That was not announced today and it will be fascinating to see what such criteria is. Could it be a particular gross… say over $100 million domestically? Could it be the number of the theaters a movie is released in? Time will tell and hopefully these details will be revealed shortly. It isn’t even immediately clear that these changes will all be in effect for the 2019 telecast, but I imagine they will be.

Even though nothing is totally clear at press time, that won’t stop me from speculating and asking, “What if this category had been in effect in previous years?”

Before that, let’s start with this year. If there is a Best Popular Film category in 2018, that greatly increases the chances of Marvel’s Black Panther and horror smash A Quiet Place getting nods. There’s also Mission: Impossible – Fallout (the most acclaimed entry in the franchise) or perhaps Avengers: Infinity War. Pixar will certainly see Incredibles 2 nominated in Best Animated Feature, but it could make a play here as well. And we still have fall releases like Mary Poppins Returns and A Star Is Born out there.

There will be plenty of speculation as to whether Black Panther will be the first superhero pic to nab a Best Picture nomination. There is little doubt it would be recognized in this new category.

It’s been discussed on this blog previously about the 2008 Oscars which omitted The Dark Knight in the Best Picture derby. That development was likely responsible for the Academy changing its rule of five nominated films to anywhere between five and ten. Yet it would appear the Academy still isn’t satisfied with major hits being included.

Let’s consider last year. Of the nine Best Picture nominees, only two grossed over $100 million – Get Out and Dunkirk. If the Popular Film category had existed a year ago, I imagine both features would have achieved double nominations. Assuming this new category contains five nominees (something not revealed yet), what would the other three have been? There’s plenty of blockbusters to choose from: Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, It, Logan, Coco, The Greatest Showman, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder, and Baby Driver. 

Here’s my best guess of what a Best Popular Film slate would have looked like in 2017:

Dunkirk, Get Out, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman

And I’m thinking Get Out would have won.

In 2016, you might have seen Deadpool and The Jungle Book as Popular picks.

In 2015, there could have been room for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Straight Outta Compton.

2014? Perhaps Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone Girl. 

Heck, let’s go way back. Would Jurassic Park have won Best Popular Film in 1993? I don’t think so. I bet it would have gone to The Fugitive, which nabbed an actual Best Picture nomination.

Of course, there would have been years where Best Picture and Best Popular Film match. 1994 with Forrest Gump. 1997’s Titanic. 2000’s Gladiator. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003.

Back to today. I would say this new category seems tailor-made for Black Panther. Does that mean its chances for a Best Picture nod are now diminished because voters figure it runs away with this? Perhaps. And that’s why I’m not too wild about this change at the moment. This has the potential to look like a desperate play by the Academy. At the least, it’s an acknowledgment that audience favorites and Academy favorites don’t often match.

That said, let’s see what the criteria is and I’ll judge from there. It’s a new era at the Oscars… one where Bumblebee stands a shot (however remote) at Oscar glory!

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