On Wednesday, August 8th, the Academy announced several changes to the award show format for its most prestigious awards show, the Oscars. Among these changes were a strict 3 hour time limit to the broadcast, not broadcasting all the awards*, an earlier broadcast date, and most notably, the addition of a popular film category. That is all we know at this point about the latter change. There will be a popular movie category. Until we hear more information about it, we can only speculate as to what the criteria may be and how the voting will shake out. So let’s consider the possibilities and what the last 3 years may have looked like with this category.
The biggest question surrounding the new category will be the criteria to enter the conversation. One would assume the this will be solely based on box office numbers, and probably North American only(every year a foreign-only release cracks the top 15 in global box office despite having no presences state-side). At that point, we speculate the cut-off. I am going to assume $200 million dollars as a good round number to go by, though in the breakdown below I will note when a movie with other Oscar considerations grossed over $100 million, a decent thermometer mark for popularity.
The next question is about overlap with other existing categories. If a movie is nominated for best picture, can it also be nominated for best popular movie? The precedent for this would be the animated film category. Toy Story 3 and Up were both nominated for best picture and best animate feature film. Given Toy Story 3‘s box office success, are we to assume it would reach across all 3 categories had the popular film award been around in 2010? We will dig into this a little more in the yearly retrospective, but I do wonder if we could see something I’ll call overlap fatigue.
Finally, what will be the balance of popularity and quality when the voters decide the nominees and ultimately the winner? I am assuming that it will not purely be a popularity contest because that would be too straightforward. The movie that made the most money would be the clear winner. More likely, box office returns will get the movie into the discussion, and then critical acclaim will earn it a nomination and win. This is where it gets interesting. Do we assume that once the criteria is set, that good ole fashioned award show voting mentality will take over? Or will there be special consideration for how a movie appeals to a popcorn eating audience?
Despite these unknowns, let’s take a look at how the past 3 years would have shaken out had this category been around. We will assume 5 nominees per category(though that is another variable we will need to learn more about):
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol2
Wild Cards: Get Out, Dunkirk, Baby Driver
Immediately we realize how difficult it is to predict the nominees for this category. My gut instinct tells me that Wonder Woman is the surefire winner for Popcorn movie of 2017. It received universal acclaim from critics, grossed over $400 million at the box office, and was just outright the talk of the town all summer long. But then you consider Get Out and Dunkirk, each grossing over $150 million themselves, certainly justifying them as popular movies, and getting actual Oscar nominations for best picture. Even Logan bested its superhero counterpart with a screenplay nomination. How will voters weigh that against the impact of Wonder Woman making the top of every “Best Superhero movie of the year” internet list? Considering box office returns, critical similarities, and overlap fatigue, I give the award to Wonder Woman.*
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Captain America: Civil War
The Jungle Book
Wild Cards: La La Land, Hidden Figures
We again run into an issue where Hidden Figures grossed $169 million(15th highest gross of the year) but was nominated in several other regular categories, another possible instance of overlap fatigue. More proof that a $200 million cutoff may solve a lot of these problems. The Jungle Book takes it here. It is the perfect combination of quality and popularity. This would be a very tight race though, and one of the more discussion worthy years, provided you take the regular Oscar movies out.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Wild Cards: The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, Furious 7
Here is our only example from this 3 year sample in which a regular Oscar movie, The Martian, crosses over to $200 million mark, cracking the top 10 for the year in domestic gross. That makes this an intriguing two-man race between the more critically decorated Martian, and the record breaking box office and pop-culture phenomenon that was The Force Awakens. A race like this is where voters would really need to decide what this award should be. For me, I just do not see how the popularity of The Force Awakens, a film that lived up to 10+ years of expectations and carried the weight of the most popular franchise in the history of pop culture on its shoulders, can be overlooked.
It will be interesting to keep up with news about this award category, and ultimately, what movies end up in the first round of nominations. Black Panther is the odds-on favorite in 2018, but even that takes into account certain Tropic Thunder related rewards considerations. Additionally, what will the reaction be to a Black Panther win? Will there be backlash if it is marginalized to this category instead of the regular categories? Will it have crossover? We will have to wait and see.
- All the announced Academy Award changes comes in response to increasingly declining ratings. I got into a brief twitter argument about this last year. The overall box office sum for the best picture nominees in 2017 was higher than 2016, yet the ratings fell year-to-year. Additionally, best picture winner The Shape of Water was the highest grossing winner since 2012. Imagine blaming lack of home runs in baseball as a reason for declining ratings, yet home runs were up year over year. In my opinion, this opens the door for a conversation about whether political statements being made at the Oscars are turning off viewers.
- *To be clear, I am not as high on Wonder Woman and Black Panther as most. They both have very straightforward plots and big dumb endings. My vote in 2017 would be for Logan, and for 2018 it would be Avengers: Infinity War. People thought Wonder Woman was a snub last year. I am not sure where you would swap it out with other nominated movies in each category. Panther is getting buzz this year. I think the cartoon rhinos and Playstation 2 final fight should kill those chances. But maybe there are other factors causing it to get awards attention…
- *It looks like we are being set up to lose televising the sound awards. I actually think this is a shame, though most do not care and find them to be superfluous. It is a severely overlooked part of film making, and the clips are always a joy to watch and listen to. I guess we will get to keep segments where the host orders Pizza for the beautiful people in the audience.
Do you agree with my choices for the past 3 years of popular films? What do you think will win this year? Leave a comment below.