Nine Questions We Have About the Academy's New Popular Film Award

What defines "popular"? Will this make people watch? And why in the hell is this happening?

by | August 8, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has made it known he’s a fan of Rotten Tomatoes’ Certified Fresh Awards, but he may need to make space on his mantle for some Oscars if the Academy follows through with a new category it announced today. Yep, the Oscars are going mainstream – in a big way.

The Academy sent a note to members Tuesday night informing them of a number of changes that have been approved by the board of governors – the ceremony will now be strictly three hours, and it will air two weeks earlier than expected (February 9). But the most intriguing – and intriguingly vague – announcement was the introduction of a new category “for outstanding achievement in popular film.”

Details, including eligibility requirements, were not announced. But questions – well we have some of those right now.

For starters, why?

The Academy did not give any specific reasoning for why they are planning to introduce the new award, but we can speculate. There has been a real push for inclusion and diversity among the make-up of the Academy: in June, it was announced that it had sent invites to 928 professionals to join its ranks, and that the influx would increase the percentages of females and people of color in its ranks. This latest move could be a continuation of that effort to make the Academy and its yearly Awards more inclusive; this time expanding its opening-up efforts to include films that typically go unrecognized outside of technical categories. The Academy could also be trying to stem the hemorrhaging of viewers from the ceremony – this year’s ceremony drew 26.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen, which was a 20% year-on-year decline and the lowest viewership in the history of the awards. Could awards contention for Deadpool 2 reverse that trend?

How many nominees will there be?

How long is a piece of string? While most categories remain at five nominees, the Best Picture category was expanded to a potential pool of 10 in 2009. If there are two film categories of 10, that could leave 20 movies nominated for top awards – which some would definitely argue will dilute either honor.

Does this mean Best Picture winners have to be unpopular?

Expect some commentary to focus heavily, and incisively, on why we need to separate Best from Popular, especially when several quote-unquote “popular” films have landed in the Best Picture category since the change in 2009. Will those films, which were once thought of as untraditional Oscar contenders – like last year’s Get Out, which was a commercial and critical hit – now be relegated to this new category… just as we were making progress in expanding our idea of a Best Picture contender is? Also, does the push for inclusivity always need to mean separating out a space to be inclusive? Expect takes.

(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Will this actually make people watch the Academy Awards?

This one remains to be seen. The Academy has tried a lot of tricks to get eyeballs back on the ceremony – different kinds of hosts, expanding the Best Picture category – and few seem to have worked. As we mentioned above: This year’s ceremony was the least watched in the awards’ history. Will Oscar nods for Infinity War and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again put more butts on couches? Watch this space.

How Are They Measuring Popularity?

Will it be box office receipts? (And will it be domestic or global?) Will it be most retweets or number of Facebook Likes for a movie’s page? Will it be the Rotten Tomatoes’ Audience Score? Will it be the movie that dresses the best and has rich parents and has other cool kids over to their house for parties? Or will it be open up to a public vote? Who knows.

And What is “Achievement”?

One thing to note: We don’t yet know whether this is a straight-up “best” award, a recognition of the top popular movie of the year. The phrasing “achievement in popular film” keeps things nice and vague – vague enough for us to speculate that it could a yearly gong for some very specific achievement in a popular film, like the amount of Chardonnay consumed on the set of Book Club or the spectacularly downer ending of Infinity War. It’s most likely a “best” award, we’re guessing, but one can hope.

Could it Be a One-off?

Oscar categories come and go, and some – even consistent ones – were not handed out on the regular (the Academy Juvenile Award, for example, which honored performers under the age of 18, was handed out sporadically at the discretion of the board). This new category could potentially be a one-off, or at least, handed out similarly sporadically. We’re not betting on either of those scenarios, but it’s interesting to consider. Why would they go for a one-off award like this? Perhaps to ensure that the history-making Black Panther gets an Oscar nod, and doesn’t risk missing out on a nomination in the Best Picture category. If the idea is to address inclusion, though, some would ask why one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and one of its highest earners, still needs a separate category to lock down consideration.

Would a Film Even Want to Win this Award?

Ask Miss America if she would have preferred Miss Congeniality.

What About Best Stunt Performance?

There are a number of ways the Academy could honor and include more popular films without making a whole overall category for them, and one way would be to introduce new categories that some feel should have been part of the Oscars for decades. Stunt Performance is just one such category. And this year, with Mission: Impossible – FalloutDeadpool 2, and Avengers: Infinity War, you would not have to search hard for nominees.

We will keep you updated on the new category as we find out more.



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