Fans of superhero movies, cheesy rom-coms, and creepy horror films finally have a reason to look forward to awards season — the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences have announced changes to upcoming Oscars telecasts, including the addition of a new category to honor "achievement in popular film." And fans have some thoughts.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Academy announced the changes on Wednesday in a letter sent to Academy members, and obtained by the magazine, as part of their effort to combat falling ratings for the telecast and to "keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world." Among the new initiatives is the decision to cut the telecast to three hours — which means cutting down on the amount of awards handed out during the show — bumping up the airdate for the 2020 Oscars to February 9, and most controversially, adding an extra category to honor popular films, with the eligibility requirements for the category to be revealed sometime in the future.
Though the new category for "popular" film theoretically opens up the potential for blockbusters to win an Oscar based on their box office return, or some other as yet-to-be-defined metric, the news has been met with reservations from film fans on social media, many of whom worry that the new category is just a way to make it even harder for genre films to compete in the Best Picture category.
This is the second time in the past decade that the Academy has made an attempt to open up the major awards to blockbuster films. In 2009, the Best Picture category was widened from five nominees to ten, as part of an effort to allow for more animated, genre or popular films to be considered for the Oscars' top prize. Most notably, the new rule allowed the Pixar smash Up to earn a Best Picture nomination, which made it the first animated film since 1991's Beauty and the Beast to be nominated in the top category.
Still, there's plenty of room in there to honor popular and genre films if the Academy were to vote for them. Last year, Get Out, a low-budget horror film about a black man meeting his white girlfriend's family managed to become the most profitable film of 2017. The film was nominated for Best Picture and star Daniel Kaluuya earned a Best Actor nomination, while writer and director Jordan Peele was nominated for Best Director and won for Best Original Screenplay. In 2016, Hidden Figures was a box office success and a major Oscar contender with three nominations; the year before that, Mad Max: Fury Road grossed over $300 million worldwide and then earned a whopping ten Academy Award nominations, ultimately winning six.
All of this is to say that the Oscars have honored popular films before, without having a dedicated category specifically for movies that were box office smashes. However, if the Academy is hoping to lure newer — and most likely, younger — viewers to the telecast, their best bet isn't to dedicate an entire extra award to all of the superhero films and creepy clowns that dominated the box office; it's to treat those films with the same consideration that they treat dramas and indie films. If the Academy is hoping to use, say, the fervent fandom of Black Panther to entice people to check out the telecast, they shouldn't relegate the film to a single category dedicated to "popular films." They should genuinely consider it as a Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Actor contender.
Despite the controversy, there is one genre of film that could benefit from the Academy's new "popular film" category: comedy. While some unforgettable performances — like Melissa McCarthy's powerhouse performance in Bridesmaids or — have resulted in Oscar nominations, comedies have, by and large, been ignored at the Academy Awards over the years. And while a dedicated push by fans and critics didn't result in Tiffany Haddish getting nominated for her breakout role in Girl's Trip last year, it's easy to imagine that the smash hit film would have been a perfect recipient of a special honor for its box office domination and its critically-acclaimed performances.
Despite the arguments on both sides, it's hard to imagine how the "popular film" Oscar will change Hollywood's biggest night moving forward. Maybe the answer to the Academy's problems lies in simply taking those popular films seriously, and including them in the Best Picture conversation, rather than relegating them to their own, separate category.