Oscars: the unpopularity of the popular film category

Harrison Burns—Staff Writer

The Academy Awards announced that the new “outstanding achievement in popular film” category will be postponed after an onslaught of negative reactions.  The category was originally announced in August alongside a host of other changes to the movie award show’s format, including a shorter run time of three hours and a date two weeks earlier than usual.

The Academy initiated these changes in response to the poor ratings of the most recent 2018 Oscars that garnered only 26.5 million viewers, nearly a 20 percent drop from the previous year.  The drop in ratings is not an anomaly but follows a 10-year pattern of steady decline.

In an email to Academy members, President John Bailey stated, “We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world.”  However, the attempt to stay relevant with the ambiguous “Popular Film” category was not well-received by either social media or film critics, forcing the Academy to back-peddle in early September and delay the change.

This is not the first time the Oscars has made changes that bow to public opinion.  In 2008, the outcry against Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” being snubbed out of a Best Picture nomination resulted in changing the number of nominees from five to ten.

While the increase of nominees was received positively, the popular film category has been met with confusion and disdain.  Mark Volkers, Dordt digital media professor, pointed out one problem with the announcement.

“I was confused because they didn’t give a lot of definition as to what that [popular film] means,” Volkers said. “Best film isn’t always the most popular film.”

This lack of clear explanation is likely another reason the Academy sought to postpone the award for the time being.

Critics have also noted that this change will only increase the divide between the populace and more “art-house” films by giving a consolation prize for mediocre but money-making movies. Jason Hartnett, a Dordt junior who has participated in many digital media activities, shares a similar opinion. Instead of adding a secondary category, he said, “Directors should make their movies better so they can win better awards.” However, Jason acknowledged that filmmakers are not solely to blame for this divide between popularity and quality. “People don’t want to go to a movie to critically think,”

Though response to the popular film category was largely negative, some view it as a necessary innovation. “I wasn’t against it at all,” Volkers said. “In fact, it seemed maybe a little bit overdue to have something like that—but what is your criteria?”

While it remains to be seen whether the Academy will actually institute the new award in a future show, its controversy has revealed trials the Academy will face as movie-going culture continues to change.

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