Academy nixes lame ‘Popular Film’ category: Oscars race remains a challenge for ‘Black Panther’ and other box-office smashes

Joshua Lloyd, Editor-in-Chief

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The 2019 Academy Awards ceremony at Dolby Theatre will not feature the controversial

“Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” award.
 

 

The spotty history of the Oscars reached a new low when the Academy announced a brand-new category this summer. This new award, entitled “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film,” was its latest (and lamest) attempt to boost the flagging viewership and ratings for its springtime awards ceremony.

It wasn’t a step forward for the historically self-indulgent Academy. Rather, it was two steps way, way back, another barrier thrown in the path of progress for big-budget blockbusters seeking awards validation.

Thankfully, in a rare moment of common sense, the Academy execs decided the controversial new category needed some reevaluation and put it on hold. It hasn’t been completely killed off, but there are no plans to present it at the ninety-first show this February.

It’s rare that any box-office winners make it into the Oscar conversation, and when they do it’s usually for something in Sound or Visual Effects. But in recent years, blockbusters have been getting bigger and better. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has redefined the way franchises work, and there have been calls for the seventh and eighth “Star Wars” installments to be vindicated by the Academy.

One film would have suffered more than most because of this half-assed effort to make the Oscars more “inclusive.” Until the announcement, Marvel Studios’ barrier-breaking “Black Panther” seemed like a solid lock for a Best Picture nod. Ten years have passed since a superhero smash-hit gained any substantial Oscar buzz (see: “The Dark Knight”). It will be an uphill battle for T’Challa and company even without the added threat of a worthless popularity Oscar.

If Kevin Feige and Chadwick Boseman’s recent comments are any indication, Marvel plans on going all out with its campaign to get “Black Panther” into Best Picture contention. They know they’ve got something special on their hands, and they’ll scratch and claw to get Panther a proper Oscar crown. For now, the playing field seems as even as the Academy will allow.

But you can’t help but wonder what might have happened if the Academy had thrown caution to the wind and went through with their plans for the secondhand Oscar. The Internet might have crashed from the sheer amount of online rage-posting.

With the initial “Popular Film” announcement, the Academy sent a clear and painful message: big-time blockbusters can’t and won’t ever be Oscar-worthy. The Oscars are notorious for being impervious to change, no matter how many fans clamor for awards season to get with the times and stop handing out gold to niche films no one sees.

There are plenty of other cash-raking movies that could go all the way and open the door for more fan-favorites in the annual awards hunt. All the Academy execs have to do is get off their complacent asses and give those films a fighting chance.

The answer to the Oscars problem is so glaringly simple: put the best blockbusters right alongside the rest of the field and let them all duke it out for Best Picture. Instead, the Academy almost handed out a shameful consolation prize.

The upcoming ceremony will perhaps be the most pivotal in the Oscars’ ninety-year lineage. The Academy faces a choice: to accept that blockbusters can stand on equal ground with the darlings from Cannes, or hold fast to the viewership-killing status quo.

 For now, we can rest easy knowing that the field is wide open for the 2019 ceremony. The question is still up in the air: can movies win at the box office and at the Oscars? History says no. Perhaps, on Feb. 24, history will finally change.

 

Many people assumed the Academy coined the “Popular Film” prize to prevent

“Black Panther” from getting a Best Picture nomination.