Oscars add new popular film category, promise fast-paced telecast
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The Oscars are shaking things up in a big way.
On Wednesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it will begin to acknowledge the impact of major blockbusters in future broadcasts.
That’s right: For once, box-office hits like “Star Wars” and “Wonder Woman” actually have a shot.
“Change is coming to the #Oscars,” the Academy tweeted Wednesday. “Here’s what you need to know: A new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.”
A film could be eligible for an Oscar in the new “popular” category as well as best picture. More details are still being finalized for the added category, which will be introduced at the upcoming 91st Oscars on Feb. 24, 2019.
“We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world,” Academy president John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson wrote in a memo sent to members. “The Board of Governors took this charge seriously. We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.”
The Academy has a history of turning its back on blockbuster fare. As superhero franchises have taken over Hollywood, neither Marvel or DC films have been able to break into the awards, save for the technical categories.
The Oscars famously snubbed recent hits like “Wonder Woman,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Deadpool,” “Girls Trip” and “Finding Dory.” (There are occasional exceptions: James Cameron’s 2009 hit “Avatar” made it all the way to a best picture nomination.)
But major backlash began brewing as soon as the plan to honor “popular” fare was announced.
“Oh, I see. We’re going to make official the division where one kind of movie is popular and the other kind is good. That seems like a great idea, by which I mean: what a disaster,” wrote NPR’s Linda Holmes.
Vox.com critic Todd VanDerWerff wrote that the change “will have the same effect as the Animated/Documentary/Foreign Language categories, where movies are essentially ghettoized from winning ‘the real award.’ If a blockbuster is good, Nominate It For Best Picture.”
Many critics pointed out that seminal films like “Black Panther,” this year’s groundbreaking, African-American-led superhero blockbuster, could now be relegated to the new bucket of simply popular fare.
“As for a ‘popular film’ award, it is a ghetto and will be perceived that way,” tweeted Vulture contributor Mark Harris, who theorized voters will say, “Oh, It’s lovely that the rabble went to ‘Black Panther’ — here’s a special fake Oscar it can win!”
As Hollywood’s most esteemed film organization has turned its back on popular fare, ratings for the Oscars have plummeted.
Continuing a recent trend, ratings for this year’s Jimmy Kimmel-hosted show dropped to a record low of 26.5 million viewers, down a big 20 percent from the previous year’s 33 million.
The previous record low of 32 million was set in 2008 when the drama “No Country for Old Men” won best picture, which came after an 11-week Hollywood writers’ strike that crippled other awards shows.
When James Cameron’s blockbuster “Titanic” won best picture and 10 other awards in 1998, more than 55 million viewers watched the Oscar telecast. When “Moonlight” won best picture in 2017, only 33 million viewers watched. The difference in worldwide box office for these two films was $2 billion vs. $65 million respectively.
“The movies highlighted at the Oscars are definitely one of the factors in ratings, especially when you have a movie like ‘Titanic,’ ” says Dave Karger, special correspondent to IMDb.com. “But I don’t feel it’s fair to lay all the blame on the decline of Oscar ratings on the movies. And it’s a sad day when the Academy panders to hits just to get higher ratings, which is a bit of my fear.”
In March’s Academy Awards ceremony, the top winners leading the Oscars — “The Shape of Water” ($64 million), which took home best picture, and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” ($54 million) — saw limited box-office success domestically.
The Academy also announced that the Oscars show is moving up on the awards calendar. “We’ve set an earlier airdate for 2020: Mark your calendars for Feb. 9,” it wrote. In addition, “we’re planning a more globally accessible, three-hour telecast.” (By contrast, the 2018 show clocked in at 3 hours, 50 minutes.)
In its letter to members, the Academy explained it will begin to “present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.”