Academy Awards' new Best Popular Film category will give hits like The Dark Knight accolades they deserve

Gautam Chintamani

Aug,18 2018 17:44:55 IST

The Academy’s decision to include an award for ‘Popular Film’, an action that has been ridiculed and derided all across, joins a long list of things that the Academy’s been trying to do in order to make the awards ceremony more accessible. If the 2009 decision to increase the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10 was an attempt to include more blockbusters into the Oscar mix, then the idea to initiate a Best Popular Film, too, seems to be devised to inject more enthusiasm towards the broadcast of the awards function.

Academy Awards. Representational image

Academy Awards. Representational image

On the face of it, this could surely attract a set of audience that would under ordinary circumstances not tune in to the telecast. But just how much wider would the Academy believe such a move would cast the net still remains to be seen. The idea to infuse something new, something that the younger generation could associate with, began with steps such as the winners being told to keep their acceptance speech under a specific time limit. But this could only work to a certain degree because the generation that became the mainstay of the audience for the networks had grown up on a super-fast-click-and-get-instant-results diet. These were not the kids who read about the Oscars in the paper the morning after the awards were doled out. In fact, they were more used to watching things live, commenting in real time while looking at a million other screens at the same time. For them, films such as The Dark Knight were the gospel truth and when in 2008, the Christopher Nolan blockbuster failed to get a Best Picture nomination, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences knew it needed to shake things up. 

There has been much criticism of the Best Popular Film category, and rightfully so. Yet there could be something truly valuable that come out of this. For the general film viewing audience and the trade, such a move could just act as a shot in the arm. It was after The Dark Knight snub that the number of Best Picture nominees increased. In a report published in 2017, Variety reported that since the change in the number of Best Picture nominations, the average gross of the nominated film had increased from $70 million to a little more than $100 million. The other thing that changed was how blockbusters such as Mad Max: Fury Road have given the typically automatic Oscar contenders a run for their money. In the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of ‘popular’ films competing in the mainstream categories and although superhero films might not be readily making the Best Picture cut, they, nonetheless, are no longer pariahs. 

The audience that watches superhero films might not change overnight and become fans of the academy awards. Yet one thing is for sure. The prestige associated with the Academy awards might increase the possibility of a certain kind of film, which previously did not get a wide theatrical release, to get more eyeballs. The Academy does not sub-divide categories into action/drama and comedy or musical like the Golden Globes. In some way, this new category of the ‘Popular Film’ award could be seen as the Oscars’ decision to split up the categories a la the increase in the Best Picture category. 

The possibility of a film such as The Dark Knight or Wall-E, which were snubbed for the Best Picture in 2008, winning the Best Picture award would also be lesser than the other more traditional nominees like Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader and the eventual winner, Slumdog Millionaire, despite the fact that would survive the test of time better. The chances of this new category being labeled a ‘farce’ or derided for belittling cinema are as high as The Dark Night or Wall-E being hailed as greater works as opposed to the ones that were chosen over them. In this light, the category might just ensure certain films get their place in the sun and not overlooked just because they had a grown man dressed as a clown wreaking havoc or a big green monster speaking in single syllable save the day. 

(Also read: Oscars are more populist than festivals like Cannes, Venice — hence the Best Popular Film category)

Updated Date: Aug 18, 2018 17:44 PM