Academy's New 'Popular Film' Oscar Not So Popular

10 August, 2018

A recent announcement about an addition to the Academy Awards has led to a lot of talk. And much of it is negative.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said on Wednesday it is creating an Academy Award for "outstanding achievement in popular film."

The move is proving to be extremely unpopular, at least among film critics and academy members. Actor Rob Lowe, a longtime member, described the Oscars as dead, "survived by sequels" and other things.

The Academy announced other changes, as well. Those changes received a mix of praise and protest. Many expressed happiness, for example, about the decision to hold the Oscars ceremony in 2020 earlier than usual, on February 9. This year's event took place on March 4.

The Academy also announced it would shrink the broadcast to three hours. To do that, some award announcements will not be included in the live broadcast.

The new "popular film" award raised many questions, like:

Why is the Academy doing this?

The Academy is making the change mainly because of falling ratings for the Oscar ceremony's live telecast. About 26.5 million people watched this year's telecast, which lasted almost four hours. That was a 20-percent audience drop from the year before, and well below the show's highest levels.

In 2014, 43.7 million watched as the film 12 Years a Slave won best picture. But in every year since, the audience number has decreased.

The academy depends on broadcast earnings for most of its budget.

Whose decision was this?

The academy's 54-member board of governors approved the recent measures. The organization's 7,000 members were not part of the discussion. Many of them argue that a "popular film" award is a weak attempt to gain viewers.

Writer Adam McKay is an academy member. He won the 2016 best screenplay Oscar for "The Big Short." McKay joked on Twitter that the Oscars will also have new awards for "best knife throw" and "hottest female alien."

Adam McKay, left, and Charles Randolph pose with the award for best adapted screenplay for
Adam McKay, left, and Charles Randolph pose with the award for best adapted screenplay for "The Big Short" at the 2016 Oscars. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

The academy's broadcasting partner, ABC, also influenced the decision. It had pressured Oscar producers to make the telecast more broadly appealing.

Has the Academy ignored hit films in the past?

This year's Oscars actually included a number of major financial successes, including best picture nominees Get Out and Dunkirk, animated feature winner Coco, and Blade Runner 2049.

Hit films like Beauty and the Beast, Baby Driver and Star Wars: The Last Jedi also were nominated.

And the academy has shown increasing willingness to nominate horror and sci-fi movies.

Smaller films win more Oscars

No best picture winner since 2012′s Argo has cleared $100 million in national box office sales. Independent films have won 10 of the last 11 best picture Oscars, including the movies Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman and The Artist.

Define ‘popular' film

The academy has not been exact in its definition of "popular" film. It did say the academy "supports broad-based consideration of excellence in all films."

So how does one measure popularity?

Ticket sales might be one way. So, would the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story be in Oscars competition? The film made $213 million in North America. Yet, it did not get much critical praise.

And would overseas sales count? Would a traditional Oscar nominee like La La Land have been considered a "popular" film? It made $446 million worldwide.

Will anyone want a "popularity" award?

Some in Hollywood might consider it insulting to being nominated for the new award. Many will likely consider it of lower value, or not a "real" Oscar.

However, the term "Oscar winner" can greatly increase the power of actors, directors, producers and others in the industry. So, any Oscar is desirable.

And some in Hollywood argue that a film can be both hugely "popular" and a critical success.

"Black Panther" actor Chadwick Boseman is surrounded by photographers as he poses at the premiere of the film at The Dolby Theatre on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

This year has already offered up an especially good example. Ryan Coogler's Black Panther was a huge hit for Disney, earning over $1.3 billion worldwide. It also received high critical praise.

Some worry that Black Panther might be forced into the "popular film" group because of its financial success.

I'm ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Ashley Thompson.

I'm Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

negative - adj. expressing dislike or disapproval

sequel - n. a book, movie, etc., that continues a story begun in another book, movie, etc.

outstanding - adj. extremely good or excellent

achievement - n. something that has been done or achieved through effort: a result of hard work

audience - n. the people who watch, read, or listen to something

viewer - n. a person who watches television

animated - adj. produced by the creation of a series of drawings, pictures, etc., that are shown quickly one after another : produced through the process of animation

sci-fi - adj. science fiction

cinematography - n. the art, process, or job of filming movies : motion-picture photography

alien - n. a creature from somewhere other than the planet Earth