The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday morning they would be issuing some changes concerning The Oscars, their most famous and time-honored event.
Changes to the upcoming 91st edition of the annual awards show include measures to shorten the ceremony, and the addition of a category exclusively for popular films. Both amendments are intended to attract a wider audience to the ceremony after an underperforming year ratings-wise.
Of the 24 existing categories, few have any real appeal to wide audiences, so shortening the broadcast to increase audience interest is a no-brainer — viewers aren’t clambering to turn up the volume when the trophy for Best Production Design is awarded. The new category, however, indicates a poor downward turn for perhaps the most prestigious award in popular entertainment and a sullying of the tradition of honoring all of cinema.
In recent years, the movies to win the prestigious Best Picture award haven’t been box office dynamite. The Hurt Locker, Moonlight and Birdman, though critically acclaimed, didn’t perform exceptionally in terms of ticket sales. Last year, only Dunkirk and Get Out could be considered blockbusters among the Best Picture nominees.
It makes sense for viewers to not want to tune in to an award ceremony for a selection of films they didn’t see, and therefore don’t care about, but that doesn’t mean a whole new category needs to be introduced. Potential winners could be promoted more heavily prior to the ceremony, Academy members could take cultural impact into account when voting or more popular films could be nominated.
In 2009, the AMPAS expanded the Best Picture category to ten potential nominees from five — perhaps in response to critical- and fan-favorite The Dark Knight getting snubbed that same year — but the Academy hasn’t used the extra spots to include movies with bigger audience draws.
The biggest issue with the change is that introducing this new category implies the best picture cannot be a popular movie, or visa versa, even though the AMPAS has a history of honoring successful films.
Gone with the Wind, The Godfather and Titanic were all the highest grossing movies in history when released and all won Best Picture. Jaws, Star Wars and Avatar all broke the box office record when they premiered, and each earned a nomination for Best Picture.
The Academy needs to consider that popular films earn their box office hauls for a reason. Including a category solely for popular films both pigeon-holes popular movies that are indeed great pieces of cinema and indicates a selling out of the prestigious award.