OSCARS: Box Office Genre Bias and A New Category Idea from an AMPAS Voter

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June 24, 2009, was the day that started what we thought would be the evolution of the Academy.  Six months after Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” was excluded from the Best Picture lineup, in what may have been conceived as a reactionary response to become more inclusive of the more mainstream titles, Sid Ganis, the at-the-time president of AMPAS announces that the Best Picture lineup will expand to 10.

Not since the 1943 film year had the Academy had anything more than its traditional five nominees.  “I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words ‘Dark Knight’ did not come up,” said Ganis to the New York Times in a press conference that followed.  The idea was going to give the opportunity for mainstream audiences and the Academy to meet in the middle.  Where the Academy has championed independent and innovative filmmakers, America-at-large doesn’t usually see many of the nominees, leading them to be further disconnected from the Hollywood machine.  With two years of a “straight 10” lineup, the Academy rescinded, moving to a sliding scale that would yield anywhere between 5 and 10 Best Picture nominees.  Whether this experiment should be yielded a success is something that is widely split.

This year, the hunt for Best Picture seemingly has quite a bit of the year’s highest grossing films.  Patti Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” is receiving an Oscar campaign from Warner Bros. as is its counterpart “It” and “Dunkirk,” currently all in the Top 10 grossing films of the year.  “It” walks in the door diagnosed with the horror genre bias, likely unable to be cured by the time Oscar ballots go out and “Dunkirk,” while seemingly likely to make an impressive run towards the Dolby, seems wickedly cool at the moment and will need the critic’s prizes to keep it afloat.  WB is also giving some money towards “The LEGO Batman Movie” in hopes it can land where its predecessor “The LEGO Movie” came up short in Animated Feature a few years back.  Interesting that “Justice League” has been omitted from their FYC site up until this point.

Walt Disney Studios seems confident they’ll be able to muster a few tech nods for the live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” likely contending in Production Design, Costume Design, and Original Song.  As the highest grosser of the year, clearing half a billion domestically, should the film be viewed as a contender for a Best Picture nomination?

The superhero genre continues to given the shaft, as millions of fanboys chant in unison, “YEAH!”  Like the aforementioned “Wonder Woman,” they’ll be campaigns of some of the year’s biggest hits but where it will lead, looks mighty grim.  Marvel’s strategy has always been focused on the money factor, and to continue to deliver quality content.  With the successes of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and now “Thor: Ragnarok,” what does Marvel need to do be taken seriously with the Academy?  The films are critically acclaimed by industry standards for Rotten Tomatoes and Cinema Score yet the Marvel machine only musters a one or tech nods every other movie.

Looking at the highest grossing “superhero” movies of all-time, let’s check to see how they faired with the Academy:

  1. Marvel’s The Avengers” – $623,357,910″ – 1 Oscar nomination (Visual Effects)
  2. The Dark Knight” – $534,858,444 – 8 Oscar nominations (won 2, Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger, Sound Editing)
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron” – $459,005,868 – Shut out at the Oscars
  4. The Dark Knight Rises” – $448,139,099 – Shut out at the Oscars
  5. Wonder Woman” – $412,549,588 – TBD
  6. Iron Man 3” – $409,013,994 – 1 Oscar nomination (Visual Effects)
  7. Captain America: Civil War” – Shut out at the Oscars
  8. Spider-Man” – $403,706,375 – 2 Oscar nominations (Sound, Visual Effects)
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – $389,813,101 – TBD
  10. Spider-Man 2” – $373,585,825 – 3 Oscar nominations (won Visual Effects)

The genre has been regulated to the techs of sound and visual effects.  With the exception of “The Dark Knight,” the only other category the Top 20 seem to get into is Makeup and Hairstyling.  So where’s the disconnect between the Academy and audiences?

Asking a male Academy member of one of the technical branches he shares,

“I’ve always thought the movie fans know what they like, so why not give them a say in the process?”

When asked to expand further he states, “why not give an award that’s both nominated and voted on by the people who pay for your yachts and condos?  If you allow the fans to feel like they’re a part of the process, then when you decide to give the Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis or Meryl Streep for the sixth time, they won’t feel like they don’t have a say in the matter.  It even possibly inspires the voters to choose something else.  I know so many voters that constantly vote for stuff because they’re ‘supposed to’ instead of just picking what they actually like.”

The inspiration of the “People?”

This brought up an interesting discussion.  What if there was a “People’s Choice-type” prize.  While it seems to follow down the road of the MTV Movie Awards crowd, the Broadcast Film Critics Association has adopted a similar version in the Critics Choice Awards.  The meaning of the award holds a lot of weight.  Just like the Honorary Oscar, which has been seemingly abandoned but making a triumphant return this year, this would be an honorary award given out by the film-watching community.  Imagine a 12-year-old girl handing out an Oscar to Patti Jenkins for “Wonder Woman” or a 10-year-old boy getting to give a statue to Taika Waititi?

Like so many ideas that have been thrown out for new categories (i.e. Stunt Ensemble, Cast Ensemble, Motion Capture, etc.), this may have already been thrown out in Board of Governors meetings and already rejected.  Of all the ideas I’ve heard in my ten plus years of covering the Oscars, this was one of the best thrown out by an actual voting member and it seemed genuine.  It seemed to want to give a voice to the people, the ones that champion films all year round.  And who knows?  Maybe the award doesn’t go out to just a superhero movie.  In 2015, it’s given to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” after 2014, when Clint Eastwood is the recipient for “American Sniper,” while in 2011, “Bridesmaids” accepts the prize from the fans.  You have an opportunity to get films loved by the people, they’re proper due.  This is all fun and games until a “Twilight” film wins the award, right?  Wrong.  If it’s loved by the people, then that’s what the award represents.

So where does this leave us?  Is this just blowing smoke into the wind, evaporating as the words escape the page?  Or will the Academy begin to address this, along with the countless other things on its agenda namely diversity, inclusion, and the expulsion of sexual predators within its voting members?

Share your thoughts and discuss it in the comments below!

CLICK THE CATEGORY TO SEE THE OSCAR PREDICTIONS:

MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |

  • Ryan

    To be honest, though I more than appreciate the sentiment and agree that a category should be added to increase public interest, I think that having a fully public people’s choice award would lead to disastrous winners that I would shudder to think of as an ‘Academy Award Winner’ in anything other than a tech award.

    I will fully admit that I am stating my opinion on top of a 50 ft. tall high horse, but I think we are over-idealizing how this process would turn out. I agree that, as the article points out, if a film like Twilight could win once in a while, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But the article also assumes that we would mostly have winners consisting of films like The Force Awakens, American Sniper, Bridesmaids, and other films generally viewed as ‘Oscar-worthy’. But if you look at the last decade of Best Picture winners from the People’s Choice Awards, things vary from ‘brilliant’ to ‘WHAT?’.

    Peoples Choice Winners: Finding Dory, Furious 7, Maleficent, Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Twilight, The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End

    Inherently, I don’t know if these films winning awards in general is so much of a bad thing. But just try and picture how it would look on Oscar night, to watch the third Twilight movie or the seventh Fast and Furious movie take home an ACADEMY AWARD. (It is at this time, that I switched over to my 60 ft. tall high horse, because my 50 ft. one wasn’t high enough.)

    However, a People’s Choice Oscar could still work if AMPAS ‘cheated’ and didn’t let the public in on the nominee selection. If ballots were given to the voters to decide on their favorite films from, say, a list of the top 25 highest grossing films in the U.S., and the public was only allowed to vote on the 5 that the Oscar voters chose for them, then we would probably avoid any scenario involving Twilight and Fast and Furious winners and would instead be looking at a 2017 where Dunkirk, Logan, Wonder Woman, It, and Get Out make their own special line-up. And THAT would be freaking amazing.

  • Baggins

    I see no need in this. I have the ACCAS