Is There an Oscars "Popular Film" Category After All This Year?

Drama. So much drama.

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The ceremony hasn't even started yet, and already the 2019 Oscars have been rife with drama. Will there be a host? Will that host be Kevin Hart? Can the Academy come up with the big names for presenters? Amid all of the back-and-forth, you might have missed the controversy of the Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film (opens in new tab), which was dreamed up by the Academy in August 2018.

Almost immediately, the Popular Film category was besieged by almost universal criticism from board members, actors, film critics, and the public (a.k.a. Twitter), and was removed...almost immediately after that! So, no, nothing has changed, but it was a whole thing. Here's how it all shook out.

The Oscars is evolving.

So, there has been a long history of conflict between the Academy wanting to honor artistic excellence, specifically in the realm of artsy films that might not have played to a wider audience, and wanting to honor films that did well commercially.


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Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy, spoke about wanting to “honor excellence across a wider scope of films” to the New York Times (opens in new tab). At the same time, the Oscars are obviously a huge night, and the Academy wants to draw big names and big viewing numbers for what a lot of people consider to be the biggest awards ceremony of the year. There's been some recent effort on the Academy's part to modernize the event (and also condense it, since it can run well over three hours).

And the new category just caused more confusion.

In August, the Academy announced the creation of the Popular Film Oscar, but didn't really provide a lot of details on what might, in fact, be a "popular" film. Was the list going to be automatically generated by box office numbers? (And the follow-up question: Does that mean it would be entirely superhero and Transformer movies?)

The example of Black Panther, which did get a Best Picture nom, was used as an example. If it hadn't gotten a Best Picture nomination, would a "Popular Film" nomination serve as the next best thing? Why even have the category in the first place? In context, some speculated the nomination could serve as a token nomination, like giving a pity invite to films that did well at the box office but weren't worthy of the "real" awards.

So the Academy nixed it soon after.

Just as quickly as the Academy made the announcement, they decided against it and made a formal announcement in September 2018. CEO of the Academy, Dawn Hudson, said, “There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members.”


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“Our intention was always excellence first, but I don’t think that was clear in the initial announcement,” Hudson also admitted in the statement. “We want to include a wider scope of films, but making the change nine months into the awards year created anxiety.”

Now what?

So, basically, there's still interest in bringing in films that were popular (including some of our editors' favorite films, like Mamma Mia 2 (opens in new tab) and Paddington 2) (opens in new tab) but still not a ton of insight to do that. There will definitely be more discussion to come as the Oscars evolve and become more inclusive—in more ways than one, hopefully.

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Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.