The technical side of the Academy’s “popular” movie category

Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

If you’ve been following entertainment news recently, you probably heard that the Oscars are introducing a new category to their awards ceremony: the “popular” movie category.

So far, no one is taking the news well. The Academy has been roundly mocked for their desperate attempt to increase interest in their ceremony, and everyone has been asking the same question: what on earth is a “popular” film?

I’m pretty sure no one knows.

But while we could discuss artistically and philosophically what a “popular” film is, I’m going to discuss a more technical aspect: how is the Academy going to determine which films are “popular”,  and who to nominate?

If you’re unfamiliar with the Academy’s nomination procedure, let me explain. The Academy, which is made up of thousands of members, is divided into various committees that nominate films and people in their respective categories. Directors nominate the “Best Director”. Screenwriters nominate the “Best Original/Adapted Screenplay”. Actors nominate for the acting categories. And so on and so forth.

After the nominees are chosen, the whole Academy then votes on the choices to determine the winners.

The problem with the best “popular” film category that will probably arise can be seen in two existing prizes: the Best Picture, and the Best Animated Feature.

The Best Picture, unlike other categories, isn’t nominated by committee. Anyone in the Academy can nominate a film for Best Picture. The nominees for Animated Feature, on the other hand, was chosen by a selection of animation experts.

Until now.

Recently, the Academy announced that they will open the nomination of the Animated Feature to all members, which suggests that that they will allow all of its members to nominate the best “popular” film as well.

But if that is so, then how exactly will the best “popular” film be different from the Best Picture?

Of course, the Animated Feature doesn’t exactly suffer the same problem, considering that there are clear rules on what is and is not animation. However, how do you define the difference between a film, and a “popular” film?

Because if you can’t define a difference, it’s probable that the exact same movies will be nominated in each category. It’s the same people voting for both, and their tastes don’t change just because they’re told that the movies they like aren’t “popular”.

Of course, the Academy could use box office gross as an indicator of popularity, except that it isn’t that reliable. Solo was roundly labeled as a flop, which, maybe for Star Wars, it was, except that with its 392 million dollar haul, it generated more revenue than all but three of the Best Pictures in the twenty-first century (the three being The Return of the King, Gladiator, and The King’s Speech).

Even if you ignore the fact that Solo was a “flop”, you still have to note the fact that the movies that make the most money are mostly genre films which critics don’t necessarily rave about, which begs the question: is best “popular” film just a way to give Marvel movies prizes?

And we still haven’t covered the problem of China.

While this year’s box office has been dominated by superheroes, dinosaurs and Spielberg, there is one interesting thing to take note of, as we see here:

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 11.03.21 AM
Note how Solo, despite being a flop, is still number twelve.

Seven and eight are intriguing, because I’ve never heard of them before.

Turns out they’re from one of the world’s biggest market for films: China.

With over a billion people, China is a serious force to contend with when collating box office numbers, because, as you can clearly see, a movie that does well in China does well overall. And China’s film market will only continue to grow (as will their population).

Which means that in a couple of years, if the best “popular” movie uses box office as a metric, it’s going to be a choice between Marvel and China.

Not the most exciting situation to be in.

Now that we’ve mostly ruled out box office numbers as a reliable indicator of popularity, well, what exactly do we have left?

Well, nothing really. I mean, it’s hard to create a metric to count hype. You can’t go by the amount of merch sold, because a lot of films don’t have lunchboxes that they can sell. You obviously can’t do a popular vote (like the rating on IMDb), because those can be meddled with.

So really, the only option that really seems viable to me is a sub-committee who specialise in “popular” films.

Which sounds like kind of strange, if you ask me. But then, it sounds ripe for controversy (or at least some great stories), which is what the Oscars seem to excel at in recent years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: