On the back of the 2018 Oscars attracting the lowest television audience on record, the Academy has announced a raft of major changes but critics have slammed the new award for blockbusters.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on August 9, 2018

The 2018 Academy Awards ceremony had only 26.5 million viewers, down 17% from the previous year.

Partly in response, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy), the body that organises the awards, has announced a shakeup which will see some of the craft awards handed out during commercial breaks and the introduction of a new category for blockbuster films.

The Academy also committed to a tighter telecast that would only stretch three hours and moved the ceremony’s date forward, apparently to avoid its current position at the end of Hollywood awards season.

“We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film,” the Academy wrote to its members. “Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.” There was no further detail on this new category.

Industry sources were also upset that categories such as sound, make-up and film editing could be excluded from the broadcast.

Is the new Oscar for “popular film” a philistine move?

Some film media have already reacted against the award, arguing it runs against the Academy’s mission of recognising and awarding artistic achievement in films no matter how they perform at the box office.

Veteran critic Tim Grierson blasted the change as a solution for something that hadn’t been a problem in an op-ed forRolling Stone. “If the Best Picture winner wasn’t some commercial blockbuster, well, that was perfectly fine: Great films don’t always set the box office on fire,” he wrote.

“If anything, that was not a bug but a feature — the ability to shine a gold-tinted spotlight on movies that the marketplace otherwise might have overlooked.”

Variety critic Owen Gleiberman wrote that the Academy Awards have been seen as losing touch but said the proposed changes were not the answer.

“The notion of putting “popular” films in a section all their own isn’t just unworkable — and, the more you look it, nonsensical,” he wrote.

“It’s nothing short of reprehensible. It violates the very spirit of what movies have been ever since there have been movies.”

Have the Oscars declined in cultural relevance?

The Academy has been concerned in recent years not just over its television audience numbers but a perception that it is declining in cultural relevance. It made a major change to the Best Picture category in 2009, making it possible for up to 10 films to be nominated. That move was generally seen as a response to the backlash over the Oscars snubbing the Christopher Nolan-directed The Dark Knight.

There has been comment that the most recent changes to the Academy Awards have been driven by its broadcast partner, ABC.

The prestige of the Oscars also took a hit after the #OscarSoWhite protest movement highlighted the lack of diversity both among the voting members and the award nominees.

The New York Times argued the new popular film category could produce a confusing situation where a lauded film such as Black Panther was only nominated in the popular film category and not the Best Picture category (where it is currently expected to get a nomination), branding it a ‘second tier’ film in the Academy’s estimation.

It was difficult to find any prominent members of the Hollywood media supporting the introduction of the new category. New York Times television critic James Poniewozik captured the mood of many when he tweeted out a GIF of Mad Men character Don Draper yelling “That’s what the money’s for!” in response to the idea that blockbuster films need some new form of recognition.