“Popular” Oscars category sparks debate among movie fans


Kennedy Homan

Black Panther is making history as an Oscar-nominated superhero film that packs a strong modern connections.

Every February, Hollywood’s brightest stars gather to acknowledge the greatest accomplishments in film over the past year. The Oscars, arguably one of the world’s most prestigious awards ceremonies, are a celebration of the art form of film – often rewarding movies that touch on profoundly deep subjects or tell important, moving stories. This year, however, there will be one notable difference, the Academy of Arts and Science’s board of governors announced (among other things) that the Oscars would now be including a “popular” film category.

For years, fans of the massively popular Marvel Cinematic Universe have lamented that movies like Iron Man and The Avengers are almost always overlooked at the academy awards. Yes, they tend to get nominations in smaller fields like “Sound Editing” or “Production Design”, but the most sought-after award (best picture) very rarely goes to a hugely successful action flicks. Fans have argued that the academy seems to hold some sort of bias against action or superhero movies. So when the Academy announced that they would be adding a category to address this problem, one would assume that fans would be pleased. Right? Wrong.

Almost immediately, the announced sparked mass conversation and controversy. Articles with titles like “The Oscars’ patronizing new Best Popular Film award undermines its very existence” began to pop up quickly, with many movie fans taking to social media to express their issues with the new category. But is this addition cause for such a massive upset? Why are people so angry?

A large part of why people are so angry could be attributed to the fact that the addition of a category based solely on popularity destroys the sanctity of the Oscars. The entire purpose of the Academy Awards is to acknowledge the films that tell important and timely stories – ones that leave the viewer feeling they have learned something, or grown in some type of way. By nature, these films don’t do exceptionally well at the box office. This is why the Oscars are so important – they encourage filmmakers to pursue subjects that won’t make the studio a lot of
money. Instead, the prestigious award acts as a stand-in for millions of dollars in revenue.

On the flip side, box-office hits seem to be made for the sole purpose of generating money for the studios – often replacing nuance and depth with massive action sequences and exotic locations. Many upset movie fans argue, “why should the Oscars suddenly be acknowledging movies that are already generating billions of dollars? Isn’t that enough praise?”

Most importantly, won’t that discourage filmmakers from pursuing deeper and more meaningful films? The answer seems to be yes, but I also believe that this could be a change for the better.

While it’s generally true that most blockbuster action movies lack emotional depth, that doesn’t mean all of them do. Standout films like The Dark Knight and Mad Max: Fury Road somehow managed to strike the perfect balance. While both were incredibly successful at the box office, they also touched on deeper, more nuanced themes, focusing on larger societal issues. I am of the firm belief that if studios follow the example set by stellar films such as Mad Max: Fury Road, the Oscars wouldn’t have to add a category for “popular” movies. Instead, action movies would be proactively adding depth to their stories in an attempt to win big at the Oscars. Until that point is reached, we can only hope that this new category encourages studios to consider not just the monetary impact of their movies, but the emotional one as well.