As the 91st Academy Awards approaches, film trends are falling deeper into the hole of popular culture accomplishments. 2018 was filled with a whole slew of films piquing the interest of general audiences, something not typically represented in the Oscars’ nominations pool and winner’s circle. This year’s list of nominees, however, hopes to bring more traction to the Oscars after years of dwindling viewership.
One of the most raved movies of the last year, “Black Panther” had its hat thrown into the ring in September of 2018 when Disney announced their intention to run a full Oscar campaign for the movie. The film secured seven total nominations, including Best Picture. Besides being an entry into the ever-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film itself has amassed attention as a milestone film. The predominantly black cast of an African superhero movie brought much appeal and the visuals were just as effective.
Although the film is highly respected, it seems out of place among all other Best Picture nominees and past winners. Of the 90 previous Academy Awards and 540 nominated movies, only 10 sci-fi films have been nominated for Best Picture, and only one took a victory home in 2018’s winner, “The Shape of Water.” Sci-fi genre films, as well as fantasy and horror, get little love from the academy. However, they usually garner a lot of popularity among the general public.
Of the remaining seven films in the Best Picture running, there are no surprises. The typical Best Picture nominees and winners stay within the genres of drama, comedy and biography. Biographical films or biopics are especially common among Oscar nominations, but not many are as culturally influential as 20th Century Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Honoring the rock legend Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody” walks the line between popular culture and Oscar-bait.
Perhaps it is films like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and its audience duality that give way to the announcement on Aug. 8, 2018 of the new category: the Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. Speculation can also find a lack of ratings driving the push for recognition in popular culture films. The 2018 Oscars saw abysmal viewership numbers as recorded by Nielson Media Research, and expect to only go further down with the general slump in television viewership.
The plans for the newly announced category have since been postponed due to backlash from the public, and rightfully so. If nothing else, this category would detract any cinematic merit from films deemed popular. Films like “Black Panther” may find themselves locked in the purgatory of popular film surrounded by the high impact blockbusters clearly designed to make money.
Speculation is all we have for now, but the Oscars are fast approaching. No doubt the inclusion of films like “Black Panther” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” will give a small shock of life to the Oscars, but one can only wonder if the Academy will be more open to the inclusion of popular culture films in the future.
The 91st Academy Awards are live Sunday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. EST.