Yesterday the Academy Awards made several announcements. The most welcome ones involved shortening the telecast, which always goes way too long.
But they also announced this very nebulous category: Achievement in Popular Film.
There are many reasons why this is not a good idea. The chief among them is that this is tacit acknowledgement that the movies that they are holding up as the "Best" in film are so far disconnected from their audience that they need to create a whole new category for movies that people have actually seen.
I went through and did a breakdown of the box office of the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture since 1980: (numbers courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com)
When you look at this you can see that the average box office rank of a Best Picture is 24. And only 10% of the time was the highest grosser the Best Picture.
But if you dig into the numbers and look at last 10 years alone, that number is 58. And that means that on average, the general movie going audience saw 57 other movies in the theater beside the Best Picture winner. And none of those had the Best Picture as the Highest Grosser.
Compare that to the 1980's, when the average box office rank was 9.
Now, many in the industry complain because the cinemas are flooded with sequels and franchise films. So I made a chart controlling for that factor. I left in remakes and first films in a franchise, since you don't know if you have a franchise until the first one is a hit. These are the results:
When you look at this you can see that the average box office rank of a Best Picture is 18. The percent of highest grossers winning Best Picture goes up to 13%
But once again you see in the last 10 years, that number is number is still an abysmal 42. Once Again, none of those had the Best Picture as the Highest Grosser.
For the 1980's, that average improves to a 7.
And just so that I show I'm being fair, I've gone back and done a box office analysis of what films win the Catholic Skywalker "KAL-EL" for Best Picture. My chart only goes back to 1997, but I am not afraid of including franchises and sequels
My average is 11, though it is skewed because Memento made so little money at the box office. But I do have 29% of the highest grossers as Best Picture.
And in the last 10 years, my average is 6th at the box office.
My point is that no, not every hit movie is necessarily Best Picture quality. I would never think to nominate How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And some obscure films, like Memento, really are worthy of the highest praise.
But somewhere 2005, you can see a radical shift in the Academy focusing on more obscure films, taking for themselves the role of "taste-makers" telling the plebes what is artistic cinema and what is not. Since 2011, none of the Best Picture winners have been in the top 20. And if you control of franchise films, it has still been that way since 2013.
Hollywood knows there is a disconnect because the ratings for the Oscar telecast have been declining, last year's being the worst. So now, they have decided to create a "Kids' Table" at the Oscars for the movies that we, the unsophisticated rabble, enjoy.
But by creating such a distinction, all they are doing is showing how irrelevant the Oscars continue to become.