As many of you probably know, the Academy Awards (otherwise known as Oscars) took place on Sunday. Whilst the whole ceremony has been overshadowed by the “wrong Best Picture” debacle, there is another debate that is worth discussing, and that’s the fact that the ratings were the lowest in a long time. I know why: general audiences aren’t interested in the Oscars.
What do I mean? I mean that the movies that the Oscars choose to celebrate and the movies that general audiences choose to celebrate are very different. Of course there’s some overlap but let’s be honest here; most people care more about Civil War and Rogue One far more than La La Land. I’m not saying that you can’t care about all three, but ask someone on the street what they watched and they’ll probably say Star Wars. This isn’t just me saying I prefer superhero movies and other sci fi/fantasy blockbusters, which I do, but it’s just a general statement on how the shape of the movie industry is. Hollywood today is built on blockbusters, some are good, some are bad, but the 21st century is built on franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter and Star Wars.
When the Oscars first started in 1929, movies were still a relatively new deal. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, with the arrival of Jaws, A New Hope and Superman, that the “blockbuster” first started to emerge and audiences gravitated more towards killer sharks, space battles and men who can fly over the heavy dramas of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. This trend continued into the 80’s with Indiana Jones, ET and Batman before the 90’s became dominated by blockbusters such as Jurassic Park. Today we have a strong balance, but the Oscars still seems to think they are stuck in the Golden Age of the 30’s-60’s, and as a result are ignoring the biggest movies which people know.
Here’s a challenge- without using the Internet, how many Best Picture winners in the last 15 years can you name? With the exception of Return of the King, chances are it’s not much, if at all. The simple fact is that Best Pictures are not the most interesting. I’m not saying they’re bad, not at all. I really like the King’s Speech, which won the 2010 Best Picture. But Inception and Toy Story 3, both of which were also surprisingly nominated, are much more remembered and equally good. If the “Best movies of the year” consist of movies with limited releases that people haven’t heard of, they’re not going to care about the outcome. It’s even worse when the vast majority are only released towards the end of the year, basically defeating the whole “of the year” aspect of the Oscars, and even worse than that when the movies aren’t even released in other countries until after the ceremony, meaning people in the UK (we get Oscar movies in January and February) may be watching a movie win “Best Picture” that they can’t even see yet. No wonder people aren’t watching the Oscars, they don’t even know the movies being nominated.
Now, I know blockbuster movies have been nominated and even won. Return of the King famously won 11 Academy Awards, and as much as it deserved every award (the Lord of the Rings trilogy is as a whole my favourite film), the cynic in me believes it only won because if it didn’t, there would have been riots on the street. It was the same reason Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated in 2015; it was so acclaimed by critics and general audiences there would have been a public outcry if it didn’t at least get nominated. In fact, the current Academy rules of a maximum of 10 movies are in place due to the huge uproar over the fact that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for Best Picture in 2008. Despite this, the situation is still the same, as the Academy are making the same mistakes, and they literally have no excuse. They nominated 9 this year, so why couldn’t they have used the final slot for Civil War? Last year there were two slots left empty: surely The Force Awakens and Inside Out could have been considered, and in 2014 The Winter Soldier, which is definitely Oscar-worthy, was left out (on the subject of the 2014 nominees, while it didn’t win, I did really enjoy The Imitation Game). I’m not saying these movies have to win, I’m just saying that the nominees need more diversity to get more people interested.
So how to avoid this issue? Simple. Have a new category for Best Blockbuster. I’ve suggested this in the past but I think it bares repeating, as even I have to admit something like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok isn’t going to be Oscar-worthy. So in order to honour all kinds of movie, have an award where superhero movies and other non-Oscar movies can compete. Have Civil War battle Rogue One and Doctor Strange and let the fans decide which is the winner. The BAFTAS (which I have watched every year since 2015, mainly because Stephen Fry is all kinds of awesome) have an award which is decided by the public (the Rising Star Award) so by having the Oscars let the public decide which blockbuster they enjoyed the most that year would be a great way of respecting the movies that the general public like watching. The box office says it all: with the exception of Return of the King (again) and Titanic, Best Picture winners never make as much money as the big movies, mainly because they’re lower budget so don’t need as much but because most people would rather watch LEGO Batman than the movies nominated this year. I know I did. I do want to watch Arrival though, which is a sci fi movie that got nominated this year, and sci fi is my favourite genre.
So that is how and why I believe the Academy Awards should evolve to adapt to the current movie industry. Well that and getting the right envelope to announce Best Picture. They’re never going to live that down.