The Oscars add a “best popular film” category; what recent films would win?

81st annual Oscars

Updated on December 10, 2021

The organizers behind the Academy Awards are facing problems with the annual Oscars telecasts. Ratings have dramatically dropped in recent years; meanwhile, the 2018 Oscar telecast approached the four-hour mark in length. ABC, the Disney-owned network that currently airs the Oscars, has been pushing for changes for some time.

Thus, the Academy plans to do so. One change is moving certain awards to during commercial breaks, as a way of shortening the broadcast to no more than three hours. The biggest change, however, is the creation of a new award, for the “best popular film.” The hope is this will give a bigger boost to popular blockbuster films, which would attract a bigger audience to the show.

The flaws in the Oscar changes

The internet’s erupted in criticism of this new category, with a long list of reasons why this plan seems flawed. To summarize some of the better reasons (and adding my own):

  • ABC’s owned by Disney, a media conglomerate that’d stand to gain from such a new blockbuster-oriented category. Disney-owned films already dominate the box office, and that dominance will grow after their buyout of Fox. ABC was the main one pressing for the changes (per declining Oscar telecast ratings).
  • Ratings have declined for all award shows, though some of that’s due to the way TV viewing’s shifted to streaming in recent years.
  • No indication’s been given which awards will get shoved to the commercial breaks. Never mind the show could be shortened if they dropped the inane, obnoxious sketches and song numbers.
  • Shouldn’t the “Best Picture” category already include critically-acclaimed popular films?
  • There’s concern by some that it’ll be a way to sideline certain blockbusters like “Black Panther.”
  • How will a “popular” film be judged as such? Criteria for the category wasn’t announced. If it’s simply awarding it to whatever film earned the most money, that defeats the point of an award like an Oscar, which meets some creative/critical criteria.

What recent films might’ve won a “best popular film” Oscar?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi posterSo yes, aspects of all of this sound half-baked. But playing along, I’ll take a few guesses at what recent films might’ve been nominated for or won a “best popular film” Oscar.

Option #1

I’ll assume the potential nominees are the top grossing films of each year. I’ll also assume there’s five nominees for the category, similar to other Oscar categories. Using 2017 as an example, the top-grossing films globally last year:

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($1.33 billion)
  2. Beauty and the Beast (2017 version) ($1.26 billion)
  3. The Fate of the Furious ($1.24 billion)
  4. Despicable Me 3 ($1.04 billion)
  5. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ($962.3 million)

Organizing the films by Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores (the two top gauges of film reviews online) gives the following.

Film Rotten Tomatoes score Metacritic score
1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi 90 85
2. Beauty and the Beast 70 65
3. The Fate of the Furious 67 56
4. Despicable Me 3 59 49
5. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 76 58

Adding the two scores (which’re both out of 100) would give a total (out of 200):

  1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi: 175
  2. Beauty and the Beast: 135
  3. The Fate of the Furious: 123
  4. Despicable Me 3: 108
  5. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: 134

Overall, the winner for a “best popular film” for 2017 could’ve been “The Last Jedi.” Sorry, racist/sexist trolls.

Option #2

Another option is approaching this more from the tastes of critics/judges, given it’s still the Academy we’re talking about here. Looking at last year’s top 20 grossing films, and eliminating anything that’s past part two, non-English (there’s already a “foreign language film” category), or based on a TV show, leaves the following initial list of nominees from which to draw a final five candidates:

  • Beauty and the Beast (2017)
  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2
  • Wonder Woman
  • Coco
  • It
  • Justice League
  • Logan
  • Kong: Skull Island
  • The Boss Baby
  • Dunkirk


Overall, I’m still not sure a “popular film” category’s necessary. If they really want to improve the Oscars, they’ll keep pursuing their goals of more diverse judges, as well as drop the pointless sketches/song numbers to shorten the ceremony.

Greg in Hollywood (Greg Hernandez), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons (cropped from original)

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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