Oscars: Will the new ‘popular’ category hurt the horror genre?


Will the “popular” film category at the Academy Awards prove to be a blessing or a curse for the horror genre? Join me as I answer that very question.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just announced that it will be adding a new Oscar category for “outstanding achievement in popular film.” Supposedly, the popular film award was created to help resuscitate the show, which sunk to an all-time ratings low in 2018. The thinking is that if the Oscars now include “popular” films, the Average Joe will suddenly develop an interest in the show.

Clearly, the award was added as a way to pander to the the average moviegoer. To be frank, this level of groveling on the part of the Academy is pathetic. The Academy already expanded the Best Picture field; as a result, we’ve seen some more mainstream films receive recognition.

Still, the ratings of the show have continued to plummet — I actually attribute the ratings decline more to the politicization of the show than to the types of films being nominated. We are so deeply divided as a nation that any political stance will automatically outrage half of the potential audience, but I digress.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out — Courtesy of Blumhouse Productions

What is it?

The definition of this new award seems awfully nebulous. How does one define a popular film? What are the parameters? Is a film that grosses $100 million popular enough to be nominated, or will a film have to gross in excess of $200 million to be considered “popular?” The cryptic nature of the award will likely result in some glaring omissions, which will create ample discord both inside and outside of the film industry. This is one of several reasons that the award will likely prove to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Image Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Why It Happened?

Many have postulated that the achievement in popular film award was designed as a way to include superhero films. I agree wholeheartedly that the major driving force behind the inception of this award was to finally have the ability to honor superhero movies. At the same time, I feel that the decision to create the award was twofold: it was designed to both include and exclude certain types of films.

2017 was a landmark year for horror with Jordan Peele’s Get Out earning a Best Picture nomination and a Best Original Screenplay win. While not exactly a horror film, Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water (a monster movie) won Best Picture. My belief is that the success of these two films infuriated the Academy’s old guard who continue to thumb their noses at horror and genre films in general.

Image Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

In Defense of Horror

As a horror fan, first and foremost, I fear that this sham of an award will stymie all the progress the genre has made in recent years. If a film like Get Out was released this year, it would probably end up in the popular film category as it grossed a staggering $176 million. I would think that’s popular enough to qualify!

Horror allows for the widest range of stories with the most diverse sets of characters. It is one of the first genres to allow women and people of color to be the heroes. The horror genre has also been home to some of the greatest social commentaries and allegories in the history of cinema. There is always something going on beneath the surface in just about every horror film. Horror films deserve the reverence granted to other genres, and they deserve the right to stand side-by-side with the very best of cinema.

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Segregation in Hollywood

This “popular” category is a slap in the face to horror and other genre entertainment, including superhero films. Bona fide great work can be produced in any genre, and it deserves the same recognition as pretentious “Oscar bait.” Films shouldn’t be excluded because they don’t fit in a certain box. AMPAS is supposed to be an all-inclusive group, so for them to create their own form of segregation with this new Oscar category is a fairly disgusting bit of hypocrisy.

The 2018 Academy Awards proved to represent too much of a radical shift in the type of entertainment deemed to be Oscar-worthy. The more long in the tooth members of the Academy simply couldn’t stomach the thought of a monster movie winning Best Picture, and they wanted to make damn sure it never happened again, so they created this farce of an award.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out — Courtesy of Blumhouse Productions

The Beginning of the End

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Some will say that the new award is a major boon for the horror genre as it will open up the door for more horror films to receive Oscar nominations. With the new award, Academy members have a guilt-free method of voting for genre films. This will inevitably lead to a surge in the number of horror films that receive Oscar recognition, but, again, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The achievement in popular film award is the beginning of the end of the Oscars because it cheapens the Best Picture award. With the achievement in popular film award, Best Picture simply becomes the achievement in prestige film award. Mainstream, populist films, such as Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and even The Departed will no longer be allowed to win Best Picture. The award will now be reserved for stuffy arthouse fare, bland biopics, and avant-garde experimentalism, i.e. prestige films.

Hopefully, the overwhelmingly negative response to the popular film award will encourage AMPAS to jettison the whole thing. For the sake of the horror community, let’s hope that they come to their senses, or we will never see a true-blue horror film achieve untarnished Oscar gold.

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Do you think the new Oscar category will help or hurt the horror genre? Please let us know what you think in the comment section below.