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  • Hunter Friesen

What If... Best Popular Film became a real category at the Oscars?

Welcome to the second edition of What If…Oscars Edition. You can access the first edition here. In this ongoing series, I’ll take a look at several Oscar scenarios throughout history and try to answer the unknowable question of “what if things turned out differently?” Using best judgment and a bit of hopeful fun, we’ll look at the possible ripple effects one result can have on the course of Oscar history.


Even though our world is becoming more divided by the day, there’s always one thing we can agree on, which is that the Academy’s August 8, 2018, proposal for the Best Popular Film category was one of the dumbest and most pandering moves they’ve ever made. And that list of dumb moves now includes giving two awards to the Zack Snyder's bot farm in the form of the Oscars Cheer Moment and Oscars Fan Favorite awards.


Best Popular Film would have been the first new category since Best Animated Feature was brought into the fold in 2001. It was meant to serve a similar purpose to the expansion of Best Picture in 2009, which is to allow more “mainstream” films to be featured on the Oscars telecast in order to juice up fledging ratings.


Anybody with a functioning brain could see how this was a terrible idea. By labeling some films as “popular,” you imply that the rest are unpopular. It also gives off the impression that popular films are lesser than others by giving them their own special category (not the same as Best Animated Feature and Best Documentary Feature, which recognize a separate artform).


For the sake of depressing you and me even more, let’s assume that Best Popular Film was implemented for the 2018 Oscar year and has continued to be awarded each year since. Let’s predict who would have been nominated, and which “lucky” film would have been declared the winner.


Luckily for this playful experiment, no criteria were given when the category was proposed, so my predictions will be based on a combination of box office returns, critical acclaim, representation in other categories, and overall public sentiment. I’m also assuming this award would be voted on by Academy members, and not by the public at large.


2018: Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther (WINNER), Bohemian Rhapsody, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi

While everyone else is bemoaning the implementation of this category, Disney sprints off the starting block with an endless barrage of ads for their billion-dollar grosses. The only non-Disney movie to receive a nomination is Bohemian Rhapsody by Twentieth Century Fox, which later becomes a sick joke about the category’s quality once the Disney-Fox acquisition occurs a year later. As the movie most responsible for the inception of the category, Black Panther walks away with the inaugural award, with Chadwick Boseman and Ryan Coogler accepting alongside producer Kevin Feige. Debates rage for weeks about if the film received a “separate but equal” award.


2019: Avengers: Endgame (WINNER), Joker, Knives Out, The Irishman, Toy Story 4

Unfortunately for Oscar fans, the controversy surrounding the award caused viewership and social media presence to increase from the previous year. The category is here to stay, with other studios now mounting their own large campaigns to combat Disney. The strategy seems to work, as the House of Mouse only nets two nominees in Avengers: Endgame and Toy Story 4. Joker and The Irishman are the only crossovers from Best Picture, with Martin Scorsese’s film tying both The Color Purple and The Turning Point as the most losing film in history as it goes 0-11. The MCU picks up its second consecutive win, with Endgame steamrolling the competition with its record box office and high critical acclaim.


2020: Bad Boys For Life, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, News of the World, Soul (WINNER), Tenet

This is the year that the category faces its toughest test, as the box office can’t be used as a uniform metric. Some voters propose that the category should be suspended for the year, but the big streamers of Netflix and Disney (who’ve just announced their plans to forgo theatrical releases for their 2020 slate) put a stop to that. So, the category goes on as normal and Disney wins again for the third year in a row, this time for Pixar’s Soul. Bad Boys For Life is the sole representative of life before the pandemic, and Tenet is presumably runner-up as a contingent of voters signal their approval of Christopher Nolan’s attempt to revive the comatose summer box office.


2021: Dune (WINNER), Don’t Look Up, No Time to Die, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Spider-Man: No Way Home

We’re now in the fourth year of the category, and the Disney backlash has begun to boil over. Despite record box office returns and a commendable push for a Best Picture nomination, Spider-Man: No Way Home is blanked on Oscar night. Instead, Dune adds another trophy to its collection. The combination of millions of Tom Holland/Zendaya stans firing off angry tweets and the Will Smith slap temporarily shuts down Twitter. The Academy, as they always do, learns the wrong lesson from this and boasts Best Popular Film as one of their best ideas yet. With all the drama surrounding the awards ceremony, rumors swirl that MTV is in talks to secure the television rights once the ABC contract is up.


And just for fun...


2022: Avatar: The Way of Water, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Elvis, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Top Gun: Maverick (WINNER)

Even with sequels to the highest-grossing films of all-time, Avatar: The Way of Water and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the power of Tom Cruise reigns supreme as Top Gun: Maverick takes the award by storm. Cruise accepts the award on stage and hints that he fully intends to be back again in the next two years for his Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning films. Combined with the impressive nomination hauls for Maverick and Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, Paramount Pictures is unofficially deemed the studio winner for the year.

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