Now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has canceled plans to introduce a "best popular film" category at next year's Oscars, the organization says everyone misunderstood what the controversial award was really about, although their new explanation only makes things more confusing.
Academy President John Bailey spoke with IndieWire on Thursday shortly after announcing that the award had been scrapped for 2019, and, bizarrely, seemed to suggest that the category would not just have highlighted films that are popular as the name suggests. Outlets like Vanity Fair speculated back in August that the category was little more than a ploy to boost the Oscars' dwindling
"To focus on this new award as if it is somehow oriented primarily toward big-action films, it might be a part of it, but it's about films that have not been recognized, not been seen by people," Bailey said.
This explanation baffled critics. From the outset, the award's purpose — or how "popular" would be defined — was never really clear. Per The Hollywood Reporter, there had been some internal discussion of only allowing movies that had opened in wide release to be eligible, so it evidently would be more about accessibility than popularity. Bailey told IndieWire the award was needed because "the last three Academy award-winners were not films large numbers of people were going to see." However, as critic Myles McNutt pointed out on Twitter, that's not entirely true: The most recent Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water, actually did open in wide release and therefore could have won best popular film.
Bailey added that the award would only be for studio-backed films that audiences had access to, and used Groundhog Day as an example of one film the popular award would have been perfect for, even though it was only the #13 highest-grossing movie of 1993. Brendan Morrow