10 Lost Years of "Popcorn Oscars"
People are up in arms about the Academy Awards— Hollywood’s Biggest Night— getting a little bit bigger by adding a new category this year, the “Popular Oscar.” The Hollywood Reporter hilariously reports that this will be nicknamed the “Popcorn Oscar.” The negative reaction from cinephiles is warranted, but the people who should really feel shafted are the filmmakers and actors of the most popular films. As they bob their heads out of their Scrooge McDuck money pools, they scream, “the Oscar could have been mine!” This article honors them. For your consideration: the last 10 “Popcorn Oscars.”
I know, I know. Juno was already an Oscar movie! A theme you’ll see develop through this list: popular movies have always been in the mix for Oscars. There are some pretty ridiculous Popcorn Oscar nominees this year, though. We forget that Transformers is a fun and engaging movie because its sequels are so bad. Rounding out the nominees are Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 300, and American Gangster.
2009: The Dark Knight
A lot of actual Oscar nominees shift to the Popcorn Oscars this year. WALL-E wins in animation and gets a nomination here. Gran Torino has the prestige of Clint Eastwood but also made a lot of money. Robert Downey Jr. has a banner Oscars year. Already nominated as an actor in Popcorn Oscar nominee Tropic Thunder, he also scores a nomination for Iron Man. Expect a lot more from Marvel Studios in this category, but another vigilante takes the big award. The Dark Knight is one of the all-time best superhero movies, and Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar win seals the deal for this one.
Avatar almost won the real best picture this year, but James Cameron lost to his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow’s fantastic The Hurt Locker. With the new popular film category, the biggest movie of all time doesn’t even get nominated for the real best picture. None of the other nominees have a chance, but I’ll list them here anyway: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Up, The Hangover, and Sherlock Holmes.
No filmmaker exists in the nexus of prestige filmmaking and popular movies more than Christopher Nolan. This is his second and likely not his last Popcorn Oscar. His films are heady but dumb; they’re impressive to both cinephiles and the freshman smoking a blunt in his dorm room. Despite other worthy nominees Toy Story 3, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Other Guys, and The Town, Nolan takes the gold home.
2012: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
A solid year for the Popcorn Oscars. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is stunning and marks a new turn for the franchise. The practical effects and Tom Cruise risking his life are a new form of Oscar-bait. Rise of the Planet of the Apes has Andy Serkis’ lauded motion-capture. Bridesmaids was in real awards contention as a hilarious and groundbreaking female-centered R-rated comedy. People campaign hard for it here, but it just can’t compete with the legacy win for Harry Potter. Snubbed the year before because of Inception, it’s time to celebrate the beloved series. Honestly, all of the nominees are more memorable than the 2012's actual Best Picture winner, The Artist.
2013: The Avengers
Iron Man might have lost to The Dark Knight, but even Batman can’t take on Marvel’s lucrative experiment that made audiences say, “Wow, didn’t think that would work but it was cool as hell!” Skyfall makes a big Oscar campaign this year but like The Dark Knight Rises, Ted, and The Hunger Games, it falls short. (Lincoln, Django Unchained, and Les Miserables all get considered in the “real” best picture category, while still being in the top 20 box office this year.)
Gravity had a big presence in the actual 2014 Oscars with Alfonso Cuarón taking home Best Director. Well deserved, and it handily wins here. Baz Luhrmann, like Nolan, is always in the mix for a Popcorn Oscar, but his films are too offbeat to win. His The Great Gatsby loses along with Frozen, World War Z, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
2015: American Sniper
American Sniper is one of the highest grossing films of this year and nominated for a real Best Picture. Fake babies aside, this is an excellent, if polarizing, movie that deserves the win. Marvel has one of its best years with two nominees: Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Interstellar seem like front-runners when they are released due to their serious prestige nature with blockbuster budgets, but if there’s one thing we love more than fighting Apes and space exploration, it’s Bradley Cooper.
2016: Mad Max: Fury Road
This win holds up. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best movies of the decade and also a very long, violent car chase. Sign. Me. Up. There are actually a lot of prestige blockbusters this year that make this a slightly harder choice with The Revenant, The Martian, and Creed. Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets a nomination for not fucking up Star Wars, and Inside Out gets a nod as a return to form for Pixar. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is great, but misses out on the nomination. Tom Cruise needs weeks of auditing to get over it.
2017: La La Land
And the winner is… La La Land. Can films get nominated for a Popcorn Oscar and Best Picture? The Academy hasn’t figured out the requirements for the Popcorn Oscars so, sure, why not? Moonlight still wins Best Picture because it’s better and maybe everyone gets less mad at each other for which movie they preferred. The other nominees are IP and mostly Disney: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book (2016), and Deadpool.
2018: Get Out
The Popcorn Oscars could be neat. They draw in viewers by honoring the films people actually saw. At the 2018 Oscars, fantastic popcorn movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Wonder Woman, Logan, and Baby Driver get recognized, but it feels like the kids' table and everyone knows it. Just the possibility this year of Get Out, a smash-hit horror film released in February, being a top contender for Best Picture was thrilling. The movie is on the pulse of our moment, while also being one to watch again and again. It’s one of the best movies of the decade. And if the Popcorn Oscar existed last year, it’d be stuck at the kids' table.