Oscar nominations preview: ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Avatar’ could attract more viewers.  Will Academy voters help themselves?

Oscar nominations preview: ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Avatar’ could attract more viewers. Will Academy voters help themselves?


Heads up, Oscar voters: Not to tell you about your business, but if you want more people to watch the show, and can’t hopefully count on someone slapping the host again, you can help yourself by nominating movies that honor her. people have actually seen, starting with the biggest blockbusters of the year, “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Top Gun: Maverick.”

If that sounds like a no-brainer, based on recent awards show history, it hasn’t always been the case, as the line between awards bait and commercial success has become more pronounced.

In fact, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Academy Awards and draws much of its revenue from its television deal with ABC, has tried almost everything to entice voters to bring a more populist sensibility to the nominations, hoping to avoid looking like the leadership is putting a thumb on the scales or pandering to attract viewers.

The latest nominations will be announced on Tuesday. In 2009, the Oscars decided to expand the best picture category to as many as 10 nominees, a move that was seen as a direct response to the fact that the hugely successful Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” hadn’t made it to the mainstream. court.

When that didn’t yield the desired results, the board proposed introducing a “popular movie” category in 2018, hoping to ensure that blockbusters would have some presence within the broadcast. The idea received immediate pushback from members and the media alike, with some arguing that such a move would transform the Oscars into the People’s Choice Awards.

In the years since a superhero movie, “Black Panther,” earned a best picture nomination. Such titles have made waves in technical categories such as visual effects and sound, with the sci-fi adaptation “Dune” (though not a Marvel-sized hit) winning six awards last year.

None of this is happening in a vacuum, as the pandemic and the shift toward streaming have further reduced the overlap between awards for those movies that can still draw people into theaters.

However, the bottom line is that TV audiences are less interested when winners evoke a “What’s that?” answer, which surely occurred when small-broadcast movies “Nomadland” and “CODA” claimed the top prize in the past two years.

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Over the weekend, “Avatar: The Way of Water” joined a very exclusive club, becoming only the sixth film (not adjusted for inflation) to gross $2 billion worldwide. Throw in “Maverick,” and those two have combined for $3.5 billion.

Even with those sequels, this year’s best picture category could easily become a pair of Gullivers surrounded by financially-speaking Lilliputians.

Other popular titles that could find their way into individual categories include “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which saw Angela Bassett feted Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards; “The Batman,” a likely contender in the technical categories; and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a Critics Choice winner that has grossed more than $100 million worldwide. While that’s less than opening weekend in the US for those other movies, compared to seldom-watched contenders like “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “The Fabelmans,” and “Tár,” it’s not chopped liver.

Purists naturally shudder at suggestions that the Academy might be so boorish as to be swayed by commercial considerations. Additionally, some in Hollywood have criticized the industry’s emphasis on sequels and superheroes. In 2019, director Martin Scorsese sparked the debate by dismissing Marvel movies as equivalent to theme park rides, saying, “This is not the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional and psychological experiences to another human being.”

Still, that mindset (legitimate or snobbish, take your pick) ignores that award shows are a business, and that nominating popular movies doesn’t necessarily have to be a soul-selling bargain. Also, receiving an invitation to the party is not the same as being the guest of honor.

Throughout their long history, the Oscars have frequently recognized successful films as best picture, including “Titanic” from “Avatar” director James Cameron. In the quarter century since then, “Gladiator,” “Chicago” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” have followed.

Before that, the box office and awards often went hand in hand, from “Gone with the Wind” to “The Sound of Music,” “The Godfather” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Obviously, the making of movies has changed substantially in this era of comic book adaptations and advances in digital effects, as has how they’re delivered and where they’re consumed.

The debate will continue as to whether today’s most popular movies deserve awards recognition. Even if you don’t accept them as “cinema,” however, for the Oscars, they might be the best bet to help pay the bills.

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