One of the biggest criticisms of the end of the year film awards, and the Academy Awards specifically, is that they tend to give awards to movies that, while they may be good, aren't the sort of movies that most moviegoers actually care about. Apparently, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has decided to do something about that, as this morning they announced a number of changes to the awards, and the television broadcast of them, beginning with the 2020 ceremony. Most notably, in the Academy's words...
A new category is being designed around achievement in popular film.
Of course, that covers a lot of ground. It's far from exactly clear what the Academy plans to do here, in fact, it seems quite clear based on the language in the tweet, that even the organization doesn't know quite what it's doing yet. The wording says the category is "being designed" which means that, while the idea must be far enough along that the Academy is comfortable announcing it, so it probably will happen, the details may not be ironed out quite yet.
This, of course, leads to the next obvious question? How does one define a "popular film?" Certainly, you can look at box office receipts, but that's a bit more objective than the rest of the Oscar categories. If the AMPAS wanted to recognize those films, it could just give a statue to the producer of the highest grossing movie of the year. You wouldn't actually need a category for it. Instead, the plan must be for something a bit more subjective, but it's anybody's guess what that would be.
While it's certainly nice that fan favorite movies may begin to be recognized, this seems like something of a can of worms. The addition of a popular movie category would, by its existence, seem to imply that there's a measurable difference between movies that are "popular" and movies that are "quality." If you are one, you must not be the other. It also runs the risk of keeping "popular" movies out of other categories, even when deserving, though it's not like they get in there much as it is. The issue isn't that movies that do well at the box office don't get awards, it's that many of those movies are actually good and should be considered for awards, but aren't because they have superheroes or space aliens or a lot of special effects.
In addition to the announcement of a "popular movie" category, the Academy also made two announcements regarding the actual television broadcast of the Oscars. First, the show will move to an early February broadcast, specifically, it will air on Feb 9 in 2020. In recent years the show has aired in late February or early March. Second, the show will be limited to a "more globally accessible" three-hour broadcast. While not specifically stated here, one has to assume that means that some of the awards currently presented on the broadcast may be given off the air.
While the Oscars tend to be slow to change with the times, the awards usually get around to it eventually. It will be interesting to see how these changes play out in the coming years.