Last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that for the first time in history, they would be working on crafting a category solely focused on achievement in popular film. Naturally, this drew the ire of the internet and film community, as this seems to be a move that rewards box office grosses over actual achievement. However, where some see a dark cloud over an already chaotic awards ceremony, there's also an interesting potential for a thought experiment.
For this hypothetical scenario, let's use the prism of history to see how this potential category could have played out in the last 10 years of Best Picture history. Operating on the popular presumption that this "Popular Oscar" is going to be a Best Picture-adjacent category, we can apply this assumption to the last decade of films that were nominated, minus one notable exception. The results are rather interesting, and definitely worth discussion, so here we go with 10 years worth of alternative Oscar history, as we retroactively hand out the awards for "Best Achievement in Popular Filmmaking."
2008 - Juno
While No Country For Old Men's Best Picture win feels like one of those wins that satisfied both the artistic and somewhat popular tendencies that Oscar voters tend to try and steer for, if there WAS an award for "Best Achievement in Popular Filmmaking," you can bet that Juno would have won it. A film that not only dominated the pop culture landscape during its awards qualifying run, but also brought Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman together for the first time, the indie hipster romantic dramedy built probably the most vocal fan base of all the films nominated that year. Also, the Best Original Screenplay win for Cody's script kind of tips towards the odds being in this one's favor.
2009 - The Dark Knight
In the context of this list, we've stayed mostly with the losers who were nominated for the highest honors of their year: Best Picture. And yet, when it comes to 2009's class of notables, none cast quite as impressive a shadow as The Dark Knight. Considering this is the film that, if you wanted to trace this issue to a starting point, began The Academy's various actions in the name of popularity, it's a no-brainer addition to the pack. This is the textbook case of a movie so popular that when "serious" awards bodies don't pay it enough attention, they're decried as too traditional. Christopher Nolan's best Batman movie is a true blend of artistic merit, and blockbuster thrills, sealing the deal on this film's hypothetical win in spades.