The Oscars – Does Anyone Still Care?

The Oscars are already over; you could be forgiven if you weren’t aware of that. The premier film awards ceremony has been declining in popularity and cultural relevance for many years; viewership has more than halved since 1998, falling from 55 million viewers to 26.5 million in 2018.

Several different factors might explain this fall, from the self-congratulatory, inward-looking nature of many nominations, to the rising popularity of prestige TV and video games. The Academy sought to stem the loss of popularity by announcing a new ‘popular film’ category, but this was widely condemned as patronising and too little, too late.

Perhaps the real problem lies not with The Oscars themselves, but with the film industry at large. Big budget box office successes often used to aim at being artistic achievements in their own right – think Erin Brockovich, Schindler’s List, arguably even Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In recent years, however, these twin goals of quality and mass appeal seem to have been carved apart. Films now, with some notable exceptions, such as Black Panther or Into the Spider-Verse, adhere to one of two mantras: be a mass-market franchise maker with no pretensions of anything more substantial, or be a niche, “art” film, aimed solely at picking up awards wins at the cost of reaching a broader audience. Among other things, this strategy seems rather distasteful.

As such, films with the quality to threaten a Best Picture Oscars win are often completely unknown to the very people expected to care about the outcome. It is little wonder that people aren’t tuning in.

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