"Popular" Academy Award

Would the “Popular” Academy Award Have Helped Star Wars Movies?

Part Four.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced a new category, Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. The details of qualifying for the award will be spelled out later. Most reaction on the internet seems to be negative and convey this as a way to give awards to big blockbuster “superhero” movies. Many believe the only reason the Academy created the category was to combat declining television ratings.

I am not here to debate the legitimacy or value of such an award. There is nothing I can say to sway those who have already made up their minds one way or the other. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if this new category, if it had always been a part of the Academy Awards, would have helped Star Wars? One frustration of many Star Wars fans is the lack of respect the franchise receives when it comes to consideration for awards.

One question is whether Star Wars fans would be satisfied with an award in the “Popular” category. It is clearly viewed as inferior to the normal Best Picture award. I will, for this article, assume fans would be satisfied by the award because it comes from an esteemed institution.


So I will start at the beginning in 1977 with Episode IV. It was just Star Wars then, but I will call it A New Hope (ANH). As far as Star Wars movies go, it seems obvious that ANH would have benefited the most of any movie in the franchise by having the category. The reason? It was actually nominated in the Best Picture category. When announcing the new category. The Academy did state that, "[a] single film is eligible for an Oscar in both categories — Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and the Academy Award for Best Picture."

However, to be sure if ANH would have received the award, we have to consider what its competition would have been. If no other popular movie was nominated for Best Picture, we can easily assume ANH would have won the award. So what makes a film popular? The Academy hasn’t told us, but the only objective metric I can think of is overall gross box office. The movies which people saw the most are, by definition, popular.

Does that mean that the Academy would just nominate all the movie in the top five or ten in box office and then pick a winner? ANH was number one at the box office in 1977, so it would be in the category. If we only picked the top ten no matter the film’s quality, what would the competition be?

According to IMDb, the top ten grossing films in 1977 were:

  1. ANH
  2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  3. Smokey and the Bandit
  4. The Goodbye Girl
  5. Saturday Night Fever
  6. The Rescuers
  7. A Bridge Too Far
  8. The Spy Who Loved Me
  9. Oh, God!
  10. Pete’s Dragon

Of this list, The Goodbye Girl was also nominated for Best Picture and other high level awards. Close Encounters of the Third Kind had several nominations, including Best Director for Steven Spielberg. Even Smokey and the Bandit, Saturday Night Fever and Oh, God! had major nominations. The Spy Who Loved Me and Pete’s Dragon had song nominations.

If these were the only competitors in the “Popular” category, I believe it would come down to ANH and The Goodbye Girl. Richard Dreyfuss actually won the Oscar for Best Actor. The Goodbye Girl had nominations for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. ANH won Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design and had nominations for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. It is close, but I think ANH would win against this competition.

Unfortunately, there is another scenario. I believe the Academy would not just pick the top ten. I believe it would apply a standard which would require the nominees to reach some level of merit. If enough popular movies were eliminated, the next highest grossing movie with merit would become a nominee. The eleventh highest grossing movie of 1977 was Annie Hall. I believe this is the way the Academy would have chosen the “Popular” nominees and Annie Hall would have a received a nomination. Since Annie Hall beat ANH in the best picture category, it would also beat ANH in the “Popular” category.

Conclusion: The “Popular” award would not have helped Star Wars in 1977.

In Part Five, we see if The Empire Strikes Back would have benefitted from the “Popular” category.