The Best Picture Oscar gets even less important

By Felix Salmon
June 24, 2009

Joe Weisenthal is right that the value of a Best Picture nomination has just plunged, now that the number of Best Picture nominees has doubled. What he doesn’t mention is that although there might be some marginal boost for film studios who would otherwise not have gotten a Best Picture nomination at all, there is probably going to be a significant devaluation of the actual Best Picture award.

The Oscars — like much mass media — are in trouble these days, and are having difficulty keeping the interest of the general public, and one of the main reasons is that the Best Picture award tends to go to relatively small and arty films rather than the blockbusters watched by a large chunk of the population. (It’s no coincidence that the 2004 awards, where the Best Picture gong went to Lord of the Rings, got the highest ratings in recent history.)

The move to 10 nominees from five is only going to exacerbate this problem: under the Academy’s first-past-the-post voting system, a film could theoretically win the award with less than 15% of the total vote. And as a result, tiny but much-loved films will have a serious advantage over big all-things-to-all-people features, which are much less likely to be any given voter’s absolute favorite movie of the year.

So while this might be a good move in the short term for the studios, it’s a bad move in the long term for the Oscars. I don’t think it’ll last.

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