Often the biggest omissions from the major categories at the annual Oscars are the year’s biggest blockbuster movies. That’s about to change, as the The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences said Wednesday it is creating a new category to honor “achievement in popular film,” to be introduced at the 2019 Oscars.
The Academy also said it is planning a “more globally accessible three-hour telecast” starting next year and said its 2020 ceremony will be moved up to Feb. 9, almost a month earlier than its usual slot at the end of February that marks the conclusion of Hollywood’s annual awards season.
The changes were announced in a letter to Academy board members on Wednesday morning from re-elected president John Bailey and chief executive officer Dawn Hudson. They said: “We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.”
Details of the name of the new award category and eligibility were not yet available, but movies nominated in the popular film category will also be eligible for the overall best picture award.
Hollywood’s biggest movies rarely earn nods in major categories at the Oscars, where voters tend to favor more prestigious and dramatic fare. This often leaves a disconnect for many of the millions of viewers tuning in to see their favorite celebrities honor films that aren’t seen as widely. In recent years, the winners of Best Picture — The Shape of Water, Moonlight, Spotlight, The Artist — haven’t come close to crossing the $100 million milestone at the domestic box office. For smaller films, winning an Oscar brings an awareness to the film that money can’t buy.
But the conversation has shifted around popular films — this year, Disney’s Black Panther superhero film not only crossed $700 million at the North American box office and $1.3 billion worldwide, but it was critically praised for delivering a nuanced storyline exploring what it means to be black in today’s world, and Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger won rave reviews for being an empathetic villain. The film has already been seen as an early Oscars contender.
The Academy has made drastic changes to diversify its membership, the majority of which are older white men, in order to be more relevant, committing to double its women and minority members by 2020. This year, the organization invited more than 900 new members, 49 percent of whom were women and 38 percent were people of color.
The Oscars ceremony is also getting a shake-up to keep things within a three-hour window, “delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.” The organization said it will honor select categories during the commercial breaks and then air the winning moments later during the live broadcast.
The change comes after this year’s Oscars, where The Shape of Water took the Best Picture accolade, was the least-viewed telecast in the show’s history.
The Academy Awards on ABC averaged a mere 26.5 million viewers, down from last year’s 32 million. It still remains the most-watched awards show on TV; the Grammys, in comparison, only averaged 19.8 million viewers on Jan. 28 while the Golden Globes pulled in 19 million on Jan. 7. But Oscar, at least these days, is nowhere close to its halcyon days when it averaged well over 40 million viewers.
The Academy has attempted to diversify the types of films for its top category, expanding Best Picture in 2009 to include up to ten films. But the nominations still gravitate towards the smaller independent and art-house movies. The Academy also introduced the Best Animated Feature category in 2002 in an attempt to honor a genre often overlooked by the awards.
See EW’s gallery of possible contenders for the 2019 Oscars, which will be held Feb. 24.
This post has been updated with more information about the Oscars changes announced by the Academy.