Mmm… thinking it would be fun to see what would have won (let’s say since 1970) this “Popular Film” category, and who would have taken Best Picture if the actual winner would have been deemed a “Popular Film”. These are my takes (1970-present):
DISCLAIMER: this is my speculation, if you disagree, perfect, post yours. Overall, my sensation is that Popular Film would have been an oportunity to reward Best Picture runner ups (the biggest b.o. would go for Popular while giving Picture to the critic darling), to films that could have been perceived of snubbed big way (while popular, with a combo of b.o. + critical acclaim), or films that were loved but the AMPAS would shy off to give them Best Picture because either feeling they were too comercial or too away from the most “acceptable” norm (specially genre films). In some cases, Popular probably would have costed Best Picture wins that would have gone to Popular, allowing the runner up to win Picture instead… in a few cases, I think that the actual Best Picture winner could have won BOTH awards, without the risk of split voting, which would be the huge problem with this category, making it harder for blockbusters to take Best Picture, and transforming Popular into a ghetto.
1970 tricky… Patton took Best Picture but could have gone Popular film as well. But that could have perfectly gone to M*A*S*H, Love Story or Airport as well. Any combo of winners of those four, would have worked… I would go with M*A*S*H winning popular film as it even spawned a TV series. Arguably Airport could have done it as well.
1971 I could see Bedknobs and Broomsticks taking Popular Film. Or The French Connection and then we can dream of A Clockwork Orange taking Picture.
1972 Too easy. Cabaret would have won Best Picture while The Godfather would have taken Popular Film. Just look at the final Oscar count of both of them and how The Godfather became the highest grossing film of all time, that year.
1973 Another easy one… the AMPAS would have been comfortable with awarding The Exorcist as popular film and leave The Sting as Best Picture
1974 Easy again… The Godfather, Part II would have kept Picture (I don’t think they would have given it “popular” which would have seen as less prestigious) and would probably give Popular to “The Towering Inferno”
1975 Not even a contest… Jaws would have won Popular film while One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest would have taken Best Picture
1976 Rocky would have won Popular, Network would have won Best Picture. And I would have been happy with that
1977 Obvious. Star Wars: A New Hope would have taken Popular Film, and Annie Hall would have kept Picture
1978 The Deer Hunter would have kept Best Picture, but for Popular film, it would have been a toss up between Superman and Heaven can wait. I would go for Superman.
1979 Kramer vs Kramer as Picture and Alien as Popular Film
1980 Ordinary People as Picture and Airplane! as Popular Film (GG and WGA nominee) even thought there could be cases made that it wasn’t nominated for anything else while Private Benjamin, Empire Strikes Back and Fame did show up at several categories… but that is why it was possible that Airplane! would concentrate the love as it would be its only nomination and it had the bigger impact of the four (just expanded the spoof beyond limits)
1981 Chariots of Fire for Picture and Raiders of the Lost Ark for Popular
1982 again, easy call… Gandhi in Picture, E.T. the Extraterrestrial in Popular (that would have made Spielberg’s THIRD Popular film win in 8 years)
1983 Terms of Endearment for Picture, Return of the Jedi in Popular (pending on 1980, that could have made 3 for 3 or 2 for 3 for Star Wars in the category)
1984 Amadeus for Picture, Ghostbusters for Popular (however, cases could be made for Beverly Hills Cop, Footlose or Karate Kid, as well… I don’t think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom would have had a real shot).
1985 Out of Africa for Picture, Back to the Future for Popular (possible spoiler: Witness)
1986 Platoon for Picture, Aliens for Popular (outside shot for Little Shop of Horrors, though)
1987 The Last Emperor for Picture, The Untouchables for Popular (but also, Good Morning Vietnam, Dirty Dancing or Lethal Weapon could have taken it as well)
1988 Rain Man for Picture, and Die Hard OR Who Framed Roger Rabbitt? for Popular. Given the amount of nominations, I’d say Roger Rabbitt would have taken it, easily…
1989 Driving Miss Daisy for Picture and The Little Mermaid (or Batman) for Popular film. I choose the animated given the Best Picture buzz for it, which Batman lacked.
1990 Dances with Wolves for Picture and Ghost for Popular film (Best Picture nominee + Supporting Actress winner)
1991 JFK for Picture and Silence of the Lambs for Popular film. But chances that Silence of the Lambs could have taken BOTH. Tricky, though… Silence of the Lambs would face Beauty and the Beast and Terminator 2: Judgement Day at Popular, so it could really have gone on to win 2 acting awards, adapted screenplay and director, only to lose both Picture and Popular films to the insane competition in a really great year for film (and popular film)
1992 Unforgiven for Picture, Popular would have been wide open, I think it would be for Basic Instinct, but Aladdin, Scent of a Woman (Best Picture nominee, Lead Actor winner) or even The Bodyguard could have defeated it
1993 Easiest year, maybe. Spielberg would win both with Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park, respectively
1994 Again, easy year. Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, but question is which one would have taken which… the Popular Film mix could have made The Lion King win in Popular and then make even Forrest Gump lose both, with Pulp Fiction winning Best Picture. So far, I’d say Pulp Fiction would have taken Picture and Forrest Gump Popular or both.
1995 Braveheart for Picture and either Apollo XIII or Babe for Popular film. I think our favorite pig would have won it, given the 7 noms and 1 win for such of an underdog of a film.
1996 The English Patient at Picture, Jerry Maguire for Popular, but Independence Day could have upset it
1997 Titanic would have taken both. Simple as that. If they gave Titanic Popular and give Picture to anyone else, it would have been to L.A. Confidential, but it’s no sense to give 11 Oscars to a film and not give it Best Picture, isn’t it?
1998 Tricky again… Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan would have shared the honors, question remains, which one would have won what. I’d say SPR would have taken popular as it was – if I remember correctly – the biggest at b.o. out of the two.
1999 American Beauty would have won Picture and The Sixth Sense, Popular, over The Matrix, just because The 6th Sense was nominated for Picture, Director, Screenplay and 2 acting awards…
2000 Gladiator would have taken Popular, and Traffic would have taken Picture. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was taking Foreign Film anyways.
2001 A Beautiful Mind (ugh) still would have won Picture, but Moulin Rouge! would have been a Popular film winner if it wasn’t for Fellowship of the Ring, that would have lead the nominations with 14 including Picture and Popular film.
2002 Chicago in Picture, The Two Towers in Popular
2003 Return of the King would have taken both, tying with Titanic for the most wins ever, with 12. HOWEVER, winning 3 Popular films in 3 years, could have left the hands free to give Lost in Translation, Best Picture.
2004 Million Dollar Baby could have taken Popular, leaving The Aviator or even Sideways a way for Best Picture, but I don’t think so… specially on how crowded and open Popular would have been, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban, The Incredibles, Spider-Man 2, Shrek 2, The Passion of the Christ… I’d say Harry Potter 3 would have taken it, as it was raved.
2005 Crash for Picture, Batman Begins for Popular (but Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, or King Kong could have a word about it)
2006 The Departed keeping Picture, Popular… I’d say Borat. No kidding. Little Miss Sunshine looks like the biggest competitor, and was winning Supporting Actor anyways, Popular would have been the only viable way to reward the critically acclaimed sleeper of the year.
2007 No Country for Old Men for Picture… Popular.. Hairspray, blatantly snubbed from any other possibility, it was one of the biggest b.o. of the years, and also one of the best reviewed films, so it would make sense they would throw it this bone, specially after the SAG Ensemble nomination.
2008 Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight, easy call. After the creation of Animated Feature Oscar, Wall·E wouldn’t have stood a chance versus The Dark Knight, winning each one, a “Best Picture” Oscar, outside from Best Picture.
2009 The Hurt Locker and Avatar. Another easy call. Count me among the few, that thinks that Avatar is actually better than “The Hurt Locker” (and more important and relevant).
2010 The King’s Speech and The Social Network, again, an easy call. I feel a trend would become that if 2 films are really close each other in consideration, the one with the biggest b.o. would go on to win Popular by default leaving BP to the one that scored less money. Popular film would have completely killed any hope of The Social Network to win Best Picture in my opinion. I think it was a close call, but it wouldn’t have been, if the AMPAS was offered a way to reward both films with a “Best Picture” Oscar. The King’s Speech looked as the most classic, prestigious choice, while The Social Network was more “hip”, making this an easy decision to the AMPAS members.
2011 The Artist for Picture and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II for Popular film, to reward the franchise. Outside shot for Bridesmaids, though. There is no paralel universe in which this would’t have gone this way, the franchise NEVER won an Oscar, and this was the most nominated film of the whole franchise, with rave reviews on par with Azkhaban’s, plus also the farewell of the franchise. It was a no-brainer choice.
2012 Argo for Picture and Skyfall (or Django Unchained, or Avengers) for Popular. I’d say that Marvel wasn’t just that ready for Oscar, despite the insane success of Avengers, and that Skyfall offered the chance to the AMPAS to fully reward the Bond franchise in a big way, for probably one of its better films, that also, had Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor buzz…
2013 12 Years a Slave for Picture and Gravity for Popular
2014 Birdman for Picture and I am going to think that The LEGO Movie would have taken popular given its tremendous snub at Animated (but I doubt it would have missed Popular, though, given the competition)
2015 Supereasy, barely an inconvinience: Spotlight in Picture, Mad Max: Fury Road in Popular
2016 another supereasy call: Moonlight in Picture, La La Land in Popular… unless they surprised with Deadpool’s only nomination. While I think Deadpool SHOULD have been the winner, La La Land couldn’t lose this one, but also that would underline its ultimate loss at Picture.
2017 Look no further: The Shape of Water in Picture, Get Out in Popular. It won Original Screenplay, and it was all the rage.
2018 tricky, tricky one… Green Book taking Picture, but I think Bohemian Rhapsody would have taken Popular, despite all the claims of Black Panther (or A Star is Born or Avengers: Infinity War), making it a 5 Oscar winner film (and having most wins than the “Picture” winner).
2019 Parasite in Picture, and despite the 11 noms of the Joker, that would have been 12 with Popular, I think the AMPAS would have given Kevin Feige his Oscar for Avengers: Endgame
2020 Nomadland seems to be taking Best Picture, but if we had a Popular film it would be between Soul, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Tenet, one of them, for the win… given that Soul is winning animated, it would be a toss up between Borat and Tenet, and the vote would be a sign of the old Hollywood (pro-theaters to death, they would vote for Tenet) and the new Hollywood (that it’s OK with streaming, that could vote for Borat). I would say Borat only because it has a screenplay and an acting nomination while Tenet was snubbed in SO MANY departments…
Is it me, or the Popular film winners list could be actually better than the Best Picture one?