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Why The Academy Award Nominations Will Likely Include Movies That Don't Typically Make The Cut: Crowd Pleasers

The hands of five men, all of whom are clutching golden Academy Awards.
The Academy Awards rarely nominate box-office hits for best picture. That will likely change this year, thanks to "Top Gun: Maverick"
(Oscars via Featureflash / Shutterstock.com)
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There are movies that audiences like. And there are movies that Oscar voters like. And for many years, never the twain have met.

Until now.

When nominations for this year’s Academy Awards are announced early Tuesday morning, it is all but certain that some of 2022’s highest-grossing releases will be shortlisted for the best picture Oscar, including Top Gun: Maverick and, perhaps, Avatar: The Way of Water.

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Why This Is So Unusual

Do the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?

The disconnect between moviegoers and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is real. And that's reflected in the collapsing TV ratings for the Oscar ceremony. Part of the problem: obscure movies win top trophies, while blockbusters aren't usually nominated.

Indeed, in an attempt to make the Oscars more relevant to mainstream audiences and reverse the ceremony’s collapsing ratings, the academy in 2018 announced a new category called “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film.”

The blowback was immediate and scathing — did the new award mean the best bad movie? — and the idea was scrapped within weeks. In a compromise of sorts, the Oscars now will have a mandatory 10 best picture nominees (rather than the previous range of between five and 10, depending on voter rankings).

The Rare Combo: Moneymakers And Critical Favorites

But that’s not the only reason why this year’s ceremony will have more blockbusters: a few of last year’s most financially successful movies were critically successful, too.

Top Gun: Maverick not only has grossed nearly $1.5 billion globally, but also landed on many reviewers’ Top 10 lists. While Avatar: The Way of Water was not as lauded as Top Gun, the sequel earned mostly positive notices as it nears $2 billion in worldwide ticket sales. For comparison, the last two best picture winners, Coda and Nomadland, have a combined global gross of less than $42 million.

Best Picture Predictions

Top Gun: Maverick is considered a lock for a best picture nomination, while Avatar: The Way of Water has a relatively good chance for both best picture and best director for James Cameron. Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, which has grossed more than $150 million in domestic theaters, should be nominated for best picture and best actor for Austin Butler. (Avatar and Top Gun also are expected to earn multiple technical nominations.)

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Yet even if those crowd-pleasers collect a number of top nominations on Tuesday, the movies that are likely to get the most Oscar love are classic Academy Award darlings, led by the German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front. 

Filmmaker Edward Berger’s All Quiet could very well earn the most nominations of any movie. And when it comes to box office returns, the movie stands apart: As it was released for streaming without a meaningful theatrical release, the Netflix production did not report a single dollar of domestic ticket sales.

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John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?