Oscar Bait Vs. Blockbusters: A Showdown For The 2019 Oscars

Oscar Bait Vs. Blockbusters: A Showdown For The 2019 Oscars
The Academy Awards are slowly warming up to popular, top grossing films again.

You've probably heard the phrase "Oscar bait" before — often designated for serious, brooding, sometimes historical and sometimes inspirational films that just look like they were made to win awards.

This often means sacrificing mass audience appeal, but that doesn't guarantee Oscar nominations. That was the case for the 1990 drama "Come See the Paradise." It was actually highlighted in a 2014 UCLA study for being the "Oscar bait-iest" film in their analysis of Oscar appeal. 

It didn't do well at the box office, but to its credit, it was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or. Compare its somber, artistic seriousness to the antithesis of Oscar bait: the "blockbuster."

["Show me my respect."]

These are the moneymakers — the superhero-centered action flicks and the sci-fi/fantasy franchises. They might get nominated and win some Oscars, but usually just in the technical categories. 

In 2004, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" became the first — and only — fantasy franchise film to win best picture. Despite their popularity, comic book superhero films have yet to match that success.

["You have no idea."]

But one film came pretty close. 

["Good evening, ladies and gentlemen."]

2008's "The Dark Knight" isn't your average superhero blockbuster. Sure, it's got the obligatory car chases and villain monologues, but it's also gritty, subversive and contemplative. 

Following the film's success, Warner Bros. started an Oscar campaign for The Dark Knight. It ended up receiving eight nominations — including one for best supporting actor — but it was snubbed from the best picture category. 

["There is a lot of potential for aggressive expansion!"]

In 2009, following scrutiny from critics and fans, the academy made a big change to its top prize. Instead of just five nominees, best picture could now have up to ten. That change gave popular films a better shot at the honor. One of the films that likely benefited was Pixar's "Up" — now one of only three animated features to ever receive a best picture nod.

Since that change, the academy has continued tweaking its awards — usually in an effort to appease younger viewers and boost ratings. In 2018, the organization even tinkered with creating a separate category entirely for popular films. 

The New York Times said it was "the most unpopular move [the academy] may have ever made." 

Critics worried it would cheapen the awards, and the academy ended up nixing the category for 2019. In a press release, the organization said it would "examine and seek additional input" on the new category.

Critics and fans have been pushing best picture nods for two big blockbusters of 2018: Marvel's critically-acclaimed "Black Panther" and Warner Bros.' hit rom-com "Crazy Rich Asians.

Both films received nominations for various awards from the National Board of Review, Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes.

We can't tell you if that's enough for the two mainstream films to cross into Oscar territory — especially considering their competition. The nominations for the 2019 Academy Awards will be announced January 22.