Oscars’ ‘Fan Favorite’ Awards Backfired in Embarrassing Fashion (Commentary)

An attempt to shoehorn blockbusters like “Spider-Man” into the telecast resulted in a montage of obscure films backed by Extremely Online fandoms

If you were confused as to why a barely seen Johnny Depp film and a Netflix zombie movie were featured during the 2022 Oscars telecast, you’re not alone.

Nearly four years after the Academy proposed and then promptly scuttled a new “Popular Film Oscar” category, Oscar producers aimed to engage with fans of more “populist” films by introducing two fan-voted “awards” that would be handed out during the telecast: the “Oscars Fan Favorite” contest and the “Oscars Cheer Moment.” It seemed to be a thinly veiled attempt to highlight high-grossing films like “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which was only nominated in the Best Visual Effects category.

But the attempt promptly backfired, as the billion-dollar-grossing Marvel movie was relegated to fourth place behind an obscure Johnny Depp movie (“Minamata”), an off-brand Disney-style fairy-tale musical (“Cinderella”) and Zack Snyder’s Netflix zombie flick (“Army of the Dead”).

The victors in both contests were chosen according to which hashtag was tweeted the most, and the producers learned a hard lesson that the internet does not reflect real life. Instead of singling out financially successful blockbusters like “No Time to Die,” “F9” or “Free Guy,” the Academy was forced to bend to the whims of Extremely Online fandoms.

Johnny Depp’s staunch defenders rallied around the actor’s little-seen drama “Minimata” (which grossed just $1.6 million, mostly overseas); music artist Camilla Cabello’s fans pushed her Prime Video “Cinderella” adaptation to second place; and the militant Zack Snyder army assembled once more to vault their beloved filmmaker’s latest film to the top spot.

The awkwardly cut montage of these four films plus “tick, tick… BOOM!” (which landed in fifth place) was buried in the telecast and met with silence in the Dolby Theatre.

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Dave Bautista in “Army of the Dead” (Netflix)

What makes the move even more embarrassing — and borderline offensive — is the fact that the winningest film of the night was “Dune,” a sci-fi epic that grossed over $400 million worldwide and spawned a sequel that begins production this year. Was this critically acclaimed blockbuster not a legitimate fan favorite?

The Oscars producers were so concerned with finding a way to shoehorn “Spider-Man” into the telecast that they neglected the fact that Academy voters were already highlighting a genuine franchise film in all the major categories. To add insult to injury, four of the wins for “Dune” were presented before the telecast officially began, and then edited versions of the acceptance speeches were sprinkled throughout the ceremony. This, in an effort to shorten the telecast and make more room for… a slapdash James Bond tribute, I guess?

And did Zack Snyder fan interest suddenly boost the Oscars ratings? Were “Cinderella” diehards glued to their seats to watch Kenneth Branagh finally win his first Oscar or Troy Kotsur make history with his “CODA” win? What is the point of courting people who don’t care about the Oscars to watch the Oscars at the expense of those who are invested in legendary filmmaker Jane Campion’s potential victory or lauded editor Joe Walker finally winning Oscar gold?

The constant fretting over finding a way to manifest “popular” films at the Oscars truly hit a nadir with this “Fan Favorite” contest. “Dune” is nothing if not a popular film, and Best Picture nominees of the last few years have included such genuine crossover hits as “Joker” ($1 billion at the box office), “Black Panther” ($1.3 billion), “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” ($374 million), “A Star Is Born” ($436 million) and “Dunkirk” ($527 million).

Perhaps it’s time Oscars producers stop trying to create ways to highlight more “popular” films and acknowledge that the films nominated already are popular.

The industry is in flux. The one-two punch of the rise of streaming and the pandemic completely upended how people consume movies. But the Academy Awards remain the gold standard in the feature film industry for a reason.

Let’s not further sully their reputation with glorified Twitter polls, and admit that maybe people who care about the Oscars and people who love “Spider-Man” are not necessarily going to be one and the same.