Let’s be honest: the Oscars are boring. Who really wants to sit through a stuffy, four-hour awards show just to watch the climax where some movie that no one had even heard of until it got nominated win Best Picture? The opening monologue is sometimes funny, but after that it’s just a long stretch of rich jerks patting each other on the back for a job well done.
As ratings continue to drop, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (“The Academy”) recently announced a bold decision in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience — they are adding an Academy Award for “achievement in a popular movie.” Despite not actually detailing any of the criteria for how a winner would be picked, they are basically trying to throw the movie-going public a bone by saying they’ll throw an Oscar statue at whatever popular movie didn’t suck the most over the last 12 months.
Dubbed the “Popcorn Oscar,” this new category is an attempt to appease fans who (rightfully) felt like a movie such as The Dark Knight deserved more recognition, but was shunned by the Oscars because no movie featuring a comic book character could ever be truly taken seriously.
It remains to be seen whether the Popcorn Oscar will have any serious impact on helping the Academy Awards get some of their pop culture relevance back. But while we wait to find out, we started thinking about movies from that past that would have benefited from being eligible for this award. Our criteria for these hypothetical awards are as follows:
-The movie can’t have already won “real” Oscar awards, like Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, or any acting awards. That defeat the purpose
-Was the movie popular? Box office numbers are an easy way to judge this (we’re using gross domestic numbers from BoxOfficeMojo for our calculations).
-Was the movie good? Aggregate ratings sites like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes will suffice here.
If the answer is yes to both, then a retroactive Popcorn Oscar is coming to these movies!
We weren’t sure how far to go back, but 1990 seemed far enough. Some of the top box office draws that year actually did get Oscar attention, as both Ghost (No. 2 that year, with $217M) and Dances With Wolves (No. 3 with $184M) were nominated for a handful of Academy Awards, with the latter actually taking home seven golden statues that year. Even the fourth ranked Pretty Woman (No. 4 with $179M) picked up a Best Actress nod for Julia Roberts.
So which movies are left that qualify as both popular and good? We think the nominees would have been the now-classic Home Alone, Tom Cruise’s NASCAR adventure Days of Thunder, and the conclusion of one of the best sci-fi trilogies of all-time, Back to the Future III.
Much like the final Lord of the Rings film would eventually win a Best Picture award that was probably a result of the culmination of three epic fantasy films, we think Back to the Future III would have taken home the Popcorn Oscar back in 1990. It grossed $87 million at box office (good for 11th place on the year) and is universally loved for its Western-styled conclusion to Marty McFly and Doc Brown’s meddling adventures with time travel.
Winner: Back to the Future III
The 1991 box office numbers were dominated by a wide variety of films. The Anthony Hopkins/Jodie Foster thriller Silence of the Lambs was the fourth-highest grossing movie that year, with $130M in ticket sales. It also won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress, so it doesn’t really qualify for the Popcorn Oscar.
The Disney animated Beauty and the Beast finished third in 1991 with a box office number of $145 million. It also received some Oscar attention, although mostly for its soundtrack. The runner-up in 1991 was Kevin Costner’s turn as the classic English hero of the people in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It made $165M but was panned by fans and critics as being too dark, too violent, and overall just a bad adaption.
So wins the 1991 Popcorn Oscar? It could only be Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Not only did it clean up at the box office with $204 million in sales, it quickly became one of the best and most iconic sci-fi movies in history. Director James Cameron masterfully crafted one of the best sequels in movie history, and it was this role that truly shot Arnold Schwarzenegger into super stardom. While it’s a clear favorite for the ’91 Popcorn Oscar, it did unfortunately spawn a handful of further sequels and spin-offs that are best ignored. We’re especially looking at you, Terminator Genisys.
Winner: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
This was a tough one. Box office winners in 1991 like Disney’s Aladdin or the legal drama A Few Good Men, who were both in the top five of earnings, each earned some sort of Oscar nod. For Aladdin, it was again for the excellent soundtrack, while the Tom Cruise/Demi Moore/Jack Nicholson classic racked up four Oscar nominations (but didn’t win).
The other top box office earners of 1992 were Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Batman Returns. They each grossed at least $160M, but while they may have been popular, they arguably weren’t very good — esecially the Home Alone sequel, which boasts just a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes.
So what was both popular and good in 1992? Simple answer: Wayne’s World. The Michael Myers/Dana Carvey comedy, which was a spin-off from their SNL characters, was clever, hilarious, and offered a brand new take on breaking the fourth wall. It contained a bunch of clever pop culture nods, and Rob Lowe and Tia Carrere were excellent in supporting roles. It made $121 million at the box office, and earns a retroactive Popcorn Oscar nod from us!
Winner: Wayne’s World
The 1993 box office was dominated by two things — dinosaurs and cross dressers. Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure Jurassic Park and the Robin Williams comedy Mrs. Doubtfire were the only two movies to earn over $200M that year. Dramas The Fugitive and The Firm placed third and fourth — and both earned Oscar awards, so they are out of contention for the Popcorn Oscar
Other potential nominees were Groundhog Day or Cool Runnings, but we have to bend out own rules a bit here. Yes, Jurassic Park did technically win Oscar awards, but they were all for sound editing and visual effects. Frankly, it deserves so much more. No one is saying it’s a better (or more important) movie than Schindler’s List, which won Best Picture that year. But Jurassic Park seems like the literal definition of a movie that deserves recognition for “achievement in a popular film.” Give the T-Rex his Popcorn Oscar!
Winner: Jurassic Park
Looking back, 1994 might have been one the greatest calendar years in movie history! Legitimate all-time great flicks like Forrest Gump, The Lion King, and Pulp Fiction tore up the box office numbers and all earned Oscar nominations and wins. Even Interview With The Vampire, with megastars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, picked up a couple of lesser Oscar nominations.
On the lighter side of things, Jim Carrey was on fire in 1994, starring in the classic comedy trio of Dumb and Dumber, The Mask, and the original Ace Ventura movie — all three were insanely popular and varying degrees of good. Any of those would be worthy Popcorn Oscar winners.
However, we’re taking the 1994 award in a different direction. That year produced two outstanding action films in True Lies and Speed. While it was tough the pick between the two, we gave the narrow edge to “The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down” (as Homer Simpson would later dub it). Speed was a slick action thriller that helped propel Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock to the next level of fame. It also included Dennis Hopper as a terrific jilted ex-cop villain, and Jeff Daniels in a supporting role. We admit that Speed did win the Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing Oscars, but it deserves a Popcorn Oscar too! It’s one of the all-time great summer blockbuster popcorn movies!
The 1995 box office winners were a strong mix of serious dramas, children’s fare, and summer blockbusters. The laughably bad Batman Forever (starring Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, and Jim Carrey) made $184 million, good for second place on the annual list. But the only awards that movie deserves are the Golden Razzies. Other top earners in ’95 were Apollo 13, which was nominated for nine different Oscars including Best Picture, the James Bond adventure GoldenEye, and the Disney animated musical Pocahontas.
Other popular movies from 1995 include Jumanji and Seven, but neither of those can hold a candle to our Popcorn Oscar winner from a great year of movies. That year, a little-known company called Pixar released their first feature film, Toy Story. The world had never seen a completely computer animated feature film before, and audiences ate it up to the tune of $191 million at the box office, besting every other movie that year. Toy Story not only had the novelty of being a the first computer animated film ever, but it was also a truly touching and brilliant film. With original songs by Randy Newman and starring the voices of A-list actors Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, this movie existed before the Best Animated Feature Film category even existed. If it had, the Pixar debut was a shoe-in to win. Instead, they will have to settle for our Popcorn Oscar nod — oh, and all the the other Oscars that Pixar has won since (15 so far).
Winner: Toy Story
There were some great popcorn flicks released in 1996. The modern retelling of Shakepeare’s classic Romeo + Juliet starring heartthrob Leonardo Dicaprio, a brand new take on horror movies in Scream, Nic Cage and Sean Connery breaking into Alcatraz in Michael Bay’s action/thriller The Rock, and even NBA superstar Michael Jordan teaming up with cartoon characters to save the planet in Space Jam. All of those make find nominees for the Popcorn Oscar
However, the real contenders in 1996 were the natural disaster thriller Twister and the Tom Cruise-driven romantic comedy Jerry Maguire (if only because “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” is now a universally recognized phrase). Even though both of these movies grossed over $150M at the box office, they couldn’t compete with the clear cut winner from 1996.
Will Smith was one of the hottest actors around in the mid-90s, and the blockbuster sci-fi alien invasion flick Independence Day checks all the boxes. It was popular (over $300M in ticket tales), it was good (but maybe not great), and featured great action sequences with an uber-charismatic leading man. Throw in the supporting roles of Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Randy Quaid, and ID4 is a bonafide popcorn pleaser.
Winner: Independence Day
There was a dominating force in theaters in 1997, and it was called Titanic. The epic James Cameron flick, a combined love story and historical disaster story, grossed over $600 million at the box office. It also picked up 14 Oscar nominations, winning 11 of them, including Best Picture. The ’97 Popcorn Oscar will be from the “best of the rest.”
Some potential candidates are the Jim Carrey comedy Liar, Liar ($181M) or the Harrison Ford action thriller Air Force One ($172). We would have potentially given the Popcorn Oscar to Good Will Hunting ($138M), but it earned a couple real Oscars of its own.
In the end, we declare Men in Black the winner for 1997. It finished second in box office earnings with $250M, only losing the juggernaut that was Titanic. Starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, it was a hip buddy cop movie disguised as a sci-fi alien comedy. It had action, it had comedy, it had strong writing, and the combination of Smith and Jones worked so well together on screen.
Winner: Men in Black
Was 1998 a bad year for movies, or were ticket buyers just extra stupid? Included in the top 10 box office earners that year were train wrecks like The Waterboy, Doctor Doolittle, and Godzilla. The highest earner, at least, was Saving Private Ryan, which garnered a ton of attention from The Academy.
So what’s left? The sci-fi disaster flick Armageddon made over $200 million, but let’s not start pretending that a movie about Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck drilling holes in an asteroid to save the planet was good. The best thing about that movie was the cheesy Aerosmith ballad “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” — or the hilarious DVD commentary where Affleck bashes the entire premise of the movie.
The true contenders for the ’98 Popcorn Oscar were probably the classic comedy There’s Something About Mary or the heartwarming and unique reality-TV drama The Truman Show. But since The Truman Show ($125M) actually received three Oscar noms, we’re giving the Popcorn Oscar to There’s Something About Mary.
The Cameron Diaz/Ben Stiller/Matt Dillon romantic comedy was edgy, hilarious, but still packed a ton of heart. It also made $176 million at the box office and was nominated for a score of awards — just no Oscars.
Winner: There’s Something About Mary
We have finally made the the era of Star Wars prequels, with “Episode I – The Phantom Menace” releasing in 1999 and topping the box office charts to the tune of $431 million. But since everyone hated that movie, it doesn’t get the Popcorn Oscar honor. Other popular films from ’99 that did get some Oscar attention were The Sixth Sense, The Green Mile, and American Beauty.
Once again, Pixar hit big with Toy Story 2. Unfortunately the Oscar for Best Animated Feature was still a few years away, so they had to settle for only winning Best Original Song. The other nominees for our retroactive Popcorn Oscar in 1999 are Fight Club (which didn’t excel at the box office — just $37 million — but quickly became a counter culture cult classic) and American Pie ($102M), one of the best coming-of-age raunchy comedies ever made.
All those films come up short, however, to The Matrix. The iconic sci-fi action film starring Keanu Reeves as Neo gave us a whole new twist on the humans vs. machines trope. Directed by The Wachowskis, the film revolutionized special effects in the film industry by making expert use of the “bullet time” slow-motion effect. The martial arts and gunplay choreography were all excellent, and the Neo-as-“The One” storyline was a modern twist on the savior theme. The two sequels may have failed to live up to the hype, but The Matrix and its $171 million in box office earnings are totally worthy of the Popcorn Oscar.
Winner: The Matrix
We are finally entering the new millennium of Popcorn Oscars, and the year 2000 gave us some great nominees. Unfortunately, one of them is not the live action remake of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a Jim Carrey comedy that should be considered a stain on the original cartoon version. It still managed to beat out every other movies at the box office that year, though, to the tune of $260 million.
Other big winners that didn’t actually suck include Gladiator ($187M), Cast Away ($233M), and Erin Brockovich ($125M) — all earning themselves a Oscar nomination or two.
So what’s left for movies that were a combination of popular and good? The classic comedy Meet The Parents fits the bill, with $166M in box office dollars. Another comedy, the farcical Scary Movie ($157M), makes a good nominee too. But our choice for the Popcorn Oscar this year goes to a movie that might be considered the underdog.
Remember the Titans, a Disney film about a high school football team in Virginia being forced to desegregate, earned $115 million that year, but will go down as a favorite sports movie. Starring Denzel Washington as the much-maligned Coach Boone, this film had a bit of everything — great football action, smart teenage comedy, a touch of drama, and a ton of heart.
It was also a bit of a coming out party for a handful young actors — Wood Harris would go on to play drug kingpin Avon Barksdale in the critically acclaimed The Wire, Ryan Hurst might be best known for his role in the biker drama series Sons of Anarchy, Donald Faison hit it big in the medical comedy series Scrubs, and Ryan Gosling has become of Hollywood’s A-list leading men.
Remember the Titans also featured a then-10-year old Hayden Panettiere, who would later star in Heroes, and Kate Bosworth, who would later play Lois Lane in Superman Returns. All in all, that’s a pretty amazing cast!
Winner: Remember The Titans
At this point in movie history, we are just entering the age of the neverending sequels. In 2001, we saw the very first movie in a ton of now-famous franchises, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Shrek, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Fast and the Furious. On top of that, the year saw the released of Rush Hour 2, Jurassic Park III, American Pie 2, Scary Movie 2, and a remake of Planet of the Apes. RIP original ideas?
Other box office juggernauts in 2001 were Monsters, Inc. ($255M), Pearl Harbor ($198M), and The Mummy Returns ($202M).
Many of the above mentioned movies should be worthy contenders for the Popcorn Oscar, but we’ve decided to award it to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The film introduction to J.K. Rowling’s epic novel series, the first Harry Potter movie was the perfect opening chapter for the sprawling wizarding world. It also gave the movie world a look at Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, who would turn into household names by the end of the eight-movie franchise.
Winner: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
As mentioned in earlier, the sequels were coming in fast and from multiple directions by 2002. Among the most popular movies that year were the Lord of the Rings sequel, the second Star Wars prequel, another Harry Potter movie, Men in Black II, and even Austin Powers in Goldmember. And all of those movies were in the top ten, grossing at least $190 million.
When it comes to the Popcorn Oscar, there are a few noteworthy contenders. The Ring was a frightening new horror movie, adapted from an even scarier Japanese flick. It made $129 million, holds a 71% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and kickstarted a new horror franchise that has spawned a couple of sequels since. There was also 8 Mile, which was the first major acting role for iconic rapper Eminem, in the quasi-biographical role of B. Rabbit, a struggling white rapper who lived in a trailer park with his mom.
However, there was a clear winner in 2002, and it was Sam Raimi’s blockbuster superhero Spider-Man. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe even existed and before every other new theater release was based on a comic book character, Sony gambled big on the wall crawler — and won. The movie raked in $403 million in box office sales, and (at the time) was one of the best superhero movies ever made. It’s the natural winner of the 2002 Popcorn Oscar.
The blockbuster popcorn flicks were out in full force in 2003. Among the most popular movies of the year were the final Lord of the Rings film, the first Pirates of the Caribbean flick, and two different The Matrix sequels. They all made oodles of money, and The Return of the King finale to the LoTR franchise snagged a bunch of Oscars. Pixar’s Finding Nemo was also released in 2003, snagging the Best Animated Film award.
We’re going a bit off the board for our pick though. Although it only made $70 million at the box office (partly due its hard R rating), Quentin Tarantino’s epic tale of revenge in Kill Bill Vol. 1 was our favorite movie of the year. A modern throwback to classic kung fu movies, combined with Tarantino’s trademark non-linear story telling, with an excellent ensemble cast featuring Uma Thurman as the jilted (and almost murdered) former bride was unlike anything else we’d ever seen before. Despite excellent performances, brilliant direction, and even a terrific music and sound presentation, the movie was ignored by the Academy, who perhaps deemed it too violent for consideration. It’s an easy pick for the 2003 Popcorn Oscar, though.
Winner: Kill Bill Vol. 1
The box office winner of 2004 was Shrek 2 ($441 million), but we’re not giving that green ogre any Popcorn Oscar love. The movie was actually nominated for Best Animated Film, but lost to The Incredibles, a Pixar (who else?) film that also brought in large sacks of money — $261 million worth of tickets.
When it comes to movies that were both popular and good (and didn’t win Oscars of their own), we have a few good choices. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ($249M) might have been the best overall movie in the Potter franchise, switching the tone of the series to something much darker that the originals. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story ($114M) also came out in 2004, and quickly became comedy classic with an all-star cast of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughan, Christine Taylor, Justin Long, Jason Bateman, and Rip Torn.
There’s only one clear winner though, and it doesn’t matter that we’re giving the 2004 Popcorn Oscar to a sequel when the first movie already won one too. Spider-Man 2 was easily the best comic book follow-up movie ever made, at least until The Dark Knight came out in 2008 (spoiler alert). The Spidey sequel grossed $373 million at the box office and maintains a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Helped along by the brilliant Alfred Molina playing the villainous Doctor Otto Octavius aka Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man 2 was crowning moment of the original Sony trilogy. Too bad it all went downhill from there, as there wouldn’t be another good Spider-Man movie until Homecoming in 2017.
Winner: Spider-Man 2
Another mid-ought year, another box office beatdown by the unstoppable franchises. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith ($380M), The Chronicles of Narnia ($291M), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ($290) were the top three earners that year. When you get past those, there are definitely some notable contenders for the Popcorn Oscar.
We chose the likes of Wedding Crashers ($209M), Mr. and Mrs. Smith ($186M), and Sin City ($74M) as our almost-but-not-quite movies of this award. They each brought something a bit different, and have stood the test of time to be considered fun popcorn fare. However, the ultimate winner of the 2005 Popcorn Oscar is Batman Begins, the Christopher Nolan-directed gritty Batman reboot that saved the franchise from an embarrassing history of Batman Forever and (shudder) Batman and Robin. It featured Christian Bale as the new Bruce Wayne, Micheal Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, and Liam Neeson as the mysterious Ra’s al Ghul.
It was both popular ($205 million, good for 8th on the annual list) and great — it won a host of awards (but no Oscars, of course). A Batman movie could never contend for Hollywood’s most prestigious prize, right? Regardless of what the Academy thinks, Batman Begins still holds a 94% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes and helped change the conversation about how a movie about a comic book character could actually be turned into a compelling, excellent piece of cinema.
Winner: Batman Begins
Maybe it’s just us, but 2006 seems like a weird year for movies. There was only a single superhero flick tearing up the box office, and that was X-Men: The Last Stand. It brought in $234 million, but wasn’t that great of a movie. The overall top earner for the year was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which made $423 million. But other than Johnny Depp’s memorable turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, all those movies come off as a little bit shallow.
Pixar’s Cars ($244M) and Warner Bros.’s Happy Feet ($198M) competed for the Best Animated Feature Film award, with the latter actually taking home the golden statue. So what’s left to compete for the Popcorn Oscar? We considered V For Vendetta, a movie adaptation of a famous Alan Moore comic book. It made $70 million and was well received by fans and critics, especially for the performances of Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond and Hugo Weaving as the titular V. We also had a long look at Borat, the outrageous comedy by Sacha Baron Cohen that took pop culture by storm with its offensive (but smart) comedy bits. It also made $128 million, despite being Rated R.
But our ultimate winner of the Popcorn Oscar for 2006 was Casino Royal. The very first James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig as the famous 007, it earned $167 million and rebooted the Bond franchise into the modern era. It featured a more vulnerable Bond character, with more grit and less cheesiness than previous films. Fans may have been skeptical about Craig being a blond Bond, but he quickly won them over.
Winner: Casino Royale
Unfortunately for director Sam Raimi and Sony, Spider-Man 3 was a failure in every way except one. People hated the movie, especially the emo Peter Parker scenes and the decision to cast Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom. On the other hand, it made $336 million and out-earned every other movie in 2007, so at least the studio was happy.
Unfortunately, 2007 saw a trend of bad movies making mad cash. Transformers ($319M), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($309M), The Bourne Ultimatum ($227M), National Treasure: Book of Secrets ($219M), and Alvin and the Chipmunks ($217M) all ranked in the top ten at the box office, despite none of them being over great flicks.
That leaves fan favorites like I Am Legend ($246M), 300 ($210M), and Harry Potter: Order of the Pheonix ($292M) as potential award winners. Our dark horse nominee is 3:10 to Yuma ($53M), a great modern remake of the classic 1957 Western. In the end, we decided to honor something a little lighter.
Superbad brought in $121 million, was praised by critics, and made everyone split their sides with laughter. It starred Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Bill Hader, Emma Stone, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the nerdy and memorable McLovin. It maintains an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was a rare coming-of-age comedy that even professional critics fawned over. Totally worthy of the 2007 Popcorn Oscar.
We’re not even going to pretend that the 2008 Popcorn Oscar competition even existed. In other years, films like Iron Man ($318M), Tropic Thunder ($110M), or Cloverfield ($80M) might have bested the quality of other blockbusters like Hancock, Twilight, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — which were all fairly bad.
In 2008, though, Christopher Nolan released The Dark Knight ($553M). It was, to put it simply, brilliant. Although it was technically still a superhero movie, it was so much more than that. The storytelling, direction, and acting was all superb, especially former teen heartthrob Heath Ledger shocking everyone by stepping into the shoes of the iconic villain The Joker and giving a performance for the ages. Sadly, he would pass away before the movie hit theaters (although he picked up a posthumous Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor, a rarity for any comic book movie).
The Dark Knight really changed the public’s perception of what a superhero movie could look like. It could be emotional, sad, tragic, grounded in reality, and still feature a costumed dude fighting bad guys. It’s no coincidence that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which also launched in 2008 with Iron Man, would adopt many of those cinematic elements en route to owning the box office for the next decade.
Winner: The Dark Knight
This year brought movie goers the blockbuster of all blockbusters, when James Cameron released Avatar. The visually stunning 3D movie changed the industry when it came to what a movie could look like, combining CGI, green screening, and 3D effects with solid acting (even if the story was mostly a combination of Fern Gully and Pocahontas). It made almost $750 million at the box office, breaking all kind of records, and picking up nine Oscar nominations — many for sound and video, but also for Best Picture and Best Director.
As for the Popcorn Oscar, we have some movies that made much less money to consider. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ($301M), Watchmen ($107M), and the Star Trek reboot ($257M) were all pretty good movies, depending on your tastes. District 9 ($115M) was a sleeper sci-fi hit, but it was actually nominated for Best Picture, so is disqualified from Popcorn Oscar consideration.
We’re crowning The Hangover as the 2009 Popcorn Oscar winner. Nobody expected much from an R rated comedy, but it raked in $277 million in earnings and became a pop culture phenomenon. The story of four guys having a wild night in Las Vegas during a bachelor party, including a great cameo from Mike Tyson, won Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes that year, but the Oscars have no time for low-brow comedy flicks, even if the movie-going public loved it.
Winner: The Hangover
A lot of the most popular movies in 2010 belonged to animated features — Toy Story 3 ($415M), Despicable Me ($251M), Shrek Forever After ($238M), How to Train Your Dragon ($217M), and Tangled ($200M) were all in the top ten when it comes to earnings. A few of those family favorites picked up legit Oscar nominations, along with other more traditional nominees like Christopher Nolan’s trippy dream maze film Inception ($292M), the ballet thriller Black Swan ($106M), and the Cohen brothers’ remake of a Western classic in True Grit ($171M), starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin.
A lot of the best movies in 2010 were actually given Oscar consideration, making it a tough year to pick out a Popcorn Oscar winner. In the end, we decided to give it to How to Train Your Dragon. We know it earned a Best Animated Feature nomination, but it really does deserve more love than that. Not only was it a heartwarming, original story about vikings and dragons, but it also showed that Dreamworks Animation was going to be able to do something more than pump out Shrek movies. Featuring the voices of Jay Baruchel and Gerard Butler (among others), How to Train You Dragon scores a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was loved by both children and adults.
Winner: How To Train Your Dragon
There were so many great blockbuster movies in 2011, it was really hard to pick just one. The superhero movies were definitely out in full force, as both Thor ($181M) and Captain America: The First Avenger ($176M) hit theaters that year. A bunch of sequels also topped box office charts, with Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($353M), Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 ($281M), The Hangover Part II ($254M), Pirates of the Caribbean ($241M), Fast Five ($209M), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol ($209M), and Cars 2 ($191M) were all in the top ten in 2011. Most of those movies were awful though.
When it comes to both popular and good, the options are narrowed down considerably. Moneyball, a surprisingly great baseball movie that pandered to stat geeks, made $75 million — but also picked up a handful of prestigious Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, was also a big fan favorite with $102 million in earnings and a few Oscar noms as well.
In the end, though, we have to give the Popcorn Oscar to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It topped the charts that year with $381 million and brought a satisfying close to one of the best fantasy franchises in movie history. A total of eight movies over roughly a decade, this win could be considered somewhat of a lifetime achievement Oscar for the Harry Potter stars and crew. It was an epic undertaking, and they really pulled it all off with slick film making, increasingly good acting performances, and enthralling storytelling.
Winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
We’re in full-fledged franchise mode by 2012, as the only two movies in the top ten of box offices draw that were completely original (not a sequel, part of a franchise, or adapted from a book) were Ted ($218M) and Brave ($237M). Not that there’s anything wrong with being part of a larger franchise, as sometimes those movies are great too.
In 2012, we saw The Hunger Games kick off its franchise, the Dark Knight trilogy come to an end with the third and final flick, another James Bond thriller in Skyfall, and the final Twilight movie. Plus the starts to two more film series with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Amazing Spider-Man, which was Andrew Garfield’s first attempt at playing the famous wall crawler.
Some dark horse candidates for the 2012 Popcorn Oscar include the surprisingly great time travel thriller Looper, which only brought in $66 million but attracted a loyal fan base, and the latest Quentin Tarantino epic Django Unchained, with $162 million in ticket sales. Ultimately though, we have to give the Popcorn Oscar to The Avengers.
After a series of solo movies to introduce the main players, Marvel finally started to tie their expansive universe together in a movie that comic books fans once thought would be impossible to make. An excellent ensemble cast played Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, as they defended New York City (and the planet) from a Chitauri invasion. It was definitely a sign of things to come, including a first cameo appearance by Thanos. The movie made $623 million and the Marvel powerhouse kept forging forward.
Winner: The Avengers
Another flurry of comic book movies hit theaters in 2013, except none of them were all that great. That didn’t stop them from making a killing though, as Iron Man 3 ($409M), Man of Steel ($291M), and Thor: The Dark World ($206M) were all released that year. Pixar’s Frozen also scored huge, bringing in $400 million and leading small children to perform karaoke versions of “Let It Go” and “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” for the next few months, much to their parent’s delight.
Gravity did well at the box office too, but picked up some Oscar attention and is therefore disqualified from Popcorn Oscar contention. That leaves us with a few choices. The Purge brought a fun new spin on horror movies, and managed to make $64 million. Pacific Rim ($101M) was a crowd-pleaser, and a bit of a surprise considering no one expected a movie about giant robots fighting sea monsters from another dimension would turn out that well.
In the end, though, we’re giving the Popcorn Oscar to Star Trek: Into Darkess. It built on what the 2009 reboot started, and solidified the young crew of the USS Enterprise with stars like Chris Pine, John Cho, Zachary Quinto, and Simon Pegg. It holds an 85% score on Rotten Tomatoes (with a 90% fan score), and made $228 million. Sounds like a great popcorn movie to us!
Winner: Star Trek: Into Darkness
As Marvel (and okay, sure, D.C . too) movies continue to dominate at the box office, it’s getting harder and harder to not let them sweep away our picks for Popcorn Oscars. But for the sake of conversation, let’s look at some of the non-comic book movies that would have contended for the 2014 Poscar (that’s right, we’ve shortened the name).
American Sniper actually bested every other movie at the box office, earning $350 million. The (mostly) true story of U.S. military sniper Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, picked up six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor. For less serious fare, both The Lego Movie ($257M) and Big Hero 6 ($222M) would have been good picks, although the latter movie did win Best Animated Feature.
We also had a few excellent drama/thrillers, as Gone Girl ($167M) and Edge of Tomorrow ($100M) pleased both audiences and critics alike. However, the final battle really came down to two different Marvel movies — Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.
When ranking the MCU movies, these two are almost always near the top of the list. Picking between them is mostly a matter of personal preference. GotG made $333 million, while The Winter Soldier earned $259 million. One was colorful, funny, and light-hearted, while the other had a more serious superhero tone as Steve Rogers/Captain America adjusts to life in the 21st century and has to deal with the fact this his childhood friend Bucky Barnes is now the enemy.
While we still love GotG, we’re giving the Popcorn Oscar to The Winter Solider. It’s one of the most important — and perhaps the very best — movie in the MCU so far, with the massive revenue and critical praise to support it.
Winner: Captain America: The Winter Solider
In recent years, blockbuster movies have seen box office numbers skyrocket. In 2015, Jurassic World brought us back into the world of dinosaurs and (of course) disaster. It also made $652 million, even if critics and fans weren’t overly impressed by the story. At least the special effects looked awesome, though. Other big winners that included Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459M), Furious 7 ($353M), and the final Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 ($281M). Those were all popular, but not necessarily worthy of the Popcorn Oscar.
When it comes to real contenders, we saw the hip-hop drama Straight Outta Compton make $161 million and give us an amazing recap of the founding of iconic gangsta rap group N.W.A. — complete with hands-on help from Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Then there was Creed ($109M), an excellent jump start of the Rocky franchise that saw Michael B. Jordan take over as the star, while Sly Stallone’s “Italian Stallion” character became a supporting role. Mad Max: Fury Road ($153M) was another potential winner, although it actually picked up 10 Academy Award nominations, winning a half-dozen for sound, editing, costume, and hair & makeup — although it lost the “big ones” when it came to Best Picture and Best Director.
Ultimately, it was just too hard to ignore Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, so it wins the Popcorn Oscar for the year. It was the first official Star Wars installment since Revenge of the Sith was released a decade earlier, and the first time since 1983’s Return of the Jedi that we got an official look at what happened next in the expansive fictional universe. It made a staggering $936 million at the box office, introduced us to a new generation of characters who are bound to become fan favorites, and did a nice job of paying homage to the franchise’s past — including bringing back Han Solo and Chewie to tie things together. It holds a 93% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is certainly worthy of the Popcorn Oscar.
Winner: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
No matter how much we try to not let comic book movies take over our Popcorn Oscars, there’s no denying that 2016 ended up as a battle between two heavyweights. But we’ll get to them in a second, because we need to take a moment to talk about the other nominees who came up just short.
10 Cloverfield Lane ($72M) was a surprisingly great sequel, and actually launched the shared “Cloververse” that would continue with 2018’s The Cloverfield Paradox making a surprise appearance on Netflix immediately after Super Bowl LII. Don’t Breathe was a creative new horror film produced by Sam Raimi that brought in $89 million. Both of those movies have at least an 88% rating on RT.
2016 was also dominated by animated flicks, as Finding Dory ($486M), The Secret Life of Pets ($368M), and Zootopia ($341M) were all in the top 10 of box office earners.
In the end, it was all about the superheroes (or the villains, in one case). Warner Bros. and DC Comics released both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($330M) and Suicide Squad ($325M) in 2016, but both of these movies were skewered by critics for being sloppy, disorganized messes. The real winner, as per usual, was Marvel films, with the Popcorn Oscar coming down to Deadpool ($363M) or Captain America: Civil War ($408M).
It’s hard to choose between the two, as they so very different in tone. Civil War is about a serious rift between The Avengers and the subsequent battle tears them apart, while Deadpool is just Ryan Reynolds making dick jokes for two-hours — and doing a fantastic job of it. Deadpool helped change Hollywood’s opinion that comic book movies had to be PG-13 to attract a younger audience, and that’s a good thing. Both movies hover around 90% on RT, and it’s really hard to decide which one we liked more. In the end, though, we’re just a sucker for well written dick jokes.
Another year, another batch of comic book movies making bank at the box office. Of course, they call came in behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as the controversial sequel beat out everyone to the tune of $620 million. It may have been the most popular film of 2017, but drastically different critical opinions of the movie means it doesn’t make the Popcorn Oscar cut.
The costumed heroes were everywhere in 2016. Logan ($226M), Justice League ($229M), Thor: Ragnarok ($315M), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($334M), and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 ($389M) all made big bucks, and were (with the exception of Justice League) all very good films.
If we skip the usual blockbuster suspects, we got a few noteworthy surprises in 2017: Coco ($209M) was a heartwarming tale of a boy trying to connect to his family through music, Baby Driver ($107) was a slick heist film by Edgar Wright (although it was somewhat marred by Kevin Spacey’s presence in the wake of the allegations against him), and Get Out ($176M) was a critically acclaimed horror movie by Jordan Peele in his directorial debit — and earned Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay (which it won) nominations at the Oscars.
Despite the handful of worthy choices, we are giving the 2017 Popcorn Oscar to Wonder Woman. Starring Gal Gadot as Diana Prince and directed by Patty Jenkins, this movie was remarkable for a few different reasons. For starters, it’s one of the first DC Extended Universe movies that hasn’t sucked. Secondly, it was the first movie in the superhero explosion (that dates back over a decade by now) to feature a female lead — and be directed by a female, no less. Frankly, it was about time. It made $412 million at the box office, received rave reviews across the board (93% on RT), and breathed much-needed life into the DC movie series.
Winner: Wonder Woman
It sounds like the Academy will make 2018 the first year it officially awards the Oscar for “Achievement in a Popular Film,” so we don’t have to retroactively award one (plus the awards don’t happen until 2019 anyway). Early favorites are Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, A Quiet Place, Ready Player One, and Deadpool 2.
Will this new award help make the Oscars more relevant? We’re not so sure it will. We are definitely interested in finding out who will win the inaugural Popcorn Oscar, but we’ll probably just find out by reading the recaps on Monday morning.
Our prediction for 2018, though: Black Panther