June 25, 2009 in Nation/World

Oscars double best-picture field

Academy hopes to boost ratings of Oscar telecast
David Germain Associated Press

Blockbusters generate ratings

 The annual Oscar awards show tends to draw more TV viewers in years when blockbusters are serious contenders for best picture.

 The biggest audience ever, 55.2 million viewers, tuned in when “Titanic” won best picture for 1997, according to Nielsen Media Research.

 Two years ago, when “No Country for Old Men” took top honors, the Oscars had their worst ratings on record, with just 32 million viewers.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – The Academy Awards will have 10 best-picture nominees instead of the usual five starting next year, improving the odds for films such as “The Dark Knight,” a fan and critic favorite that was snubbed last time.

Doubling the field for Hollywood’s top prize will make room for more worthy films and potentially give a jolt to the Oscar TV ratings, Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said Wednesday.

The change takes effect with the 82nd Oscar show March 7.

The academy board of governors decided there were more than five films last year that deserved best-picture consideration, Ganis said.

Among those that “were part of the conversation” were the Batman blockbuster “The Dark Knight,” along with fellow superhero flick “Iron Man,” the animated “WALL-E” and the comedy “Tropic Thunder,” Ganis said.

All were huge box-office successes but the sort of movies that rarely make the best-picture cut.

“It’s going to give the public the possibility of being more interested in the show this year, just because it might very well include more populist movies,” Ganis said. “And because it’s 10, not five, there will be a larger group of people who will be interested.”

The change caught studio executives and others in Hollywood by surprise. Some said it was a good idea to open the main prize up to more films.

Academy voters often have overlooked “big box-office successes that also were really big artistic successes,” said Christine Birch, an academy member and head of marketing for DreamWorks. “Those weren’t deemed quote-unquote ‘academy’ movies. This gives those movies an opportunity to not have to fall by the wayside.”

Two of this year’s best-reviewed movies, Paramount’s sci-fi adventure “Star Trek” and Disney and Pixar Animation’s animated tale “Up,” now have better odds of best-picture nominations, Birch said.

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