Welcome to the 2000s and our attempt to retrofit the new Academy Awards award category for Most Popular Film. You can read part one of this list here. Again, these are my choices and I will be glad to debate you on why I chose them.
2000: Somewhat weak year. Gladiator would go on to win the Best Picture Oscar that year. Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical story of a young kid becoming a rock journalist in the 1970s (Almost Famous) is probably one of my favorite films. But I am going to go with Jim Carrey in everyone’s newly favorite holiday film How the Grinch Stole Christmas, narrowly defeating Tom Hanks’ bromance with a volleyball in Cast Away.
2001 is the year that the growing phenomena of Harry Potter reached the movie business; Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone was incredibly popular, as was Peter Jackson’s herculean attempt to create meaningful films out of Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. The Fellowship of the Ring was a brilliant film and would have probably defeated other titles like Shrek, Training Day and Monsters, Inc. But I think the most popular film would have been the George Clooney and Brad Pitt led revival of Ocean’s Eleven, which hands down is one of the best caper films of all time.
2002: Any film with Star Wars in the title should probably win this award automatically. But Star Wars: Attack of the Clones is borderline unwatchable, led by one of the most uncomfortable acting performances in Hollywood history. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man should also be considered for the award as well as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets. But my choice goes to the film that made us wish we were all Greek with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Opa!
2003: I’m sorry I can’t give the award for Most Popular film to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The three Lord of the Rings films are remarkable for the love of the source material by Peter Jackson and the entire nation of New Zealand. But two films came out that same year which I feel would probably be a tie, Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Finding Nemo is a tour de force of emotions cooked by the wizards of Pixar. And I’ll admit I was late to the party on Pirates. I always thought of the Pirates of the Caribbean as the annoying boat ride at Disney World where the teenagers would go to hookup and hide from their parents. But the movie was so well done and gave Johnny Depp the superstardom he probably had deserved long before this film.
2004: As more and more film franchises are born, sequels are running amuck with well made films like Shrek 2 and Spider-Man 2 potentially leading the pack. 2004 is also the year Mel Gibson lost his mind and shared his vision of the crucifixion in The Passion of the Christ. Tina Fey’s Mean Girls was huge, as was Pixar’s continued dominance with The Incredibles. But I think in a real stretch, the most popular film was Will Ferrell as San Diego’s favorite news reporter Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Keep it classy, San Diego!
2005 might have been thought of as the year of the arrested male development with two giant comedies: Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year Old Virgin. 2005 also gave us Christopher Nolan’s reboot Batman Begins as well as fantasy epics with incredibly longer and longer names like Star Wars: Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire. But I will finally recognize the artistry of Peter Jackson with his definitely overstuffed but really effective revival of King Kong.
2006: An interesting year. No real standouts. You have megaplex friendly films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Night at the Museum and Cars. You have the glorious independent film Little Miss Sunshine and the year America learned who Sacha Baron Cohen was with Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And you had the Murderer’s Row of crime dramas with every major star learning to drop their R’s to speak like someone from Boston in The Departed. But I think the winner is the rebooted James Bond franchise film Casino Royale. Daniel Craig was a revelation as a more vicious, violent Bond. Casino Royale introduced a whole new generation to the Bond legend and wins this year.
2007: More sequels! MORE SEQUELS! Uneven efforts from Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End were all giant films which suffered from poorly written scripts. And 2007 was the year we had a film series based on a toy from the 1980s in Transformers. But the most charming film of the year caught America right as we were all obsessing over food with our shared photos of lunch. Ratatouille was a simple film but was so well written and executed by Pixar that it was a great work of art. Everyone can cook!
2008: As important as Iron Man is to the genesis of today’s comic book heavy film world, the film which cannot be ignored from 2008 is The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan’s best film is about criminality, vigilantism and the chaos both can lead to. Mighty Nolan players like Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are fantastic. But Heath Ledger gives the performance of the century to date as The Joker, illustrating what the world truly lost when Ledger died that year. Medal of consideration also goes out to Pixar’s WALL*E, the best largely silent film since Chaplin’s City Lights.
2009: I really don’t like James Cameron. He is a great director. A visionary. If only my skin didn’t crawl when he talks about film. Avatar is a remarkable film. Like Titanic, it’s annoying to watch now. But you can’t deny the level of artistry in the film and the sheer force of Cameron’s outsized personality. Avatar takes the award in 2009.
2010: As a huge Christopher Nolan fan, the easy film for me to choose would be Inception, the mind-bending homage to film-noir that launched literally thousands of internet articles trying to explain the plot. But in my heart, I know that Toy Story 3 has to win this award. Pixar’s ability to make us cry is something to behold; who knew we would burst out crying while watching toys hold hands on the way to immolation in the inferno of a garbage dump. Toy Story 3 let us say goodbye to our childhood in the most sentimental way possible. And that is a very good thing.
2011: Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2 hands down. What I most admired about the Harry Potter series, both in the books and in the films, was the evolving growth of the series; the early films were sweet and innocent. By the time we got to Deathly Hallows Part 2, we had seen our share of our favorite characters die from a very real evil in the world. For the morons out there who condemn the Harry Potter books and films because of “witchcraft,” I say you missed the point. Harry Potter is about the abuse of power by people who think of themselves as being better because they are “pure” and how the only way to defeat those who believe that is to learn all you can and embrace the differences in all of us.
2012: Marvel’s final act of Phase I to take over the world as we know it ends with The Avengers, the clear cut winner in 2012. Individual films introducing Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America culminated in the film every single person who has ever picked up a Marvel comic book were dying to see. And unlike Justice League, the film did not disappoint. Strong contenders that year included The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games and, in my opinion, the best James Bond film Skyfall.
2013: So, I don’t think I can avoid it, but Frozen might have to be the winner. Now before you start hate tweeting me, hear me out. There aren’t any really strong films in 2013. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was good. Serviceable. Iron Man 3 did what it needed to do. Man of Steel? Sorry, Zack Snyder but you’re bleak color palette of a film is gonna be a no. Sandra Bullock in space in Gravity? Not quite. Sometimes parents win if for no other reason that they deserve two hours to sleep while they’re kids belt out “LET IT GO, LET IT GOOOO.” for the hundredth time. Frozen wins hands down.
2014: Now this is an interesting year. In a year which saw the election of Donald Trump, the red-state-beloved film American Sniper would probably be have to be up for consideration. But since I can’t reverse the results of the election, I sure as hell can pick another film to win. And my choice would be one of the best Marvel films to date – Guardians of the Galaxy, edging out personal favorite Interstellar, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Lego Movie. Guardians of the Galaxy proved that Marvel can currently do no wrong by taking one of the more obscure comic book titles in the Marvel canon and infusing it with workplace humor, strange worlds, kick ass action and the best soundtrack since The Big Chill.
2015: The Martian gets my vote. Ridley Scott’s film is a terrific, upbeat piece about human cooperation and embracing science. Who knew a year later those two things would become part of the past. Matt Damon lead a great supporting cast to make The Martian the film of the year, edging out Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, The Avengers: The Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road and Ant-Man.
2016: The utter dominance of Marvel films continues with Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange in 2016. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a really well made film. ut in my opinion, the most popular film of 2016 has to be Marvel’s other creation Deadpool. Notice how the DC titles of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad both don’t make this list. Ryan Reynolds for the win!
2017: Star Wars: The Last Jedi has to be the clear winner; it is the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. And this is a strong year with the live action version of Beauty & The Beast as well as Wonder Woman, Get Out, Logan and the under appreciated Dunkirk. But Last Jedi was the film we debated the most, and that might be the best indicator of popularity.
2018: So on to this year’s nominees. We’re not even done yet with huge films like Bohemian Rhapsody, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Creed II and Mary Poppins Returns on the horizon. Interesting year. Will Black Panther be up for Best Picture? Incredibles 2? These are both fantastic films which could garner nominations for the big award. Meanwhile, Most Popular could go to Oceans 8 in response to the #MeToo movement. The Avengers: Infinity Wars is definitely in the running. But I think the winner will be A Quiet Place, one of the most suspenseful and terrifying films in years.
And there you have it. In all seriousness, an argument can be made that this new award category is just an attempt to placate some of those in the academy who feel the awards haven’t represented movie goers. And they would be correct. I’m not sure of the merit of this actual award. But then again, I’m not really sure of the merit of the awards at all. Citizen Kane never won an Oscar. Neither did It’s A Wonderful Life. The Graduate. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Raging Bull. Pulp Fiction. True art tends to last the test of time regardless of whether it wins any awards. The Academy Awards haven’t always gotten it right. But it’s fun to think about naming your favorites just the same.