Only 20 Percent of Americans Can Name Last Year's Oscar Best Picture Winner

Oscars Poll - H - 2019

Also: Many think 'La La Land' triumphed over 'Moonlight' in 2017.

For Hollywood, the Oscar race feels like it begins at Sundance Film Festival in January before moving from one high-profile event to the next in the spring and summer — Berlin to Cannes to Venice and Telluride — before kicking into high gear in the fall.

But while the industry may get to know contending titles throughout the year, many Americans may only have a passing familiarity with the Academy Awards. And most people can’t recall which film won the best picture honor a year ago, a new Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll finds.

The 90th Academy Awards big winner of 2018, Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy drama The Shape of Water, was correctly identified by only 20 percent of respondents in the survey as the Oscar best picture victor. (The nationally representative poll of 2,201 adults was conducted from Jan. 3 to Jan. 6 this year.) 

And that was a high point for entertainment trivia memory. Among the 2017 nominees, more respondents thought the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling musical La La Land won best picture (20 percent) than the actual winner, Barry Jenkins’ drama Moonlight (12 percent). That year at least included an infamous mistake that caused confusion — Envelopegate, where, due to a mix-up, La La Land was unveiled as best picture by presenters before the right envelope was read several minutes later to crown Moonlight.

But a year earlier, there was no similar mistake. For 2016, more Americans thought that The Revenant won best picture (13 percent) than the real winner, Spotlight (5 percent). That trend holds for 2015, where more respondents believed that American Sniper (11 percent) won best picture than winner Birdman (9 percent). The exception was 2014, where more respondents correctly identified 12 Years a Slave (17 percent) as the best picture winner than its fellow nominees, including The Wolf of Wall Street (8 percent).

The idea that Oscar best pictures aren’t that familiar to most Americans shouldn’t be surprising: None of the films claiming the top honor in the past five years have grossed more than $100 million at the box office domestically. The highest grosser stateside was last year’s The Shape of Water ($63 million), followed by 12 Years a Slave ($56 million), Spotlight ($45 million), Birdman ($42 million) and Moonlight ($27 million). 

The Academy Awards ceremony on ABC has also seen a decline in viewership over the same period, from 43.7 million viewers in 2014 (when Ellen DeGeneres hosted) down to 36.6 million in 2015 (Neil Patrick Harris as host), 34.4 million in 2016 (Chris Rock), 32.9 million in 2017 and 26.5 million in 2018 (both emceed by Jimmy Kimmel). 

One positive thing that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can take away from the new survey: the Oscars are still viewed as mark of high quality by more Americans than not. Some 31 percent of respondents generally think the Oscars make the right call in selecting the best films annually, while 26 percent say the Academy picks “are not the best choices and others should win.”