Could Titanic still win 11 Oscars in 2018?

Could Titanic still win 11 Oscars in 2018?

Two decades ago, the winner of best picture at the Oscars was much different to what it will likely be on Monday.

It was at the 1998 ceremony that Titanic had its record-breaking win both at the box office and the ceremony: the highest grossing film of all time — until it was eclipsed by Avatar — took home a record-tying 11 awards. It is an honour shared with Ben-Hur and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

With 14 nominations, Titanic is the only film in history that could've won in more than 13 categories.

A record 57 million people in the United States tuned in to watch the big night for Titanic, which by then had spent 15 weeks at the top of the box office and would play until September. It was a genuine cultural phenomenon.

In Oscars past, top honours were regularly handed out to some of the most popular films and the ceremony was a household staple. But since then, the Oscars have increasingly looked less and less like that of 1998.

And people at home are less inclined to watch: 1998's record is a stark comparison to last year, where just over 30 million people in the US were watching when best picture was, for 90 seconds, awarded to the wrong movie.

Twenty years since its record breaking night, could Titanic win so many awards now?

A new type of winner

Today a different type of film takes home best picture. Gone are the days when acclaim intersected with popularity or a film took home a clean sweep like Titanic's.

This year's best picture nominees are the lowest grossing field of nominees in six years, with Get Out ($255 million worldwide) and Dunkirk ($525 million worldwide) the notable exceptions.

For the past decade, best picture winners have continued to post smaller grosses, with Moonlight being the second-lowest grossing of all time, and five of the 10 lowest grossing in the ceremony's 90 year history coming from this decade.

Independent films have long been Oscar staples. The year after Titanic, Shakespeare in Love won over the favourite Saving Private Ryan, but it's only recently there's been a marked change in tastes to eliminate the other side of the equation nearly entirely.

A major studio hasn't won since 2012, and before then, not since 2006.

This year, only three of the nine nominees are produced by major studios — The Post, Get Out, and Dunkirk.

This is due to three things: the types of films studios produce, the rise of independent distributors and changing tastes.

Studios once regularly enlisted the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Sam Mendes to make thought-provoking dramas like American Beauty, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind, and Schindler's List to be seen in thousands of cinemas around the world.

However, now they continue to shift their focus increasingly to high-budget comic book franchises and other properties, that are made for their record-breaking box office takings instead of Oscars.

Indies fill the void

Starting in the 1990s, producers outside of the large studios have been gradually filling the space — Harvey Weinstein, as well as independently operated studio arms Fox Searchlight and Focus Features.

When Weinstein won best picture for the first time in 1996, it was an earth-shattering wake-up call that the studios had met their match. Since 1998, 13 independent films have won best picture. Battling for viewers in the age of Netflix though, it's these films that are seeing smaller turnouts as many choose to stay at home in lieu of the cinema.

Ultimately, however, there's an increasing distance between audience tastes and those that are earmarked for the ephemeral "Oscar buzz".

Those destined for gold statue contention are marked from the moment they're put into production due to their director, cast, writer, story and even anticipated release date.

Once those conversations would've included the likes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Skyfall, The Dark Knight, and even Wonder Woman, thanks to their prestige directors and good reviews.

But no more: they're either not positioned that way by their studios or overlooked by voters as "too lowbrow" for the awards.

Blockbusters have a new home category

The movies with many nominations and awards claim them in the behind the scenes categories, which are typically populated with lavish, high-budgeted, and visual effects-heavy fare.

This year, none of the best picture nominees are also nominated for visual effects. Categories like these are filled with films that may have once broken into the top categories.

Now, typically the biggest winner of the night takes home much less than they would've once; the love spread across the board.

In 2016, best picture winner Spotlight only won original screenplay before winning the top prize.

Last year, La La Land earned 14 nominations, but only took home six awards.

This year, Cold War fairytale The Shape of Water is alone in having more than 10 nominations; the next highest is Dunkirk with eight.

Best picture nominee The Post, directed by mainstay Steven Spielberg, only has one other nomination for Meryl Streep.

Would Titanic be nominated today?

So if Titanic had been released this year, would it be on stage for virtually every category at the Oscars?

The film still combines entertainment, prestige, and innovation in a way few others do, but it is the type of megaplex fare that is often ruled out of the awards now.

It was adored by audiences, but isn't as dizzyingly critically acclaimed as other films, and not marketed with the same vigour as the competition.

It symbolises a voting base that is since disappearing and tastes that are changing in favour of new players.

The film's technical calling card was the innovation evident throughout, which has since been surpassed, and perhaps even passed over in favour of the practical effects that make films like The Last Jedi and Dunkirk successful in their respective categories.

This year's winner is far from a certainty: the hottest tips are Get Out, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Lady Bird. They are mostly from fresh voices in the industry, and were produced for under $20 million each.

Which ever film wins, it will be a ceremony that very different to Titanic's record-breaking night 20 years ago.

Ella Donald is a freelance writer.