The 2020 Oscars and how Parasite’s win will change the film industry.

Over the course of Hollywood history, the Academy’s choice for the best film of the year has usually gone to that year’s most popular; that is, the movie that sold the most theater tickets, the crowd-pleaser, the mainstream film that everyone enjoyed. Ben-Hur (1959), Titanic (1997), and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) are tied for the most Oscars won by a single film, holding onto 11 each. All three of these movies were the highest-grossing movie of their year. Looking back at the biggest winners, dating from 1929 to now, the Oscars’ idea of a ‘good movie’ fits one of a word passed around every year during the October-to-February span of awards season: prestige. Typically, the movie that fits the large-scale epic archetype fits the Oscars’ pick for the best film of the year. Essentially, the Best Picture award will usually go to an American historical drama, a war movie, or a love-letter to Hollywood.

This has led to backslash, the criticism being the Academy prizes films that look back when they ought to reward films that look forward to the future of film. Traditional American story Forrest Gump beat out the crime story considered a game-changer for American cinema – and the intro to director Quentin Tarantino – Pulp Fiction. While movies that have previously won big at the Oscars are – usually – respectfully deserved, there is a recurring theme in the type of movie the Academy likes. And it’s not movies like Parasite. 


Parasite Wins Best Picture. 

Best Picture at the Oscars went to Parasite, marking the first non-English film to win Best Picture. Along with Picture, it won other big awards like Director, Original Screenplay, and International Feature. This may come as no surprise when taking into consideration the overwhelmingly positive reactions for the film and the global attention it’s received, but Parasite wasn’t actually the movie predicted to win. Sam Mendes’ 1917 was the obvious frontrunner for Picture, becoming an unstoppable force during awards season by winning the best film award in just about every other awards show. For a while, it also seemed Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood would win, as the Academy has shown a liking to Hollywood love-letters before and, seeing as though Tarantino hasn’t yet won an Oscar for Best Director, this would be a just reward. But, taking many by surprise – and leaving close to everyone cheering – Bong Joon Ho’s captivating exploration of social class took the top prize. Not only is it the first international film to win Best Picture, but it has also earned South Korea its first four Academy Awards in history.

So why is this such a big deal? The answer comes down to the types of films that are being made (both in Hollywood and globally) and the types that those in the film industry regard as great films. The Oscars give film-lovers a great time to celebrate film, but it also gives those in the business an opportunity to gain employment. The more your work is recognized and wins, the more higher-ups (producers, studio execs, etc.) are going to want you on their projects. This is mostly because it looks good when advertising a movie to have “Oscar-winning…” in the pitch to audiences. The more projects you get, the more movies you make. The more movies you make, the more your name catches onto audiences and becomes a good way to sell tickets, the more freedom you get to work on your own projects. Thus, the more say you get in determining what movies are made in the industry. So, the Academy Awards do have an effect on what movies get made. Whichever movie wins determines the types of movies the industry is going to make.

Which brings us back to Parasite. Bong Joon Ho’s film has become one of the highest-regarded films of the decade and, it’s safe to say, one of the most influential. It’s also safe to say the Academy likes this movie, or, at least, understands its worth. Whichever way the 2020 Oscars swayed, it was bound to send a message about the Academy’s current taste. If 1917 won, the story would go that the Academy continues to like war epics, the same as they did in 1929 when a World War I movie, Wings, won the first-ever Best Picture. That story would lead to studios picking up other war epics because those studios know war epics gain awards buzz, win awards, and get more money. This is what the conversation would continue to be.

But the 2020 Oscars didn’t go that way. It was a win similar to that of the 2017 Oscars when indie film Moonlight won against the predicted-to-win La La Land, where a game-changing indie film won against a showy studio film with two all-star actors. A movie looking to the future won against a movie looking at the past. Parasite‘s win will do exactly what Moonlight did before it. It will increase the likelihood of unique, smaller films being picked up by larger studios. It will allow more diverse filmmakers and representation in the industry, making more diverse films. And it will, hopefully, expand the openness people will have towards different styles of movies, regardless of it being an American studio film or small movie from South Korea.