Sandy Kenyon: Best Picture nominees are big hits

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Movies featuring superheroes were shut out of Oscar's top categories in years past, considered too commercial and not serious enough for the Academy Awards. But last year, "Black Panther" broke through. This year, it will be someone else's turn.

One of the biggest hits of the year scored the most Oscar nominations with a total of 11, and the guy who starred as the "Joker" is the favorite to win as best actor.

"There's something really exciting about being in a movie that requires the audience to participate with the character in a different way," Joaquin Phoenix said. "Usually, characters' motivations are so clearly defined that we're telling the audience precisely how to feel and when. And what I like about this movie is it's really open to interpretation."

The hope is that many fans of Phoenix will tune in to see if he goes home with the gold, as director James Cameron did in 1998 when he memorably shouted, "I'm the king of the world!"

When Cameron won the Oscar for "Titanic" and his movie was called Best Picture, more than 55 million people were watching -- and the show scored the highest ratings in its history.

This year, more than half of the nominees in Oscar's top category are hits, including the favorite to win, "1917," and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood."

"The fact that this year we have a lot of films in the best picture category that have been successful, not just in the United States but worldwide, increases the potential for the number of people watching the show to go up," producer Joe Pichirallo said.

Pichirallo would know, and as the former chair of the undergraduate Film and TV Department at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, he has seen ratings wax and wane over the years.

A film in a foreign language, "Parasite," has grossed more than $100 million around the world. "The Irishman" was seen by 26 million people in its first week of release, causing Netflix to abandon its policy of not revealing any ratings.

The late Gil Cates, who produced more Oscar shows than anyone else, used to tell me the ratings depend on the popularity of the pictures, and there have been years where too few of you have even heard of the nominees. That is not the case this year.

I am ready to work another 'all-nighter' after the show, and the hard-working team at "Live with Kelly and Ryan" has to go even longer and work even harder at the Dolby theater! This marks the 9th year the show has taken over the stage where the scars are given out to salute Hollywood's biggest night.

Don't miss the Oscars live on Sunday, Feb. 9, on ABC. Coverage begins at 4:30 ET | 3:30 CT | 1:30 PT on this ABC station.

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