In 1999, after many years on Monday night, the Academy Awards moved to Sunday night. It’s stayed that way for my entire life. In fact, I can’t imagine the Oscars *not* being on a Sunday night. It’s the Super Bowl for movie buffs. We have parties and pools with co-workers and friends, turning it all into Oscar weekend, culminating with the big event, just like the one for football fans.
With this move to Sunday, ABC decided to start-up a tradition that was on and off for 17 years. On the night before the Oscars (always a Saturday), the network would air a movie that usually had some kind of Oscar tie-in… to get movie fans in the mood.
In ’99, ABC aired “Unforgiven”, the Clint Eastwood western that earned Best Picture six years earlier. In 2000, the film was “Sling Blade”, which won Billy Bob Thornton Best Adapted Screenplay in 1997. Then, in 2001 and ’02, ABC decided to air the “World Figure Skating Championships” instead. But in 2003, a “Night Before the Oscars” movie returned with “Good Will Hunting”. That drama saw star Robin Williams and co-writers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon on the Oscars stage in ’98.
Then came the first of four “Night Before the Oscars” airings of Best Picture recipient “Forrest Gump”. It was broadcast in 2004, ’05, ’07 and ’08. What was in between in 2006? Fellow Best Picture winner “A Beautiful Mind”. Even though Will Smith has been nominated for two Academy Awards, one of them wasn’t for rom-com “Hitch”, which ABC aired the evening before the 2009 show. And in 2010, no movie, but instead “The Oprah Winfrey Oscar Special”.
The 2011 choice was one of the two films that earned Will Smith a Best Actor Oscar nom: “The Pursuit of Happyness”. In 2012, it was double nominee “The Devil Wears Prada”. I watched it that night, 24 hours before star Meryl Streep would take home her third career Oscar for “The Iron Lady”. 2013’s ABC selection: “Dreamgirls”, featuring Best Supporting Actress winner Jennifer Hudson. And on the night before the 2014 and 2015 ceremonies, ABC aired multiple winner “The Social Network”.
And then… this tradition officially ended. From 2016-2020, ABC has broadcast an NBA game. Three of the five had the Golden State Warriors on the court.
This piece has been posted on Saturday October 24th. We’re exactly six months away from the night before the next Academy Awards – Saturday April 24th. ABC has a little less than half a year to decide if they want to keep the NBA game streak going or return to an Oscar-related movie to get us in the spirit for what will probably be the most unconventional ceremony ever.