Streaming films are eligible for next year’s Academy Awards — but there’s a catch

With the pandemic decimating the 2020 theatrical release calendar, the Oscars have made an unprecedented decision: For the first time in the nine-decade history of the Academy Awards, streaming films that did not get a theatrical release will be allowed to compete.

The Hollywood Reporter writes that the decision was reached Tuesday during a Zoom meeting of the organization’s board of directors. 

In previous years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stipulated that films must screen for at least one week in a Los Angeles-area theater in order to qualify for awards. That standard has become significantly more challenging at a time when the coronavirus has shuttered most cinemas around the world, so the more relaxed guideline is intended to allow titles that were pulled from the theatrical calendar to compete. 

However, there’s a catch. The new rule applies only to movies that “were scheduled for theatrical release, that meet the other eligibility requirements and that are made available for Academy members to view on the organization’s members-only streaming service, Academy Screening Room, within 60 days of being made available on a publicly-available streamer or VOD service,” writes THR.

By those standards, a film like Universal’s Trolls World Tour, which was slated to hit theaters but pivoted to a streaming-only strategy due to the coronavirus will be up for awards; something like Netflix’s The Half of It or HBO’s Bad Education, which were never planned for theaters, likely will not.

Furthermore, while the adjusted rule applies to the next Oscars ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 27, 2021 and covering films released during the 2020 calendar year, it is not intended as a permanent shift. 

Once moviegoing has been deemed safe again by health experts, the board plans to reinstate the theatrical requirement. (Albeit with an expanded list of cities: Films will be able to qualify with a theatrical engagement in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, or Atlanta, rather than Los Angeles only.)

The board also voted on some other changes to the ceremony, including the merging of the sound mixing and sound editing categories; an update to the criteria for the original score category; and an expansion of the voting body for the international feature shortlist. 

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