Netflix movies could dominate at the 2021 Oscars – here's why

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The Oscars – and prestigious award ceremonies like it – have had a bit of a terse relationship with TV streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in the past, with stringent rules on films needing a traditional theatrical release in order to be considered for its various cinematic awards.

Things are changing in a big way for 2021, however, with streaming-only movies now being eligible for the Academy Awards, given the mass closure of movie theaters amid social distancing, in the US and elsewhere.

A statement from the Academy professed that, "there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules."

Previously, any movie in contention required a seven-day run in a Los Angeles theatre to qualify for an Oscar nomination. Obviously, that stipulation would be somewhat impossible to enforce in the coming months, especially with uncertain timelines for lockdown in many countries worldwide. 

While many films have simply had their release date pushed forward several months – with Disney and Sony notably shuffling around Marvel movies – we’re glad the Academy has given clarity to filmmakers and distributors that they won’t be left out in the cold if they happen to release straight to VOD (video on demand) instead of waiting for theaters to reopen.

Some movie theater chains are already lashing out at distributors pursuing on demand outlets for their films, with AMC announcing they will no longer show any Universal films after lockdown has ended – after Universal released Trolls World Tour on demand instead of waiting the closures out.

The move appears to be temporary, but we wouldn't rule out the change becoming a permanent one.

Netflix vs The Academy

Roma (2018)

Roma (2018) (Image credit: Netflix)

There was chatter last year over extending the Oscars' theatrical release requirement, largely to fight off an emergent Netflix after its movie Roma swept up Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Cinematography at the 2019 Academy Awards – but nothing came of it.

This news will be something of a win for Netflix, which has made its ambitions on the awards circuit pretty clear the past few years, with awards-bait such as Marriage Story hitting the service alongside the more populist entertainment usually associated with the service.

Netflix has had a rocky relationship with the Cannes festival in France, too, where the country’s stringent distribution laws prevent films from landing on streaming services until 36 months after they've released in theaters. We don't expect the Oscars to be an outlier, though, and it's likely more awards festivals will have to open their arms to the likes of Netflix and Amazon to stay relevant in a mostly-online year of movies.


Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.