Next year’s Oscars will allow streaming-only movies to qualify, but with heavy restrictions

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science will allow some movies released on streaming platforms and via digital release to qualify for the 2021 Oscars because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This doesn’t mean that every movie on every streaming service is suddenly going to be eligible to be nominated for Best Picture, though. The board of governors have decided that a movie which winds up on a streaming service must have a previously planned theatrical release. This is closer to the usual qualifications movies must meet to be eligible, a list of requirements that typically include running for seven days theatrically in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County.

But the change does mean that a movie like Trolls World Tour — which was supposed to be released into theaters but became a digital exclusive — could still qualify for Best Animated Picture, despite its nontraditional release.

“The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater,” Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said in a press release. “Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules.”

This is a temporary solution for the Academy. Once theaters reopen, studios that want their films to be eligible will once again have to release them into theaters for at least seven days. That said, the Academy is expanding its number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles to include New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta. The press release also notes that because of the “shifting landscape surrounding the global pandemic caused by COVID-19,” all rules and matters of eligibility are subject to change.

Prior to this year, the Academy found itself in a battle with new entrants like Netflix over eligibility. The streamer started releasing some of its biggest award contenders — including The Irishman, Roma, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes — in theaters for a period of time, running up to 21 days total in order to qualify. The new rules don’t suddenly allow Netflix or other streamers to bypass the theatrical window needed, but it does allow studios to release their films on streaming (including HBO Max and Peacock) as they figure out ways to salvage their 2020 slate of films without sacrificing a shot at an Oscar. Certain movies like Paramount Pictures’ The Lovebirds with Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani have already been sold to Netflix as the streamer looks for more content to keep subscribers happy.

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