Rumored Oscars Changes Could Shake Up Theatrical Distribution

Would some recent nominees be ineligible?

Movie theater
A big change could be coming to Academy Award eligibility.
Felix Mooneeram/Unsplash

Between the pandemic’s effect on theatrical distribution and the rise of streaming services, the question of what makes a film eligible for the Academy Awards has fluctuated over the last few years. The 2021 and 2022 Oscars had modified release windows, for example. But according to a report from Matthew Belloni at Puck, a much larger change could be on the horizon for the Academy — one that could shake up a lot of what is and is not eligible.

The change would relate to films needing to have a much wider theatrical release to qualify for the Oscars. As Belloni writes, “films will need to play in theaters in 15 or 20 of the top 50 markets in the U.S. to be eligible.” Belloni also writes that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ CEO approves of the change — though it wouldn’t go into effect before a vote from the organization’s board of governors.

The goal here, Belloni writes, is to get larger theatrical runs for Oscar hopefuls — and, theoretically, benefit theaters across the country, as opposed to just its largest cities.

Still, the proposal raises questions about which recent nominees would not have qualified under the rumored changes. It’s likely that a film like surprise Best Actress nominee To Leslie, which grossed $64,486 worldwide, might not be in the running if a larger theatrical run was required. Belloni points to several Netflix productions as being affected by this as well — given that the streaming service in question hasn’t embraced theatrical runs to the extent of Amazon or Apple.

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It’s not hard to see a potential future where this rule has the opposite effect from its intention — and where some of the more award-friendly films released in a current year are potentially ineligible for the Oscars. If your tastes hew more to the Independent Spirit Awards than the Oscars, this might not be much of a loss. But rules governing a minimum theatrical run could also bring back the debate over the proposed “Best Popular Film” award — except this time, blockbusters are the only thing on the ballot.

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