The Oscars are changing the rules for best picture. Here’s what it could mean

Oscar statuettes backstage
Oscar statuettes backstage at the Academy Awards.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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In its latest effort to grapple with a changing exhibition landscape, the motion picture academy announced new rules on Wednesday that will expand the theatrical requirement for films to qualify for best picture at the 97th Academy Awards.

Under the new rules, which were approved by the group’s 54-member board of governors, a film will need to continue its run beyond the current requirement — a one-week theatrical release in one of six U.S. qualifying cities — to be eligible to compete for best picture. Films now will need to add an additional theatrical run of seven days, consecutive or nonconsecutive, in 10 of the top 50 U.S. markets, no later than 45 days after the initial release in 2024. (Non-U.S. territory releases can count toward two of the 10 markets.)

This expanded theatrical run for best picture contenders must be completed no later than Jan. 24. Eligibility for other categories will not be affected by this requirement. The move follows the academy’s earlier adoption of new inclusion standards for best picture contenders that also are set to go into effect next year.


“As we do every year, we have been reviewing and assessing our theatrical eligibility requirements for the Oscars,” academy chief executive Bill Kramer and academy president Janet Yang said in a joint statement. “In support of our mission to celebrate and honor the arts and sciences of moviemaking, it is our hope that this expanded theatrical footprint will increase the visibility of films worldwide and encourage audiences to experience our artform in a theatrical setting. Based on many conversations with industry partners, we feel that this evolution benefits film artists and movie lovers alike.”

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The change marks the academy’s latest attempt to address audiences’ shift toward streaming, as companies like Netflix, Amazon and Apple continue to flex their muscle in awards campaigns. But while the expanded theatrical requirement should be a relatively easy lift for the deep-pocketed streamers, it could end up being more onerous for smaller independent and international films that now will need to fight for extra space in a shrinking art-house landscape.

Indie filmmakers will suddenly find themselves in the expanded theatrical business (in January, no less), and while big streamers may be able to afford to purchase runs in the required number of additional markets, traditional independent distributors may be the ones to suffer.

“My heart goes out to young filmmakers who might find it hard to get to 10 markets,” said veteran publicity executive Melody Korenbrot. “They’re going to need someone to help them navigate these new rules — or else they’re going to need a lot of credit cards.”

Korenbrot, whose company handles release and awards campaigns for a number of independent distributors, including Sony Pictures Classics, also sees a potential crunch in being able to book a theater in a top-50 market at a time of year when so many high-profile titles from studios are arriving.

“That fight for space is going to be difficult,” she says.

One publicist, when informed of the new rules, asked, “Is this another response to the whole Andrea Riseborough thing?” referring to the surprise lead actress Oscar nomination for Riseborough this year for “To Leslie,” a low-budget indie that would not have qualified for best picture consideration under the revised guidelines. Riseborough, though, still would have been eligible for consideration, as the standards apply only to the best picture category.


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Others praised the rule changes as a signal of the academy’s seriousness about theatrical exhibition’s centrality to the art form.

“It’s a gesture, but it’s an important one,” says an executive from a specialty distributor, noting that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon would not have a problem funding a 10-city theatrical release. “It seals the validity and value of the theatrical run.”

The executive added that they believe the new rules are “flexible enough to be met by independent distributors.”

“We’ve been having these conversations with the academy for years, asking, ‘How do we circumvent people that do the absolute minimum just to qualify and not really be a theatrical release?’” the indie exec said. “This goes some way to addressing that.”