Streamed films eligible for 2021 Oscars in one-off response to lockdown

For the first time, films released on-demand or online only will be eligible for the Oscars, under new regulations agreed in response to the global Covid-19 lockdown.

Films scheduled for a theatrical release while the cinemas are closed can still qualify for the 2021 Oscars if their release is switched to streaming.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says that for this awards year only, the general rules are being relaxed. To be considered for the Oscars, films usually have to be released for public viewing in a Los Angeles cinema for at least a week, but venues across the US – as in the rest of the world – have been closed for weeks; in LA, cinemas have been closed since 16 March.

Most of the major studios have been holding back the releases of their blockbusters, hoping to earn more money from an initial theatrical release ahead of a later home release; the new James Bond Film, No Time To Die, was among the first blockbusters to be delayed. Universal Pictures is the only major studio to have decided – alongside smaller distributors – to launch their biggest titles, such as the recent Trolls World Tour, on streaming platforms, bypassing cinemas completely.

But the relaxation does not mean that any film that gets a streaming release during the year can qualify; the exemption applies only to films whose theatrical release had been planned for the period during which cinemas are closed; once venues re-open, the new rule will cease to apply.

At that point, the Academy will also expand the cinemas which can help films qualify for contention beyond Los Angeles County, to include features that are released only in New York City, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago or Atlanta.

In a statement, the Academy said its commitment to the magic of seeing films in the cinema remained unchanged and unwavering. “Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules,” it said, adding that it recognised the importance of the work of its members and supporters being seen and celebrated.

The Academy’s board has also announced a number of changes in some of the technical categories. The two awards recognising achievement in sound, mixing and editing, are being combined into a single category, but the number of individuals who can collect statuettes will remain the same. To qualify for the Music Score category, 60% of the composition will have to be original and with sequels or franchise films, a score must be at least 80% new. The initial round of voting in the International Feature Film category is also being broadened to include more Academy members. The Academy is also banning the use of screening DVDs after the 2021 Oscars, moving all viewing of qualifying films online as part of its sustainability effort.

The Oscars are scheduled to take place on 28th February and the Academy has acknowledged that more changes could be needed to reflect what it calls the “shifting landscape surrounding the global pandemic.”