Every year, film studios campaign to have their films considered for the Academy Awards, relying heavily on box office performance as an early indicator of critical success. But the traditional commercial practice of Oscar season campaigning might become a thing of the past given Netflix’s historic 15 nominations — the same number Netflix earned in all its previous years combined — all despite its unorthodox distribution method.
Nominees for the 91st Oscars were announced on Tuesday morning, and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma drew 10 total nominations, including several in high-profile categories like Best Picture, Director, and Actress in a Leading Role. The Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs also drew three nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, and Original Song. Lastly, both End Game and Period. End of Sentence. were nominated for the documentary short category. That makes for a total of 15 for Netflix as compared to eight nominations from last year.
Among individual distributors, that means Netflix ties for the top spot, matching Fox Searchlight’s 15 nominations received between The Favourite, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Isle of Dogs. If we factor in more corporate connections like the Disney-Fox merger, then we might say the mega-company received a total of 37 nominations between Fox, Fox Searchlight, Marvel Studios, and Disney films.
It also speaks volumes that Roma — a quiet, foreign language, black-and-white period piece set in Mexico — was met with so much success despite only receiving a very limited release in theaters. Filmmakers might begin to rethink what’s possible at more nontraditional studios like Netflix.
“How many theaters do you think a Mexican film in black and white, in Spanish that is a drama without stars — how big of release do you think it will be in a theatrical release?” Roma director Alfonso Cuaron told Deadline shortly after the film won Best Director and Foreign Film at the Golden Globes. He added that streaming platforms with direct access to huge audiences can “elevate cinema, and more importantly can create a diversity in cinema.”
A film like Roma could only have been distributed by Netflix, especially after a number of more traditional studios passed on it. So Roma’s emerging success this awards season — and Netflix’s record breaking year — is an indication that the old way of doing things might soon be coming to an end.
The 91st Academy Awards will be held Sunday, February 24 starting at 8 p.m. Eastern.