Awards season just shifted from winter to spring, and the Oscars will essentially kick off the summer movie season.
For most of its history, the Academy Awards were held primarily between late-March and mid-April. As the culture sped up in the social media age, so did the awards calendar; in 2004, the Oscars moved to the end of February.
Now, in the age of the Coronavirus, what’s old is new again.
As expected, in light of a months-long COVID-19 industry shut down that’s still ongoing, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences officially moved the 2021 Oscars from Sunday, February 28 to Sunday, April 25. (See the updated 2020/21 Oscar-season schedule below.) This date will mark the latest in a calendar year that the Oscars will be held since the very first Academy Awards, which was held on May 16, 1929.
(This news follows a recent announcement that the Academy would expand its Best Picture category to a full guaranteed slate of 10 nominees, rather than the current “up to 10” flexible range that generally lands around 7 or 8. That change, however, won’t go into effect until 2022.)
The 2021 change is a dramatic push, to be sure, one primarily motivated by circumstances. Another likely factor? The April 30 opening date for the new Academy museum. Now, this year’s Oscars can serve as an orchestrated marketing platform for that launch.
The ceremony, which was scheduled to honor films released in 2020, will now also allow early 2021 releases to be eligible. The last time the Oscars had split-year honorees was 87 years ago, when the 6th Annual Academy Awards celebrated films released from August 1932 to December of 1933.
It’s odd to consider that we won’t even know this year’s nominees until March 15, two full weeks after we were originally supposed to know the winners and be completely done with the awards season.
Since 2021’s ceremony is now delayed by two months, the Academy’s Board of Governors extended the eligibility window accordingly, bumping the deadline from the December 31, 2020 to February 28, 2021.
This year’s shift will have a significant positive impact on productions that had been aiming for a December Oscar-eligible release. Now, currently suspended projects will be given more time to finish shooting and post-production and still be Oscar eligible this year.
Had that grace not been offered, the likely result would’ve been many awards-hopeful prestige pics choosing to delay their releases by a full year, creating an absolute logjam during the 2021/22 awards season.
Now with this move by the Academy, other awards-season ceremonies are likely to follow. (To wit: the BAFTAs, Britain’s Oscar equivalent, quickly announced a new April 11 ceremony date shortly after the Academy confirmed their late-April ceremony. The Golden Globes have also delayed by nearly two months, moving from the first Sunday of January to the last Sunday of February.)
The next ripple effect may be the holiday movie calendar itself. While most studios still covet the maximum box office boost that the holiday frame provides, circumstances may force them to shift to January and February dates out of sheer practical reality.
Possible Oscar contenders currently slated for December release that could move into 2021 include Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune, Part 1 of his take on the sci-fi novel, Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story, the Ben Affleck/Matt Damon 15th Century actioner The Last Duel (written by them and directed by Ridley Scott), and News of the World, Tom Hanks‘s reunion with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass.
(Unsurprisingly, studios are relieved. It’s likely that the Academy’s decision to add two months was done in consultation with studio executives and distributor reps.)
This is uncharted territory for the modern era, and will be fascinating to watch unfold on that merit alone. Making it even more intriguing: will some of these changes — which are restricted to this one unique calendar year — be so positively embraced that we’ll see ripple effects into awards seasons for years to come?
For an awards industry that was doing everything possible to shorten its seasonal window, what an irony it would be if this year’s process sets a new, later template that no one would’ve thought possible just a few short months ago.
Here is the revised schedule for the Academy Awards 2020/21 awards season:
- Preliminary voting begins — Monday, February 1, 2021
- Preliminary voting ends — Friday, February 5, 2021
- Oscar Shortlists Announcement — Tuesday, February 9, 2021
- Nominations voting begins — Friday, March 5, 2021
- Nominations voting ends — Wednesday, March 10, 2021
- Oscar Nominations Announcement — Monday, March 15, 2021
- Oscar Nominees Luncheon — Thursday April 15, 2021
- Finals voting begins — Thursday April 15, 2021
- Museum Gala — Saturday, April 17, 2021
- Finals voting ends — Tuesday, April 20, 2021
- Oscars — Sunday, April 25, 2021