A win for Roma at Sunday’s Academy Awards would be a first in a number of different ways. The Mexican film up for Best Picture would be the first foreign film to take home the Academy’s top honor. It would also be the first streaming service film to win a Best Picture Oscar, which would could impact the industry in a number of ways.
Alfonso Cuarón’s film, about a domestic worker in 1970s Mexico City, has been a critical success, but it’s broken the traditional boundaries of film distribution in a number of ways. Most people, for example, have seen the film for the first time on Netflix, the streaming giant that purchased the rights to the art film and has put millions of dollars into an Oscar campaign for the film.
The New York Times wrote about that campaign over the weekend, highlighting Award Season vet Lisa Taback’s influence on the massive For Your Consideration campaign Netflix has put together for Roma. As many have noted, no true clear film has emerged as a favorite in the crowded Best Picture field this year, which means Roma has a legitimate chance at winning the award.
And if it does, well, Hollywood might never be the same. As Times writer Brooks Barnes noted, Roma struggled to find its way into theaters because Netflix wanted to give it a much smaller run on the silver screen. But if Roma wins, it will be much harder for cinemas to say no to the streaming giant. One source said “the game changes forever” if Roma wins, but Barnes summed it up nicely here.
If a film primarily distributed online wins, the debate in Hollywood about what constitutes cinema is over. It would strike a blow to the big multiplex chains, which have refused to show Roma because Netflix offered them an exclusive play period of only three weeks; three months is the norm. As far as box office figures, Netflix has said the film has appeared in about 250 theaters in the United States since it was released on Nov. 21, but it refuses to disclose ticket sales. A win by Roma could embolden old-line studios like Universal and Warner Bros. to shorten their own theatrical “windows.”
Cinemas being the traditional gatekeeper when it comes to getting a first look at films is still the norm in 2019. But Netflix circumventing that traditional avenue and still winning Oscars glory would basically mean it isn’t essential to the process. Movie lovers may have an ever-changing view of how they want to consume movies, and many still wish a movie like Roma were available in the theater setting. But the narrative getting established here is clear: If Netflix wins this battle, then giants like AMC and Regal Cinemas may have to significantly change their stance on theatrical windows in order to stay alive in the larger movie war.
Perhaps it seems inevitable that a streaming title wins Best Picture, but Netflix certainly has spent to make it happen this year. The Times estimated that it spent $25 to $30 million on advertising for the art film, more than it cost to make. And some critics say that number is much higher. But Netflix has defended its spending. And, quite frankly, it has good reason to make a big push this year.
Because, as Barnes notes, Netflix has its own wolves at the door in the streaming sector in the form of a slew of competing services like Disney+, Apple and WarnerMedia, which all intend to launch streaming services later this year. So it may not be this year for Netflix, and it might not be Roma, but the company is certainly betting big that it happens on Sunday.