Does Netflix Finally Have a Shot at a Best Picture Win?

With a slate lousy with prestige pics—and viewers and voters stuck at home—the streamer’s chances are looking good

Seven years ago, the Hollywood establishment snickered when Netflix, originally launched as a DVD-rental-by-mail service in 1997, entered the content-creating game with House of Cards. “Everyone thought they were nuts,” says one industry insider. Now, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on theatrical releases, the streamer may be having the last laugh.

“For a long time, Netflix had a lot of resentment aimed their way,” explains veteran awards marketer Stu Zakim, also an Academy member. “But the pandemic only helps them. They’re the savior, the white knight, of the whole film business. They’re bailing out studio films that lost distribution, and they didn’t have to shift release dates. Whatever good will they didn’t have is now definitely headed their way.”

Netflix cohead Ted Sarandos had his heart set on taking the top trophy for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma in 2019, but sappy Green Book took home the big prize, although Cuarón nabbed a statuette for directing. After the loss, Netflix brass berated their awards-campaign teams, telling them, “We didn’t spend millions for best director!” (A Netflix spokesperson denies this.)

In 2020, Netflix again failed to nab the big prize, despite a slate that included Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story.

In 2021, Sarandos may finally get his big win. Netflix is creating more prestige programming than anyone, they have an ideal distribution model for COVID-19 times, and old Hollywood has warmed to the company—and even come to work for it, likely for a great deal more money than they were being paid at the studios. Plus they’ve got awards veteran Lisa Taback—known for spearheading successful Oscar campaigns for The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, The King’s Speech, and The Artist—leading the charge with an Oscars marketing budget reportedly as high as $100 million, several times what competitors can spend, although Netflix denies that figure.

“I admit I’d always trash their films because, hey, they had every advantage,” says the industry insider. “Now I just signed a contract with them. And all I can say is, ‘Hallelujah!’ By next year, the whole town will be working for them.”

Gary Oldman in ‘Mank’


Here’s a look at Netflix’s biggest Oscar contenders coming out in late November and December …

Hillbilly Elegy

Ron Howard directs Amy Adams and Glenn Close in the cinematic version of J. D. Vance’s bestselling memoir about three generations of an Appalachian family dealing with extreme poverty. Oscar voters love an unglam turn, so Close, playing a Kentucky matriarch, might finally get the trophy that has eluded her, despite seven noms over the years. November 24


In David Fincher’s latest, Gary Oldman plays hard-drinking Herman J. Mankiewicz as he struggles to finish the script for Citizen Kane. Remarkably retro in both look and sound, the film is garnering raves for its technical achievements—and likely endearing it to below-the-line Academy members. Oldman and Amanda Seyfried are also getting early acclaim. December 4

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Denzel Washington produces; the source material is an August Wilson play about 1920s jazz musicians; it stars Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman in his final performance—this film is steeped in Oscar cred. Boseman could score two Oscar noms, for his role here and in another Netflix film, released over the summer: Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. December 18

 The Midnight Sky

Mr. Oscar-bait himself, George Clooney, directs and stars in this big-budget sci-fi thriller about a lone scientist in the Arctic attempting to alert a spaceship crew about how dystopian Earth has become. With its topical subject matter—and Oscar-winning composer (Alexandre Desplat) and editor (Stephen Mirrione) on the crew—this horse has multiple shots at the gold. December 23

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