In recent years, it has been treated by the media as ever more of a certainty that a streaming service would eventually play exclusive host to the winner of the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards, and it was assumed almost as universally that Netflix would be the first to break through to that new level of legitimacy for streamers. To be sure, Netflix has been close in the past, with films such as Roma, The Irishman, and this year’s The Power of the Dog. But the truly unexpected results from last night’s Oscars broadcast—lost in the shuffle following the massive media blowup over the Will Smith/Chris Rock physical confrontation—is that top award winner CODA has given the title of “first streamer to win Best Picture” not to Netflix, but to Apple TV+ of all places.
Surely, if one had polled media writers on the most likely streamer to break that barrier, few would have thought to advance Apple TV+. Most would no doubt have guessed Netflix, with perhaps a smattering of votes for the likes of Amazon Prime, Hulu or HBO Max. But Apple TV+? When the service launched in Nov. of 2019, it didn’t even play host to any movies at all, simply a handful of original series. In the time since then, the service has been fortunate to find at least one breakout hit series in the form of Ted Lasso, but it’s still not a destination that many users associate with film at all. And yet here they are, as the first streamer to host a Best Picture winner thanks to the sweetly sincere CODA, a coming-of-age drama about the only hearing member of a deaf household, who dreams of pursuing her passion as a singer. Apple TV+ bought the film for a record $25 million after its 2021 debut at the Sundance Film Festival, which will no doubt prove to be good investment, as CODA’s win will surely lead to much more interest in the streaming service.
Still, despite other awards it’s won in recent days, CODA was hardly considered the Best Picture frontrunner at the 94th Academy Awards Sunday night. Most assumed that director Jane Campion’s (who won the Best Director Oscar) The Power of the Dog on Netflix was the consensus front-runner, but its awards performance outside of Campion’s Oscar proved disappointing—it didn’t win a single additional statue despite being nominated for 12 categories. CODA, meanwhile, won three awards, also picking up Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur as the protagonist Ruby’s father. One has to imagine that the climate at Netflix this morning is pretty bitter and vindictive, after being denied yet again and seeing a relatively small competitor nab what they assumed would be a major feather in their cap.
Regardless, it’s remarkable how much the film industry has changed in only a few years, given that as recently as 2017, the Cannes Film Festival prohibited streaming films from even competing for the Palme d’Or. In 2020, meanwhile, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally modified its eligibility rules for the Oscars in order to make more streaming films qualify for awards without theatrical releases, starting the sequence of events that ultimately led to CODA’s win last night. One has to wonder whether the awards shows will be utterly dominated by films from streaming services, 10 years from now, but no matter what happens Apple TV+ will have secured its footnote in history.