"With the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers, we've been looking not just at what happened over the past two years, but at what would have happened if we had been selecting 10 nominees for the past 10 years," explained Academy President Tom Sherak, who noted that it was retiring Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis who recommended the change, first to Sherak and incoming CEO Dawn Hudson and then to the governors.
During the period studied, the average percentage of first place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5. After much analysis by Academy officials, it was determined that 5 percent of first place votes should be the minimum in order to receive a nomination, resulting in a slate of anywhere from 5 to 10 movies.
"In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies," said Davis. "A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn't feel an obligation to round out the number."
If this system had been in effect from 2001 to 2008 (before the expansion to a slate of 10), there would have been years that yielded 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 nominees.
The final round of voting for Best Picture will continue to employ the preferential system, regardless of the number of nominees, to ensure that the winning picture has the endorsement of more than half of the voters.
Other rules changes approved by the Board include:
In the Animated Feature Film category, the need for the Board to vote to "activate" the category each year was eliminated, though a minimum number of eligible releases - eight - is still required for a competitive category. Additionally, the Short Films and Feature Animation branch recommended, and the Board approved, refinements to the number of possible nominees in the Animated Feature category. In any year in which 8 to 12 animated features are released, either 2 or 3 of them may be nominated. When 13 to 15 films are released, a maximum of 4 may be nominated, and when 16 or more animated features are released, a maximum of 5 may be nominated.
In the Visual Effects category, the "bakeoff" at which the nominees are determined will expand from 7 to 10 contenders. The increase in the number of participants is related to a change made last year in which the number of films nominated in the Vsual Effects category was increased from 3 to 5.
Previously, the Board approved changes to the Documentary Feature and Documentary Short category rules that now put those categories' eligibility periods in line with the calendar year, and thus with most other awards categories. The change means that for the 84th Academy Awards cycle only, the eligibility period is more than 12 months; it is from September 1, 2010, to December 31, 2011.
Other modifications of the 84th Academy Awards rules include normal date changes and minor "housekeeping" changes.
Rules are reviewed annually by individual branch and category committees. The Awards Rules Committee then reviews all proposed changes before presenting its recommendations to the Academy's Board of Governors for approval.
The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater.
Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, February 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.