‘CODA’ Makes Oscar History as First Streaming Film to Win Best Picture

The lines between theatrical and home entertainment were blurred even further at the 94th Academy Awards when CODA became the first movie from a streaming service to win Best Picture.

The coming-of-age drama was released on Apple TV+ as well as theaters last August.  Written and directed by Sian Heder, the film is a remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier. It stars Emilia Jones as a CODA (child of deaf adults), the only member of a deaf family who can hear, and follows her struggles to strike a balance between her own life and her family’s fishing business.

Troy Kotsur, one of several deaf cast members, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, while the film’s third win went to Heder for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Streaming already accounts for nearly 80% of all consumer spending on home entertainment, and CODA‘s win reflects the growing importance of non-theatrical distribution in a world still battling the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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The night’s other big winner was Dune, which was intended for theaters but due to the pandemic wound up premiering on both the big screen and HBO Max in October 2021. The Denis Villeneuve-helmed sci-fi remake won six Oscars, more than any other film, but mostly in technical categories: Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, an Best Original Score for Hans Zimmer. A sequel is already in the works, tentatively slated for release in October 2023.

Among the major awards, Jane Campion won Best Director for The Power of the Dog, a Netflix film many observers felt was the frontrunner for Best Picture after leading all films with 12 nominations. It won just the single trophy.

Best Actor in a Leading Role went to Will Smith for King Richard, while Best Actress in a Leading Role went to Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, from Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures.

King Richard, about the father of tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams, was released simultaneously to theaters and HBO Max in November 2021. The Eyes of Tammy Faye, about the flamboyant wife of televangelist and convicted fraudster Jim Bakker, also won Best Makeup and Hairstyling. The film was released theatrically in September and on Blu-ray Disc two months later. It became available for streaming on HBO Max in February 2022.

Ariana DeBose won Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1957 Broadway musical about two rival New York City street gangs. The film was released theatrically in December 2021 and became available to stream on Disney+ and HBO Max on March 2. The film was released on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on March 15. DeBose won for playing Anita, the same role for which Rita Moreno won the same award for playing in the 1961 movie adaptation.

Smith won the top acting award shortly after he jumped up on stage and smacked presenter Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who suffers from alopedia, an autoimmune disorder that causes your hair to fall out. During his presentation of the Best Documentary Feature award, Rock compared Pinkett Smith — who has shaved her head — to Demi Moore in 1997’s G.I. Jane, saying he can’t wait to see her in G.I. Jane 2. Pinkett Smith gave him a sour look, while Smith at first smiled, but seconds later bounded up on stage.

After the altercation, Smith returned to his seat but shouted, twice, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

Rock ultimately handed the Documentary Feature statuette to Summer of Soul, a documentary directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The Searchlight Pictures release is available on DVD and to stream on Hulu. Best Documentary Short honors went to the 22-minute film The Queen of Basketball, about Lucy Harris, the first and only woman officially drafted into the NBA.

Among other major awards, Disney’s Encanto won Best Animated Feature. Best Original Screenplay honors went to Belfast, the British coming-of-age drama written and directed by Kenneth Branagh and released by Focus Features.

“No Time to Die,” from the James Bond movie of the same name, was hailed as Best Original Song. This marks the third win in a row for a Bond title song, following 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s Spectre (“Writing’s on the Wall”). The Bond movie franchise, which received a 60th anniversary tribute from the Academy (since the debut of Dr. No in 1962), is known for its iconic musical themes, but scored no song Oscars for its first 50 years.

The year’s Best International Feature was pegged by Academy voters to be Drive My Car, a  Japanese road film that also made Oscar history this year by being the first Japanese film to be nominated for Best Picture.

Best Costume Design honors went to Disney’s Cruella, while The Windshield Wiper was named Best Animated Short and The Long Goodbye won Best Live Action Short honors.

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