LifestyleDisney’s Searchlight studio takes top Oscar, Netflix still waiting

Lisa Richwine
3 minute read

Frances McDormand stars in the film "Nomadland". Searchlight Pictures/Handout via REUTERS

Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) Searchlight Pictures won the best picture trophy for “Nomadland” at the Oscars on Sunday, the fourth time in eight years the studio has collected the film industry’s most prestigious honor.

The victory for "Nomadland" left Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) without the top Academy Award for the third straight year. Two of its movies, "The Trial of the Chicago 7" and "Mank," had been nominated for best picture in a year when pandemic-sheltered audiences turned to streaming services for entertainment.

Netflix, which eclipsed rivals ahead of the ceremony with 36 nominations, took home a leading seven statuettes including best documentary for "My Octopus Teacher." "Mank," a black-and-white film about the writing of movie classic "Citizen Kane," won for production design and cinematography.

"Nomadland," the story of van dwellers who travel from job to job to make ends meet, also claimed the best director honor for Chloe Zhao and best actress for Frances McDormand. The movie debuted in theaters in February and was also streamed on Disney-owned Hulu as many cinemas remained closed.

As she accepted her award, McDormand made a plea for audiences to head back to theaters as soon as they can.

"One day, very soon, take everyone you know into a theater, shoulder to shoulder in that dark space, and watch every film that's represented here," she said on the Oscars stage.

For Searchlight, its success in the top category has been unmatched since 2014, the year it won best picture for "12 Years a Slave" followed by "Birdman" in 2015 and "The Shape of Water" in 2018.

No other studio has claimed the prize more than once during that time.

Disney acquired Searchlight in 2019 when it bought most of the film and TV businesses owned by Rupert Murdoch's 20th Century Fox. Some Hollywood filmmakers have worried that Disney, which focuses on big franchises such as Marvel and Star Wars, might not remain committed to the adult dramas that are Searchlight's specialty.

But Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger recently told The New York Times that the company plans for Searchlight "to play a big part in supplying content" for theaters and Disney's streaming platforms. Longtime Searchlight executives Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley announced their retirement last week.

Also on Sunday, Disney's Pixar studio received two awards for "Soul" including best animated movie.

"Sound of Metal," offered by Amazon Prime (AMZN.O), won two awards.

Warner Bros., owned by AT&T Inc (T.N), took three awards including two for "Judas and the Black Messiah."

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