LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar organizers on Wednesday unveiled plans to expand their list of best film nominees to 10 from five, broadening the group of contenders for the world's top film honors.
The Beverly Hills-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which gives out the Oscars, or Academy Awards, annually honors the best movies, actors, actresses, directors and other filmmakers in a gala ceremony that is watched by tens of millions of people around the world.
"We will be casting our net wider and in casting that net wider, who knows what will turn up?" Academy President Sid Ganis told reporters at a news conference.
The Academy has come under scrutiny from movie fans in recent years because many nominees for best film have been adult-oriented dramas that play mostly in art houses and, as a result, do not lure the huge crowds or draw the big box office of major studio releases aimed largely at kids and teenagers.
For instance, 2008's best film nominees included political drama "Frost/Nixon" which made $27 million at box offices while last year's top-grossing movie at $1 billion worldwide, Batman thriller "The Dark Knight," failed to be nominated.
As a result, industry insiders see a disconnect between Oscar voters and typical movie fans, and they worry that declining viewership in the Oscar telecast results from the lack of widely popular movies being nominated.
Ganis told reporters that "casting that net wider" means that films like "Dark Knight" or animated movies, documentaries or foreign films had a better chance at getting nominated.
He said boosting TV viewership was not a key factor in the Academy's decision, noting that U.S. viewership was up about 13 percent at 36 million for this past February's telecast compared to an all-time low 32 million the year before.
A record 55 million people tuned in to watch blockbuster "Titanic" sail off with the best picture award a decade ago. In 2004, 43.5 million fans watched popular "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" win 11 Oscars, including best film.
The Academy noted its expansion takes it back to the start of the awards in the late 1920s and 1930s when there were routinely 10 nominees. The 1943 Oscar ceremony, which saw "Casablanca" walk off with best movie, was the last with 10. In 1934 and 1935, there were 12 nominees.
The number of nominations for best director, best actor, best actress and other key roles will remain at five.
Nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards covering 2009 movies will be announced on February 2 next year and the Oscar ceremony will take place in Los Angeles on March 7.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh