New York Times Cuts Movie Reviews in Blow to Independent, Documentary Films

Paper’s film critics will no longer offer their take on every movie opening in NYC

The New York Times’ decision to change its movie review policy — no longer guaranteeing that its critics will offer their take on every film that opens in NYC — is bad news for independent and documentary filmmakers and distributors who count on the notice to build their films’ profiles.

The paper will still review studio films, according to an internal email obtained by Variety Thursday, and would continue to review as many new films as it could, but noted that decisions would be made on a “case by case basis.”

“Because of the increasing volume of new films released each year, the Times is no longer able to guarantee reviews of all New York theatrical releases,” A.O. Scott, the Times’ chief film critic, wrote to film companies.

The paper’s long-established policy has been a boon for smaller film production and distribution companies, whose art house and awards-type films benefit from the wide exposure they’d otherwise not receive in many cases.

The move was disappointing to Paul Davidson, senior vice-president, film and TV at the independent media company The Orchard, but could be overcome, he felt.

“We believe the scope of our releases and quality of the films will still fare well within that new policy,” he told TheWrap.

The decision will also affect the documentary feature category of the Oscars, which requires a review in either the New York Times or L.A. Times for consideration, as well as a theatrical release. The movie “wouldn’t necessarily require a rule change,” an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences spokeswoman said, because films that were reviewed by the L.A. Times would still qualify.

Also impacting the Times’ decision is the emergence of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon and the increasing ease of digital film production, which has resulted in a major surge in the number of movies of all sorts produced each year. Many are vanity projects or films from aspiring producers that would not previously have seen a theater screen. For those that do, a review in Times had brought an extra bit of legitimacy.