Two years after doubling the list of best picture nominees from five to 10 films, the Academy has decided the number of nominees will now be merit based, allowing between five and 10 films.
On the recommendation of its Board of Governors, the number of the category's nominees will be dictated by the voting. A film will need at least five percent of first-place votes from Academy members to capture a nomination.
The Academy said the change came after analyzing the voting from the last two years.
"In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies," said retiring Academy executive director Bruce 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."
A study by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers found that if this system had been in place from 2001 to 2008, there would have been years that yielded five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees.
The Academy believes the new voting system will add a layer of intrigue to the Oscars. As films vie for the honor in the much-watched Oscar race, they won't know exactly how many slots they're squeezing into until nominees are announced in January.
For most of the Academy Awards' history, there have been five best picture nominees. In 1932, the field was increased to eight, and from 1936-1943, there were 10 nominees.
The academy returned to that number in 2009 for the 2010 Oscars with the hope of broadening appeal. Some felt that the best picture category had become too limiting in its selections to critical darlings. The omission of acclaimed blockbusters like "The Dark Knight" was particularly egregious to some in the industry.
Adding nominees brought in films like the atypical sci-fi film "District 9," the popular Sandra Bullock movie "The Blind Side" and the Pixar-animated "Up."
In 2010, the field was generally praised for its depth: "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "127 Hours," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit," "Winter's Bone" and the winner, "The King's Speech."
The final voting on the best picture winner will still be preferential, with voters numbering their selections.
The nominations for the 84th annual Academy Awards will be announced Jan. 24. The ceremony will be held on Feb. 26.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.