LOS ANGELES, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Netflix Inc will storm into Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony boasting more nominations than any other movie distributor, but can the streaming service finally take home the film industry's most coveted prize?
Netflix's Mafia epic "The Irishman" has a shot at the best picture Oscar, according to awards experts, but faces tough competition from Warner Bros' World War One drama "1917," Sony Corp's Quentin Tarantino film "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" and South Korean genre-bending movie "Parasite" from privately held company Neon.
Winning the best picture statuette for the first time would burnish Netflix’s reputation in the film business and give it new bragging rights in the increasingly competitive fight for streaming video viewers.
The decades-spanning "Irishman," playing in theaters and streaming on Netflix, features an A-list creative team of previous Oscar winners. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, and was among the company's most expensive films to date with a production budget of roughly $160 million. Critics raved after the film was released in November.
Whether it is named the year's best picture is up to the roughly 8,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Experts surveyed by awards website Gold Derby as of Monday favored "1917," giving it 11-2 odds to win, while "Irishman" stood at 17-2.
"Irishman" landed few of the top awards from groups such as the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild of America, the usual tipoffs to the best picture favorites.
"The fact they have not won any of the major precursor awards is notable," said Scott Feinberg, awards columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. "This doesn't mean they won't be competitive in other categories."
Netflix scored 24 nominations overall, including for "Klaus" and "I Lost My Body" in the animated feature category, and two feature-length documentaries.
And stars of Netflix films are competing in the acting contests. Laura Dern is considered a front-runner for her supporting role in the streaming service's movie "Marriage Story," a divorce drama also in the best picture race. Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins were nominated leading actor and supporting actor respectively for Netflix's biographical film "The Two Popes."
Netflix began releasing original movies in 2015 and has been working to build a library of prestige films alongside its dozens of comedies, thrillers and action flicks. The company now debuts more films per year than any Hollywood studio.
But the digital video pioneer clashed with theater owners by insisting that its films stream at the same time, or a few weeks after, their big-screen debuts. Major theater chains refused to show Netflix films, including "Irishman."
Last year, Netflix's "Roma" won Oscars for director, cinematography and foreign-language film but not best picture. The movie had stirred a debate about whether a film seen mostly via streaming should even qualify for an Academy Award, a controversy that have might influenced voters at the time.
Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief creative officer, said he believes academy members have moved past that issue.
"It is hard to sit here with 24 Academy Award nominations across feature films, animated films, documentary films, short documentary films, and say there is any bias against streaming," Sarandos said in an interview.
"We are really thrilled that the academy recognized the quality of the work just for quality of the work." (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Additional reporting by Omar Younis Editing by Jonathan Oatis)