Oscar voters have a lot more movie-watching ahead of them next year, after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday they are doubling the number of contenders for best picture.

"After more than six decades, the academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year," academy president Sid Ganis said in a statement.

"The final outcome, of course, will be the same — one best picture winner — but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009."

Ganis, who made the announcement at a Beverly Hills press conference Wednesday, said the decision was made by the academy's board of governors. He pointed out that in the 1930s and early 1940s, there were regularly more than five nominees.

For instance, in 1939 — often cited as one of Hollywood's best years for film — 10 titles vied for the best picture Oscar, including The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and (eventual winner) Gone with the Wind.

"Having 10 best picture nominees is going to allow academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize," Ganis said.

The Oscars have long been criticized for generally favouring certain genres (such as dramas and historical epics) while eschewing others (for instance, comedies or animated films) for the top awards.

Nominees for the 82nd Academy Awards will be announced Feb. 2, 2010, with the ceremony to follow on March 7.