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The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures was founded in 1909 in New York Citymarker, just 13 years after the birth of cinema, to protest New York City Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr.'s revocation of moving-picture exhibition licenses on Christmas Eve 1908. The mayor (son of the famous Civil War general) believed that the new medium degraded the morals of community. To assert their constitutional freedom of expression, theatre owners led by Marcus Loew and film distributors (Edison, Biograph, Pathe and Gaumont) joined John Collier of The People's Institute at Cooper Unionmarker and established the New York Board of Motion Picture Censorship, which soon changed its name to the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures to avoid the taint of the word "censorship."

Its stated purpose was to endorse films of merit and champion the new "art of the people," which was transforming America's cultural life. In an effort to avoid government censorship of films, the National Board became the unofficial clearinghouse for new movies. From 1916 into the 1950s thousands of motion pictures carried the legend "Passed by the National Board of Review" in their main titles. However, the Board was a de facto censorship organization. Producers submitted their films to the Board before making release prints; they agreed to cut out any footage that the Board found objectionable, up to and including destroying the entire film.

In 1929, the NBR was the first group to choose the ten best English-language movies of the year and the best foreign films, and is still the first critical body to announce its annual awards. The NBR has also gained international acclaim for its publications: Film Program (1917-1926); Exceptional Photoplays (1920-1925); Photoplay Guide to Better Movies (1924-1926); National Board of Review Magazine (1926-1942); New Movies (1942-1949); and Films in Review, which published its first issue in 1950. Influencing generations of filmmakers and film lovers, these journals have fostered commentary on all aspects of cinema production and history, counting among contributors Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Harold Robbins, Tennessee Williams, Dore Schary, William Saroyan, James Agee, Manny Farber, William K. Everson, Alistair Cooke, and Pearl Buck.

To determine the NBR's annual awards, ballots are sent in by the 110-strong membership- composed of selected knowledgeable film enthusiasts, academics, filmmakers, and students in the New York metropolitan area - and subsequently tabulated by a certified public accountancy firm in order to decide the winners. In addition, the Awards Jury helps to determine the special achievement awards presented at the annual gala in January.

The organization also works to foster commentary on all aspects of film production, as well as underwriting educational film programs and seminars for film students. In 2009, the NBR expanded its student grant giving to ten schools, and reached out to the community through the Children's Aid Society, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, and The Ghetto Film School thru grants as well as providing available seats at G, PG, and PG-13 screenings.

Award categories

  • NBR Freedom of Expression
  • William K. Everson Film History Award
  • Best Actor
  • Best Actress
  • Best Supporting Actor
  • Best Supporting Actress
  • Best Animated Feature
  • Best Director
  • Best Directorial Debut
  • Best Film and Top Ten Films
  • Best Documentary and Top Five Documentaries
  • Best Foreign-Language Film and Top Five Foreign-Language Films
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Breakthrough Performance Actor
  • Breakthrough Performance Actress
  • Best Acting by an Ensemble
  • Spotlight Award
  • Career Achievement
  • Billy Wilder for Excellence in Direction
  • Special Filmmaking Achievement
  • Career Achievements in Production: Cinematography, Music, FX
  • Special Achievement in Producing

Note: Until 1945, there were only awards for Best Picture and intermittent awards for Best Documentary and Best Foreign Film.

Award ceremonies


  1. Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies. New York: Vintage, 1975 (1994 edition), p. 31

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