The sci-fi epic, directed by J.J. Abrams, opened in U.S. cinemas on Friday (18Dec15), four days after the contenders for next year's (16) prizegiving were announced.

Due to the high levels of secrecy surrounding the Disney release, the movie was not screened in time for members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the organisation behind the ceremony, to include it on the shortlist, but a special referendum was held on Monday (21Dec15), when officials determined The Force Awakens would have garnered enough votes to score a nomination.

As a result, BFCA bosses have decided to expand the 10-strong category to 11 to enter the Star Wars sequel into the running.

The other Best Picture nominees are Mad Max: Fury Road, The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Sicario and Spotlight.

It's not the first time BFCA members have voted in favour of including a late addition to the Best Picture list - they did the same for Tom Hanks' Cast Away in 2000.

The winners of the 21st annual Critics' Choice Awards will be unveiled on 17 January (16), during a ceremony in Santa Monica, California.