The Academy Awards have been branded elitist in some quarters for a tendency to shower glory on arty pics that rarely pack ’em in at the multiplexes.

But with TV viewership for the annual ceremony falling precipitously, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has found a way to bring some mainstream popcorn pics into Oscar’s tent — so long as studios are willing to pay the seven-figure freight.

The board of governors voted last week to ease a long-standing ban on movie ads running in the Oscar telecast, but with a number of restrictions: Most notably, any spot that will air during the Feb. 22 kudocast has to be for a movie that won’t open until at least the last week in April, meaning none of the nommed pics (or sequels/prequels to them) can be tubthumped during the telecast.

The prospect of spots for tentpoles like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” or “G.I. Joe” running in the telecast would pose a sharp contrast to most of the likely nominees, if the contenders for the 81st Academy Awards are anything like those of the recent past.

To wit: The best-pic winner at the 80th Oscars was “No Country for Old Men,” which grossed $74.3 million domestically, while 2007’s domestic box office champ was “Spider-Man 3,” with $336.5 million.

Sid Ganis, prexy of the Acad, says the rethink on movie ads was a long time in coming and carefully considered.

It wasn’t so much a reaction to post-Oscar carping or declining ratings, Ganis says, but a feeling among Acad stewards that with the right restrictions in place, movie blurbs could add to Oscar’s luster as a TV “event.” Another key restriction is that the spot must not have run anywhere else prior to debuting on the telecast.

“We’ve been talking about it a lot,” Ganis says. “We’re a celebration of movies, and here is a way to get new movies out there in addition to celebrating movies from the previous year.”

The Acad’s rationale for barring movie ads from the time Oscars were first televised in 1953 was to avoid any suggestion to viewers that studio coin influenced the outcome of the awards.

The 1958-60 Oscarcasts aired commercial-free and were sponsored by “the motion picture industry,” meaning a gaggle of studios, prominent indie producers and exhibitors. That setup was eventually dropped because it was too much of an organizational headache.

Plus, undoubtedly someone at the Academy realized there was real money to be made off the glitzy kudocast.

Despite Oscar’s ratings declines of late, ABC still commanded a whopping $1.8 million on average for each 30-second blurb in this year’s telecast.