The Oscars: How to Predict the Best Picture Winner

  • Publish Date: February 4, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 25 user comments

What do other awards tell us?

While the Academy Awards might be the biggest game in town, there certainly are plenty of other trophies handed out between December and March of each year, selected by a variety of professional guilds, members of the press, and critic organizations. Are any of these other awards accurate predictors for the eventual best picture winner at the Oscars? Let's check:

Did Other Best Picture Awards Match the Oscar Winner? (y = yes; n = no)
Organization 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 % Match
Golden Globes * y n n n n y y y y y 60%
BAFTA y n n n n y n n y y 40%
Producers Guild y y n n n y y n y y 60%
Boston Critics ** y y y n n n n n n n 30%
Critics Choice Awards *** y y y n n y y y y y 80%
Chicago Critics ** n y y y n y n n n y 50%
L.A. Critics ** n n n n n n n n n n 0%
Nat. Board of Review y y n n n n n n n y 30%
Nat. Soc. of Film Critics n n n n y n n n n n 10%
N.Y. Critics ** n y n n n y n n n n 20%

To be consistent with data presented on previous pages, the years here refer to the years that Oscars were handed out, with films coming from the previous calendar year. Many of these awards were actually awarded during the year of release (one year before the listed year). * Golden Globes are counted as a match if either the drama or the musical/comedy winner matches, which admittedly gives them two chances to get it right (not that it helped). ** The full names of the various critic organizations are the Boston Society of Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics Association, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the New York Film Critics Circle. *** The "Critics Choice Awards" are handed out by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

So just one of these organizations -- the Broadcast Film Critics Association (who give out the Critics Choice Awards) -- seems to consistently vote with the Academy, and only two other groups (the Producers Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who hand out the Golden Globes) match the Oscar winner more than half the time. The Boston Society of Film Critics, however, is on a three-year streak of picking the same film as the Academy.

(That big red stain under 2006, by the way, is yet another indicator that Academy members were alone in enjoying Crash -- or that they were afraid to anoint Brokeback Mountain the winner, despite the fact that nearly every other organization championed that film.)

That brings up the question: which films won these organizations' awards this year?

Award-Winning Films Released in 2009
Organization Pick for Best Film
Golden Globes (Drama) Avatar
BAFTA [announced Feb. 21]
Producers Guild The Hurt Locker
Boston Society of Film Critics The Hurt Locker
BFCA Critics Choice Awards The Hurt Locker
Chicago Film Critics Association The Hurt Locker
Los Angeles Film Critics Association The Hurt Locker
National Board of Review Up in the Air
National Society of Film Critics The Hurt Locker
New York Film Critics Circle The Hurt Locker

The organizations with the best track record of matching the Oscar winners are in bold above. That brings up yet another question: Now what do we do? Obviously, most of these organizations championed The Hurt Locker. But among those groups were the BFCA, which almost always matches the Academy's pick, and the Los Angeles critics, who literally never do (at least over the past decade).

Interestingly, many of these organizations announced their awards before Avatar even reached theaters. Presumably, the critic groups had already seen James Cameron's film when making their picks, but back in early December, there was still a question about whether the film would even be successful -- and it certainly wasn't the historic pop culture event that it is now. Whether that makes a difference is another matter. The Producers Guild -- which is a fairly reliable indicator of the eventual Oscar winner -- announced their award just over a week ago, choosing The Hurt Locker even after Avatar had already shattered box office records.

What about the fact that so many different organizations agreed on the same film? That also happened in 2005 and 2006, and both times, the consensus (Brokeback Mountain one year, Sideways the other) failed to match the Academy's pick.

So the best that we can tell you is that other awards seem to be an unreliable indicator, although the huge amount of acclaim means The Hurt Locker certainly should not be discarded as a serious Oscar contender this year, especially if it can also manage a win at the BAFTA ceremony on February 21st.

Based on everything we've discussed so far, Avatar, Up and The Hurt Locker look like the best candidates to take home the trophy this year. Are there any other factors to consider? Let's check, on the next page ...

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Comments (25)

  • Chad S.  

    "Avatar" can't win. It benefited from the expansion of the Best Picture nominee list. "The Hurt Locker" has to win, or else the Academy Awards will lose what credibility they still have left. "Avatar" versus "The Hurt Locker" has 1977 written all over it. This is "Star Wars" versus "Annie Hall" II. And 1993, too, pertaining to the Best Director race, in which Kathryn Bigelow goes against James Cameron, the battle of the sexes, similar to Jane Campion's bid to beat out Steven Spielberg, when "The Piano" competed with "Schindler's List".

  • steve4922  

    MARK HANSSON SAID: "With only $16 million in total worldwide revenue, ['The Hurt Locker'] is not likely to beat 'Avatar' for Best Picture at a time when the Academy needs to reconnect with the general public. The shutout of 'Dark Knight' last year caused such an uproar that the 10 slots were revived for the first time in 66 years (1943), so there is little chance they will pick a low grossing film this year to avoid mass cultural rejection of the entire award."

    MY REPSONSE: You never know what will happen, and "Avatar" could still pull out a win of the BP Oscar. For a while I had no doubt that "Avatar" would win based upon its box office. But the film has not done very well with the major Guilds--the Directors Guild (which Bigelow won), the Producers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild. It was big surprise when "The Hurt Locker" won the Producers Guild; Avatar's box office prowess should have made it a cinch for an award from film producers. Moreover, "Avatar" didn't receive a single nomination from the Screen Actors Guild, and it is very unlikely to win the Writers Guild--the film's screenplay is not nominated for an Oscar and the script is generally regarded as the weakest part of the film.

    In terms of the Guild awards, there is no comparison between "Titanic" (Cameron's last Oscar winning film) and "Avartar. "Titanic" won the Directors Guild and the Producers Guild, and the Screen Actors Guild nominated the film for its best cast awards and gave Gloria Stuart its best supporting actress award--Stuart tied with Kim Basinger.

    So I still think that "The Hurt Locker" is the favorite to win at this point. Of course, with AMPAS, nothing is ever for certain.

  • Shegan  

    While I knows that it does not stand a chance of winning when matched against the monolith that is "Avatar", and the critical favorite "The Hurt Locker", my fingers are crossed for "Up". It was huge commercial success, and had wonderful visuals, and masterful, heartfelt storytelling that connected with children and adults alike because it was simply a fantastic, timeless film. As an animation buff, I find it frustrating that animated films such as "Up" have been disregarded in previous years, as this article points out. Excellent animated movies have frequently been shortchanged by the Academy, who don't even give them a fighting chance for any of the "big" awards. I mean, if you take a look at some of the films up for Best Animated Feature this year (Coraline, Princess and The Frog, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox), they have performed just as well, if not better amongst critics than many nominated for Best Picture, in addition to having better box office performances. It seems unfair to me that brilliant films like those from Pixar ("Wall-E" or Hayao Miazaki (His excellent "Ponyo" was snubbed this year), amongst others, are never "taken seriously". Instead they are relegated to the cinematic ghetto of Best Animated Picture, where they hardly have a shot of even being nominated for Best Picture, even if a nomination is rightly deserved.

  • William  

    District 9 was the best film of 2009. It wiped the floor with Avatar in terms of writing. While its not as visually dynamic, it was the better film. It might have a chance because it was made with a tiny budget and an inexperienced writer, while Avatar needed a 500 million budget to be made (and i don't think it was worth it).

    District 9 gets my vote, but its not happening because the Academy wouldn't know a good movie if it smacked them in the head

  • Mark Hansson  

    I'm a DGA Member and in 61 years of DGA Awards, the DGA feature winner has won for the same film as the Best Picture Oscar winner 49 out of 61 times - so has the DGA has differed with the Academy 12 times over the years, not twice. This year's winner, Kathryn Bigelow, is the first woman to win the feature film DGA Award and if she wins the Oscar for directing, will also be the first woman to do so. She has a very good chance of winning and that will be the consolation prize for "Hurt Locker" because with only $16 million in total worldwide revenue, her film is not likely to beat "Avatar" for Best Picture at a time when the Academy needs to reconnect with the general public. The shutout of "Dark Knight" last year caused such an uproar that the 10 slots were revived for the first time in 66 years (1943), so there is little chance they will pick a low grossing film this year to avoid mass cultural rejection of the entire award.

  • Christopher G  

    The last time a movie without either an acting or writing nomination won best picture was Grand Hotel back in 1932. That's the history Avatar is going against. Also I think people underestimate the Academy's resistance to science fiction. Lord of the Rings in not science fiction, it is fantasy. That said Avatar can still win BP. I feel pretty strongly, though am not 100%, that Bigalow will take Best Director. On picture I think it's a three way race between Avatar, Hurt Locker, and Inglorious Basterds. The latter is a bigtime longshot, but at this point it has a better chance than Up in the Air which may very well get shut out on awards night.

  • Kevin  

    I agree with Steve - the DGA has accurately predicted the Best Picture Oscar for 58 out of the past 60 years. Given that Avatar also lacks acting or writing noms, that easily puts Hurt Locker as the frontrunner for Best Picture. And quite frankly, I'm praying it does win. While Avatar is far from the best of the year, and as such doesn't deserve the award. My faith has been shaken recently when the Academy chose to do things like snub Children of Men for a BP nom and choose The Lives of Others over Pan's Labyrinth, and if they choose Avatar this year that will pretty much be the final nail in the coffin.

  • Mikey  

    Avatar honestly looked like the dumbest movie ever, until I went and saw it...then saw it again and again. It gets better every time when you realize that a ot of creativity went into the movie, and that it wasn't just ripped off of Pocahontas or Dances with Wolves like everyone says. I think it should win the best picture award for revolutionalizing the way movies are made. People watch movies to be entertained, and this movie really gets the message across.

  • steve4922  

    You've left out what is probably the single most predictive award in terms of the best picture Oscar--the Director's Guild Award, which Kathyrn Bigelow (the director of "The Hurt Locker" won on January 30. While James Cameron won this award in 1998 for directing Titanic, he didn't win this year. With "The Hurt Locker" having won best picture and director from the Broadcast Film Critics, the Producers Guild Award and the Directors Guild Award, and having tied with Avatar for the most Oscar nominations, it is the frontrunner at this point.

  • Aiden  

    Good feature, I like both Avatar and the Hurt Locker, so it seems I won't be disappointed either way. =)

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