Why it will be Avatar (or The Hurt Locker)
While we will wait until closer to the actual Academy Award ceremony (March 7th) to tally the experts' predictions for this year's winners, it's hard to avoid the current buzz around The Hurt Locker and Avatar, the two films which tied for the lead in this year's Oscar nominations. Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that one of those two films will be this year's best picture winner, with Avatar having a slight edge. And it's not just conventional wisdom; Las Vegas oddsmakers have also established James Cameron's blockbuster as the favorite to win.
Is there a better way to predict the best picture winner other than trying to gauge the "buzz" for each film? That's exactly what we'll attempt to determine in this article. We're not concerned here with which movies should win; what we're trying to determine is which films will win (or, more accurately, which films are likelier to win).
We start with something near and dear to Metacritic: Metascores, which indicate the overall critical consensus for each movie. Do the better-reviewed films have an advantage over films receiving lesser reviews?
What do critic reviews tell us?
The question here really is: Do film critic opinions coincide with those of Academy voters? Let's compare the Metascores of this year's films, and see if previous years indicate any correlation between reviews and winners.
|Nominees Ranked by Score||Metascore||Nominees Ranked by Score||Metascore|
|1||The Hurt Locker||94||6||District 9||81|
|3||An Education||85||A Serious Man||79|
|5||Up in the Air||83||10||The Blind Side||53|
|Year||Winner||Metascore||Nominee Rank*||Scores of All Nominees|
|2009||Slumdog Millionaire||86||1st||86 84 80 70 58|
|2008||No Country for Old Men||91||2nd||92 91 85 82 81|
|2007||The Departed||86||3rd||91 89 86 80 69|
|2006||Crash||69||5th||87 88 80 74 69|
|2005||Million Dollar Baby||86||2nd||94 86 77 73 67|
|2004||Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King||94||1st||94 89 84 81 72|
|2003||Chicago||82||3rd||88 85 82 81 72|
|2002||A Beautiful Mind||72||4th||92 90 86 72 66|
|2001||Gladiator||64||4th (tie)||93 86 73 64 64|
|2000||American Beauty||86||1st||86 84 75 64 61|
Is there a correlation between critic reviews and best picture winners? It certainly doesn't look that way. Over the past decade, half of the winners have been either the best-reviewed or the second-best-reviewed of the five nominees; but the Academy has also been willing to choose films that were not among the critics' favorites. That being said, the best picture winner does tend to be a well-reviewed film, even if it isn't the best-reviewed. (Sorry, Blind Side.) Here are some additional stats:
|Average Score Rank (Among Nominees) of Winner||2.6|
|Average (Mean) Metascore of Winner||81.6|
|Highest Metascore of Winner||94|
|Median Metascore of Winner||86|
|Lowest Metascore of WInner||64|
|Highest Metascore Not to Win||94|
|Years with Films Scoring 90 or Higher Where Winner's Score Was Below 90||4 of 6 (67%)|
|% of Winners Scoring Below 80||30%|
|% of Time the Best-Reviewed Movie Won||30%|
What does this tell us about the chances for this year's nominees? For one thing, it looks like we can probably knock out the films ranked 6-10 above, as the Academy has picked films scoring below an 80 just 30% of the time -- and that was when there were fewer well-reviewed films to choose from. (Sure, District 9 has an 81, but let's face it: the odds of the Academy selecting another science fiction film over Avatar are approximately nil.)
On the other hand, The Hurt Locker's Metascore of 94, while impressive (and six points higher than the runner-up), is absolutely no guarantee of a win. In four of the past 10 years, the Academy has overlooked a film scoring 90 or higher to select a film that received lesser reviews. Among the very high-scoring films that didn't win best picture were Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 93 (losing to Gladiator, a film scoring 29 points lower!), LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring 92, Sideways 94, and The Queen 91.
So the nominees' Metascores are only (at best) slightly helpful in forecasting the best picture winner. Perhaps our users, rather than critics, serve as a good stand-in for Academy voters. Let's see if that's true...