Industry Insight

Are the Oscars Legit?

The Academy Awards, commonly known as The Oscars, is an annual American awards ceremony honoring achievements in the film industry. It is the most prestigious of award shows in filmmaking and awards the best-of-the-best in their trade. However, it is often the case the public is let down when their popular choice isn’t selected as an Oscar winner.

The Process

The Academy of Who?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an organization that is dedicated to the “advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures.” Although the description is vague, this organization is compiled of over 6,000 members in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and London. Membership is given to industry creative professionals who are inducted into this esteemed society.

Oscars Voting

“Because the Academy numbers among its members the most gifted and skilled artists and craftsmen in the motion picture world, its Award stands alone as a symbol of superior achievement.” (Source: Ballots are distributed to members every November to extract nominees from the year’s pool of films and filmmakers. In January, the nominees are announced and ballots are again distributed to the Academy members for their Oscar selections. To make it fair, because not everyone has seen every film, the Academy hosts private and routine screenings in the Academy’s districts. Distributors also pitch in, mailing “screeners,” or personal DVDs, for the members’ considerations. Voting is furthermore divided so that actors within the academy vote on acting, directors on directing, editors on edits, etc. General categories, like Best Picture, and shared among all professions within the membership. Finally, a non-biased third-party company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, collects the ballots and prints the winners into those wonderful, secretive envelopes that are then opened on stage during the live Oscars event.

More information at: Voting for the Academy Awards

Public Opinion vs. The Academy

While this prestigious group of 6,000 members may be the deciders of the Awards, the public opinion is still left untapped, bringing into question, “Are the Oscars Legit?” The public may not be best “fit” to vote since they may not have seen every film in every category, but something BIG is being ignored here – the public makes the movie its money…

Eric Egan of The New American notes: “one look at many of the nominations for best picture and their place at the box office would suggest that Hollywood’s celebration is a pretty incestuous affair not in line with the general American public’s taste.”

True. When you look at Box Office Mojo’s Academy Best Picture run-down, “12 Years a Slave” walked away with the golden Oscar but ranked 5th in box office gross and failed to even reach the average gross among its competitors.

But even then, are the number lying? Movienomics took to the streets to poll the public on who they WANTED to win. Our poll took a different perspective on the Oscars, ignoring the famous predictions to gain some insight on the public opinion. With a sample size of 41 individuals in North America, the following answers the “match or miss” question comparing public opinion to that of the Academy.

The Results

Are the Oscars Legit?

Match or Miss?


Best Picture: Miss

While 19.51% voted for “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle” won the popular vote at 21.95%.  Although there was no land-slide winner for Best Picture, “American Hustle” earned 2nd in rank of box office gross of its Oscar competitors and 17th for the entire year outside of the nominations.


Best Actor in a Leading Role: Miss

This year, Leo fans were heart broken at yet (again) another failed opportunity to win an Oscar. 39.02% of our poll rooted for Leonardo DiCaprio, while Matthew McConaughey ran off with the Oscar with 29.27% of our pollers votes.


Best Actress in a Leading Role: Miss

Sandra Bullock won our popular vote at 34.15% in favor, but Cate Blanchett took the Gold with 24.39% of the public’s vote. However, “Gravity” earns it’s spot as the 6th  highest grossing film of the year, and the highest among it’s Oscar competitors.


Best Actor in Supporting Role: Match

Jared Leto not only wooed the Academy, but also 51.22% of the public. Perhaps his stardom outside of film was able to convince those who haven’t seen “Dallas Buyers Club” that Leto is worth the gold.


Best Actress in Supporting Role: Miss

Looks like Jlaw is still America’s sweetheart. Lawrence took the popularity vote at 43.90% with Lupita Nyong’o just behind her at 39.02%. The race for Best Supporting Actress was close between these two actresses, but there was no sore-looser in the end.


Best Documentary Short: Miss

Closer than its documentary sister category, this category still brings to question how our voters selected their favorites. While “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life” won the Oscar at 27.59% popular vote, public opinion selected “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” at 31.03%.


Best Achievement in Editing: Match

Our poll identified that 50% of voters wanted “Gravity” to win the editing achievement, and the Academy complied. As the most visually graphic and suspenseful film of the selection, it’s no surprise the public chose this winning film.


Best Achievement in Directing: Miss

Although a miss, this public had a hard time with choosing a director. Nearly a quarter (give or take) voted for Russell, Cuaron, McQueen, and Scorsese. Martin Scorsese took the public majority at 29.27% while Alfonso Cuaron took the award with 26.83% of public favor.


Best Animated Short: Miss

While 40.74% of the public voted for the Disney short, “Get a Horse!”, “Mr. Hublot” took the award with 18.52% of the public’s vote.


Best Live Action Short: Match

They say there’s a shortage in helium… No wonder! 34.48% of pollers and the Academy wanted Helium to win at the Oscars. With little advertising in the United States and no found movie poster, this film surprised me in the popular vote – another example for further research.


Best Cinematography: Match

Another agreement by the Academy and popular vote, Gravity took 75% favor of public opinion and the well-deserved gold for achievement in cinematography.


Best Production Design: Match

Who wanted to join the party when they saw this scene of “The Great Gatsby”? 56.10% of our pollers did; and they were joined by the Academy. Are they hiding away in this mansion, because I didn’t get an invite!


Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Match

Big moves were made in this film, which assumes the public’s 68.75% decision to choose Dallas Buyers Club as the winner of this category. Who can say they’re wrong when the Academy chose similarly?


Best Costume Design: Match

A tight race between “The Great Gatsby” (39.47%) and “American Hustle” (36.84%), TGG was favored by the public and the Academy.


Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects: Match, Match, and Match

You could see and hear “Gravity” winning these categories from lightyears away… at least that’s what the public thought. Our poll found that Gravity was favored by 52.78% in Sound Editing, 41.18% in Sound Mixing, and 59.46% in Visual Effects by the public. Clearly, the Academy agreed.


Best Original Score: Miss

While 45.95% of our poll rooted for “Her”, the Academy played to a different tune – Gravity took the award with having 21.62% of the public’s favor.


Best Original Song: Match

Frozen has blasted through records this year, and the talented “Adele Dazeem” was there to sing this inspiring original song, live, to audiences. With the Academy’s support, and over 70% of the publics, “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” took the Oscar.


Best Documentary Feature: Miss

For next year’s poll, I’d be interested in digging deeper into categories like this one: Best Documentary Feature. Documentaries do not take the wide release that films do, and I’d be surprised to know how many of our pollers actually saw these two films.  The interested part of the study would be: why they voted – Marketing? Word of mouth? Random selection? While over half of our votes chose “The Act of Killing” (54.84%), the Academy winner, “20 Feet from Stardom,” received the lowest of our votes at 9.68%. Looks like the public was either really disappointed or really confused on this one.


Best Animated Feature: Match

Winning the popular vote by a landslide – or avalanche – Academy voters agreed with the 76.32% popular vote that “Frozen” is best Animation of the year.


Best Documentary Short: Miss

Closer than its documentary sister category, this category still brings to question how our voters selected their favorites. While “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved my Life” won the Oscar at 27.59% popular vote, public opinion selected “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” at 31.03%.


Best Adapted Screenplay: Match

44.74% of the public and the Academy voted in favor for “12 Years a Slave” while “Wolf of Wall Street” trailed behind at 26.32% public favor.


Best Original Screenplay: Match

By a landslide, “Her” won best Original Screenplay with 50% of the public’s vote and the Academy selection.


So is it legit or what?

Of the twenty-four categories, 15.5 match that of the public opinion… so it looks like they’re somewhat legit.

If this were high school, that’d be a 64%; just the cusp to earn you a “F”. But with the majority vote greater than 50% you have to give it some credit.

The Academy members who vote are given the opportunity to see every one of the films, but the public is given a completely different experience. Marketing, actor stardom, word of mouth, cultural association, and “just because” are biases that may manipulate a vote when a film hasn’t been seen. Is it a bad thing? No, it is a move that filmmakers can (and probably do) make when casting, writing, and producing their films. The public will vote for something they like, and WANT, to win while the Academy challenges talent and awards moxie.

Find the results and statistics of our poll at: Movienomics – Oscars 2014