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The maths behind the Oscars: How do films get chosen, who votes, and why?


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It seems that nobody ever really knows how the Academy Awards chooses its winners each year - so with the awards show fast approaching, it's time to pull back the curtain and take a closer look.

Image Credit: mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

The Oscars has become one of the most coveted awards ceremonies in show business, and we hear the same thing every time a lucky winner gets up on that stage: “I’d like to start by thanking the Academy…” but what does that really mean?


The Academy Awards come around every year, and every year many are left wondering, who actually makes these big decisions? Who really decides exactly what does and does not get on an Oscar ballot? More importantly, who gets to pick the winners? Who are the people that make up the ever so mysterious “Academy?” We did a little digging to shed some light on this mysterious subject, and here are the answers we came up with


What is “The Academy?”

If you’re looking for a short answer: the Academy is a group of people who are allowed to vote on who should or should not win an Oscar, and these people must be working in the film industry in some capacity.

If you're looking for the longer and more detailed answer, the Academy is essentially a group of thousands who are divided into 17 different categories, which includes actors, directors, and writers, among many others. Thankfully Collider has made a video on the topic that helps to break things down and explain the process in further detail



The Los Angeles Times recently revealed the shocking lack of diversity within the Academy. 94% of the population was made up of Caucasians, 77% of the population was made up of men, and 54% were over the age of 60. It was also interesting to find that 64% of the voting population had also never been nominated for or won an Oscar themselves.

Whilst recent additions to the ranks of the Academy has helped to remedy this issue, the lack of diversity could help to explain the outrage in the past few years - particularly the #oscarssowhite campaign, started in 2015, and the general lack of women and other underrepresented minority groups on the red carpet during awards season.

What is really interesting to note is that whilst people can only vote on the topic they are involved in (meaning actors can only vote for actors, etc.) the best picture nomination is open for everybody, and all are encouraged to cast their vote on the films they think should receive the best picture nomination.

How do films get picked?

Each long-listed nomination is ranked in order of preference, from first to the fifth choice, by every person who voted. Remember that only somebody within the category can vote for an Oscar nomination. That means, for example, only a director can nominate a director, and only actors can nominate actors. If one submission gets enough first-place votes, it automatically becomes an official nomination.

After this, the submissions with the lowest amount of votes are removed and then that person's second place choice becomes their first. This is process keeps going until there are five nominations in each category. Once each category has their five official nominees, then the voting is open to everyone else within the category and everyone within the Academy can cast their vote.

It is an interesting process to think about, and perhaps an even better one to further examine. The recent findings by the Los Angeles Times are not much of a surprise, only reaffirming what we know - people vote for what they know, and if the majority of voters are old white males, those will be the stories that we continue to see on screen. The more diversity we included within the room and within the voting body of the Academy means the more stories of diversity we as an audience can see on screen.

The Academy Awards 2019 will be held on Sun, 24th February at 5 pm PST (GMT - 8) and will air in the UK on Monday, 25th February at 1 am

Lead Image Credit: mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

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