Perhaps interpreted as the extent to which the Academy buys into auteur theory, over the entire history of the Oscars, the film that won Best Picture was directed by the person who won Best Director 73% of the time. There have only been 4 times that a film won Best Picture without at least getting a Best Director nomination (most recently Argo). Another, slightly more surprising, indicator is the Best Film Editing category. The film that wins this award goes on to win Best Picture 41% of the time since it was introduced in 1934. This is far less often than the directing award, but compared to another category, like Best Cinematography which predicts Best Picture 22% of the time (which is still among the highest rates), editing is a fairly strong indicator. Further, since 1934, only 10 films have won Best Picture without being nominated for film editing. Four films have nominations for both editing and director: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, and Moonlight. Each of these is also nominated for Best Picture. The other two categories that tend to go in tandem are Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, which go to the same film 40% of the time. Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, and La La Land have nominations in both of these categories.
The Best Picture nominees this year have grossed an average of about $70 million domestically. Adjusted for inflation, this is the smallest average since 2009, and is much smaller than the all-time average of $306 million. Since 1998, when Titanic dominated the awards, the box office gross of the Best Picture nominees has been steadily decreasing, especially since the category was expanded to include up to ten nominations in 2010. This has led to smaller films being nominated and ultimately winning, such as The Hurt Locker, which was the 116th highest-grossing film from that year.
From 1983 (when data became reliably available) to 2009, the Best Picture winner was on average the 12th highest-grossing film of the year, and among the nominees, the winner was the second highest earner (remarkably, the second highest-grossing nominee won the award 13 out of 27 times over this period). In contrast, since 2010, the nominees have been on average the 61st highest-grossing film and the 6th highest-grossing nominee. No winner over this period has been higher than the 4th highest-grossing nominee. What does all this mean for this year? Probably nothing, since the favorite is La La Land, which is the 2nd highest-grossing nominee and 20th overall, looking much more like a pre-2010 winner. Fences (60th overall, 5th nominee) and Manchester by the Sea (70th overall, 6th nominee) are the most post-2010-winner-like nominees.
Speaking of La La Land, it is this year’s most nominated film with 14 nominations, tied with All About Eve and Titanic for the most ever. It is extremely unlikely that it will win all 14 awards. All About Eve won 6, while Titanic won 11. Among the top 50 nominated films (all received 11 or more nominations), the average number of wins is only about 5, so it’s historically unlikely for La La Land to run away with the night. Even among films with more than 13 nominations, the average number of wins is only slightly greater than 6. For La La Land to have a historic night, it would need 11 wins to tie the most wins of all time (Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and 12 to be the single most-awarded film in Oscar history. Both Gold Derby and the betting market consensus currently have La La Land as the favorite in 10 categories.
Since the Best Animated Feature category was introduced in 2002, Disney and Pixar have won 2/3 of the awards. Pixar has been dominant in this category, but has no nominations this year. Disney, on the other hand, has two nominations in the category, a first for the studio since 2003 (Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet). Zootopia is the heavy favorite to win the award, which would be the third win for Disney in the past four years. In other animation news, Kubo and the Two Strings became the second animated film to be nominated for Best Visual Effects, the other being The Nightmare Before Christmas. Kubo is one of two stop-motion animated films to be nominated this year. There are three non-computer-generated nominees this year; however, only 2 non-CG films have ever won the award, with a CG film winning each of the past ten years.
In the Best Documentary Feature category, there are 4 black directors nominated: Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro), Roger Ross Williams (Life, Animated), Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America) and Ava DuVernay (13th). One year after the “Oscars So White” controversy surrounded the Oscars, there are black actors nominated in each of the four acting categories, and it looks like at least two will win. But that diversity can also be found in many of the other categories, especially Best Documentary. The documentary categories have been where African-American directors have found the most Oscar success. When Roger Ross Williams won an Oscar for his documentary short, Music by Prudence, in 2010, he became the first black director to win an Oscar. The only other black director to win an Oscar is T.J. Martin, who won an Oscar for his documentary feature, Undefeated. No black director has won the Best Directing category, although Barry Jenkins became the 4th to get a nomination this year, for Moonlight.
The average age of Best Actress winners, 36, is 8 years younger than the average age of Best Actor winners. This difference is 10 years for the supporting categories. However, among nominees this year, there isn’t much of a difference. The average age of both Best Actor and Best Actress nominees is 46, while the Best Supporting Actress nominees are 4 years older than the Best Supporting Actor nominees, 44 versus 40. That parity is not likely to remain once winners are named. The lead acting frontrunners, Emma Stone (28) and Casey Affleck (41), have a 13-year age difference (and Denzel Washington is 62 years old). In the supporting categories, though, Mahershala Ali (43) is younger than Viola Davis (51), so if the two frontrunners win in these categories, this year would be a historical outlier.
There are 62 different films nominated for awards this year. This number is hard to put in context because categories have been added and removed and the number of films in each category has changed. But just looking at the numbers since the 2002 Oscars, when the most recent category was added, this is the most ever nominated. Even with La La Land picking up 14 nominations, the Academy still honored more films than ever before. The expansion of the Best Picture category in 2010 accounts for about 2.5 extra nominated films each year. As the number of nominees has varied between 49 and 61 before this year, the number of different films with at least one award has varied between 12 and 17, averaging about 15 per year. Since the Best Picture expansion, the number of winners has actually gone down by about 0.5 films, but that may just be a small sample size effect. But in the end, number of nominees is not a particularly good predictor of number of winners. In 2004, when just 49 films were nominated, there were only 12 different winners, but in 2014 there were only 12 different winners despite 58 nominees. On the other hand, when there were 58 nominees in 2008, this led to 17 different winners. And although more films have been nominated than ever, current markets predict only 12 or 13 different winners, which would be on the low side compared to the past 15 years.
Since his first nomination in 1983 for Terms of Endearment, Kevin O’Connell has been nominated 21 times for Best Sound Mixing. There have only been 9 years since then that Kevin O’Connell has not attended the Oscars. He is the “unluckiest” person in Academy Awards history, receiving the most nominations without a single win. He is nominated this year for Hacksaw Ridge. The composer Victor Young was also nominated 21 times before his first win, a posthumous award for Around the World in Eighty Days in 1957.