How Best Picture is chosen at the Oscars

Determining a Best Picture Winner

(WISH) — Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards (also known as the Oscars) were announced Tuesday morning by Tracee Ellis Ross & Kumail Nanjiani, and there were plenty of surprise inclusions and shocking omissions. 

Over the next four weeks, leading up to Oscar Sunday, I will be breaking down various categories with who will likely win, who I think should win, and more fun topics to get you ready for Hollywood’s biggest night! 

To kick things off, I think it’s important to know how winners are chosen before they grace the stage with their acceptance speeches. 

The winners in 23 of the 24 Oscar categories are determined by the nominee(s) who receives the most votes. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is comprised of over 8,000 members, who are each allowed one vote in each category – Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Documentary – Short Subject, etc.  

However, when it comes to determining Best Picture, Academy members use what is known as the “preferential ballot.” Here’s how it works: 

  • All members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from their favorite to least favorite and submit their ballot. To win, a film needs more than 50% of first-place votes. 
  • If no film receives more than 50% of first-place votes upon initial voting, the nominee with the fewest first-place votes is removed from competition. The Academy members who voted the last-place finishing film will, then, have their second-place votes counted to try to bring one film over the 50% mark. 
  • This process continues until one film crosses the 50% mark and is deemed Best Picture. 

You may be scratching your head while reading this, but the best way to explain the process is through example: 

A, B, C, X, Y, and Z are Academy members and must rank this year’s eight films up for Best Picture. Here’s how they rank them:

In the initial voting, Black Panther (A’s vote + X’s vote = 2 votes or 40%), Vice (B’s vote + Y’s vote = 2 votes or 40%), Bohemian Rhapsody (C’s vote = 1 vote or 20%), and A Star Is Born (Z’s vote = 1 vote or 20%) received first-place votes, none of which passes the 50% mark to win Best Picture. 

Since Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born received the fewest first-place votes, C’s vote will now go to The Favourite, and Z’s vote will go to Roma, which was their respective second-place votes for Best Picture. 

In this second round of tallying up the votes, Black Panther and Vice remain with 2 votes each (40%), and now, The Favourite and Roma each have one vote. Still, no film has enough to cross the 50% mark. 

Voting continues as C and Z’s ballots must go down to their third choices since their second-placing films received the fewest number of first-place votes. 

The third round of tallying votes gives us the Best Picture winner as A, X, and Z chose Black Panther as their favorite film with 60% of the votes. 

Determining a Best Picture Winner

Arguments have been made since Best Picture has been determined by a preferential ballot since 2010. If Best Picture isn’t determined by the film that initially receives the most overall first-place votes, aren’t we, instead, rewarding the film that is least disliked? It’s hard to know because the Academy never releases the tallies or results following the announcements, but it’s always a great topic of discussion!

In my next post, I will break down the algorithm to making the best “educated guess” on who will walk away with Best Picture.