2015 Oscar Nominations: What the Math Says

Ben Zauzmer, an applied math major at Harvard, uses only data – no personal hunches or opinions – to predict the Oscars. He has served as a columnist for The Hollywood Reporter, and his work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and publications across the globe. Follow him on Twitter: @BensOscarMath.

We’ve now had months of delightful Oscar speculation: Who’s in? Who’s out? Who will have the honor of walking the Red Carpet next month, and who will have to watch the Oscars from home?

Finally, all that will finally change on Thursday morning, when the Oscar nominations are announced.

But if you can’t wait to find out who the nominees are, I’m here to help. I have analyzed thousands of data points from the past decade of the Oscars and other awards shows to determine which factors are the best predictors of an Oscar nomination. Math can’t guarantee anything, but these charts do represent the mathematical probabilities that each of these films and actors will be nominated. Without further ado:


Consider those top three — Boyhood, Birdman, and The Imitation Game — to be near guarantees. The pair of films with percentages in the 80s — The Theory of Everything and The Grand Budapest Hotel — are not far behind. While the Academy rules introduced in 2009 allowed the number of Best Picture nominees to fluctuate between five and ten, each of the five years since the rule change have seen either nine or ten nominees.

If that holds, the top five films percentage-wise are close to surefire nominees. All five earned both a Screen Actors Guild and a BAFTA nomination, a very winning combination. In the up-to-ten nominee era, 14 films have earned both a SAG and a BAFTA nomination for Best Cast/Picture. You know how many of them earned a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars? All 14.

After that, things get more interesting. Whiplash, Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher, and American Sniper all received both an AFI top films of the year honor and a Producers Guild Best Picture nomination. Movies with that combination yield an Oscar nod 87 percent of the time. But each has its problems, even beyond failing to get either a SAG or a BAFTA nomination. Whiplash, Nightcrawler, and American Sniper did not receive a Golden Globe Best Picture nomination, and remember – there are ten of those to go around since the Globes honor five dramas and five musicals/comedies. Foxcatcher received fewer critic circle nominations than any of the movies above it on this list.

Selma and Gone Girl, right there in the middle, are perhaps the most intriguing. Both earned many early accolades, but relatively few honors in the more recent announcements. And both will seriously be at the mercy of how many nominees the Academy ends up honoring this year. If there are ten on the final list, expect both to have a decent chance, higher than the 76 percent and 65 percent chance listed above. If there are fewer than ten, both of the percentages should…

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