Oscars Admit Defeat – No Longer Require Ten Best Picture Nominees

Two years ago, in a controversial attempt to broaden the appeal of the Oscars ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the field for the Best Picture race from the traditional five nominees to ten. Well, that sure didn’t last long, did it?

The decision to increase the number of nominees came largely as a result of the uproar that erupted when the Academy failed to give populist favorite ‘The Dark Knight‘ a Best Picture nomination. After that fiasco, the Academy reasoned that opening up more nomination slots would allow less “artistic” films and more “movies that people have actually heard of and paid to see” into the running, which would satiate the loudmouth masses. As proof of concept, the next two ceremonies offered up nominations for ‘District 9‘ and ‘Inception‘, a couple of sci-fi blockbusters that wouldn’t normally be named in the Best Picture category.

This rule change was met with widespread scorn, mostly because everyone could see right through the ploy. No one actually expected that these also-ran choices would stand a chance in hell of winning anything. Further, doubling the number of nominees meant an even longer ceremony telecast with twice as many tedious clip reels. Nobody wanted to sit through that. Perhaps worst of all, the struggle to find five more Best Picture-worthy nominees each year just served to highlight the dearth of quality movies actually being produced in Hollywood.

For those reasons and more, the Academy has already given up the pretense of looking for ten great movies each year. Effective with next year’s ceremony, the Best Picture category will move to new structure with a variable number of nominations that could range anywhere from five to ten, depending on how many votes each movie receives. In order to qualify for a Best Picture nomination, a film must receive at least five percent of the first-place votes. Analysis of the voting patterns from 2001 to 2008 reveals that those years would have each garnered between five to nine nominations had they been run under the new rules.

Anyone want to place bets on how long it will take the Academy to slip right back to the five-nominee fixed limit? I’m guessing we’ll see maybe three years of this current system before everything goes back to the old way of doing things.

[Source: The Miami Herald. Thanks to Mrs. Z for the tip.]


  1. Now THIS makes a lot of sense. However, I haven’t watched the Oscars in years – I am bored by it. Like you said, a bunch of nominations for movies I haven’t heard of. I honestly don’t know why people put so much merrit behind the Oscars, or why movie cases always seem to announce how many award nominations they got. I think a much better merrit of a movie is how many People’s Choice / Kid’s Choice / Teen Choice / etc awards it got. I could care less if a bunch of stuffy Hollywood people like a movie, I want to know what the general population thinks of it!

  2. I too, question whether the Oscars have as much impact as they used to, but I still think they (for the most part) nominate “good” movies as opposed to the “populist” picks of most other awards shows (actually I think the Golden Globes does the best job, as they always seem to have a mix of both).

    That said, I’ll take “The King’s Speech” any day over “Eclipse” (the winner of this year’s People’s Choice).

  3. I actually really like this idea. I think it could act as a good barometer for the movie season. If we get to the end of the year and only have 5 nominees then we probably had a pretty lackluster movie year. If we get to the end and have 9 or 10 nominees then it was most likely a pretty good year for movies. That’s how I’m choosing to look at it anyway.

  4. Jane Morgan

    If the first place-movie is weak, with a smaller number of votes, it opens the field to more movies.

    This will encourage more political sabotage of the front-runner during campaign season.

    • Moreover than that, if the forerunner has fewer votes, and there are several movies, it doesn’t necessarially mean a good year (sorry Aaron). It COULD mean that we had a lot of great movies that year, but it could also mean that there wasn’t just one or two movies that really stood out. (I guess this really should ahve been a response to Aaron’s comment rather than Jane’s).

      So, five nominations would mean that you have one or two with many votes, 10 movies would mean that there really wasn’t a stand-out movie that year.

  5. motorheadache

    The Oscars are bogus anyway. If you are a part of the industry, then the Oscars is a great way to build up your rep or prestige and is quite an honor. Otherwise, I never understood why anybody cares about them– most of the time the winners are picked for arbitrary reasons anyway– “so and so didn’t win for such and such last year, so we’re giving it to him/her this year”.

    That being said, I usually do make a point to see the films that actually get nominated. Sometimes I end up liking them quite a bit (like the King’s Speech).

  6. I think the voting is already flawed though. They need to give them weighted votes like they do with MVPs in sports. Say each person gets something like 1st = 10 pts, 2nd = 5 pts, and 3rd = 1 pt and then the votes are tallied up. The totals would be more fair than having people just vote on which movie they think is the best.

    • EM

      Exactly. Here’s an analysis I posted a few months ago:

      The Academy’s voting procedures are set up in such a way as to make it fairly easy to award the trophy to a candidate that is nevertheless widely disfavored among Academy members.

      For simplicity’s sake, I’ll illustrate with a race between three candidates—never the case with Best Picture, but it does apply to some other categories, and the principle does hold for races with more than three candidates.

      Suppose the voting for the three candidates goes like this:
      • Candidate A: 33%
      • Candidate B: 33%
      • Candidate C: 34%

      Of course, Candidate C wins with a plurality. Let’s further suppose that A’s supporters also really like B (maybe they rate A as 10 out of 10 and give B a 9), and B’s supporters really like A (they rate B a 10 and give A a 9), and both A and B’s supporters really revile C (a big fat zero). And let’s suppose further still that Candidate C’s supporters have a lot of admiration for A and B (giving a 10 to C and 9’s to both A and B). Clearly, A and B have far more widespread popularity among Academy voters than C does, and indeed C is considered execrable by a landslide—but C still wins.

      In a ten-way race for Best Picture (like this year’s), the winning film could be utterly disliked by more than 89% of the voting membership. But that’s show biz.

  7. The problem was never number, it was that merely okay films like The Reader, Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were included instead of arguably great films like Wall-E and The Dark Knight.

    The problem is that “prestige” films will always have an edge over superior fare from any time of year, whether non-November, non-December films get nominated or not.

    This variable thing will not change the stodginess that rules over and thus obsolesces the awards from within.

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