Image Credit: Stephen Vaughan; Laurie Sparham; Lorey Sebastian; Niko Tavernise; Chuck Zlotnick; Merrick Morton; Sebastian Mlynarski; Jojo Whilden; Disney/Pixar; Suzanne Tenner; Oscar statuette: A.M.P.A.S.Academy Award ballots were due Tuesday, and by tonight, PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants Rick Rosas and Brad Oltmanns will have determined this year’s Best Picture winner. But what about your Best Picture winner, EW.com readers? Last week, we asked you to rank the 10 nominees in order from No. 1 to No. 10, just like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We then counted your ballots using the Academy’s elaborate preferential voting system. Since this method involves sorting — and resorting — each individual ballot, we limited the poll to 1,000 ballots to give us a manageable sample. It was a close race that ultimately required the maximum nine rounds of sorting to resolve. And to prove our math-geek credentials, we’ll present a round-by-round recap of how things played out. But first, your winner. And the EW.com readers’ Oscar goes to…
The Social Network. Although Inception wasn’t far behind, David Fincher’s shrewd retelling of the creation of Facebook led our Best Picture race from beginning to end. Here’s how the nominees ended up ranking, from No. 1 to No. 10: The Social Network, Inception, The King’s Speech, Black Swan, Toy Story 3, The Fighter, 127 Hours, True Grit, Winter’s Bone, and The Kids Are All Right. You can stop here if all you wanted to know was who won, but if you’re curious about the quirky tabulation process itself, read on.
Before last year’s adoption of 10 Best Picture nominees, the winner of every Oscar category, including Best Picture, was simply the nominee that received the most votes. But when the Academy decided to expand the top award to 10 movies, there were a few concerns. “Everybody realized that, in theory, you could have a film win the Oscar with less than 20 percent of the votes,” explains Rosas. To avoid such a scenario, the Academy decided to switch the category to the preferential system, which is also used to determine the Oscar nominations. As the Academy explained to its members in a 2009 report: “The preferential system … allows us to identify the film that our members as a whole admire most, as distinct from one that may be supported almost entirely by a small but passionate minority.”
So how does it work? Academy members rank the Best Picture nominees in order of preference. They can rank any number of films, from all 10 to just one. (Rosas confirmed that a very high percentage of the membership fills out the entire ballot). Then the sorting and counting begins. All of the ballots are sorted into 10 piles based on what each voter selected as his or her No. 1 film. After all the ballots are sorted, each pile is counted, and if any film has received more than 50 percent of the total number of ballots, it’s declared the Best Picture winner. If not, then the film with the least number of ballots is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed to the remaining nominees based on each ballot’s next selection.
Films with the least support keep getting eliminated, and their ballots keep getting redistributed to other nominees, until one film winds up with more than 50 percent of the ballots still in play. As a result, the Best Picture winner could be quickly determined after one or two rounds of sorting, or in our case, it could require all nine rounds. Here’s how our mock vote played out:
With 1,000 ballots, our “magic number” needed to win is 501, since 50 percent of 1,000 is 500, and you need more than 50 percent of the ballots.
After the initial sorting, the Best Picture field looked like this:
127 Hours: 28 ballots
Black Swan: 120 ballots
The Fighter: 28 ballots
Inception: 213 ballots
The Kids Are All Right: 16 ballots
The King’s Speech: 193 ballots
The Social Network: 278 ballots
Toy Story 3: 80 ballots
True Grit: 25 ballots
Winter’s Bone: 19 ballots
The Kids Are All Right is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed:
127 Hours: 28 + 3 = 31
Black Swan: 120 + 3 = 123
The Fighter: 28 + 0 = 28
Inception: 213 + 2 = 215
The King’s Speech: 193 + 0 = 193
The Social Network: 278 + 3 = 281
Toy Story 3: 80 + 3 = 83
True Grit: 25 + 1 = 26
Winter’s Bone: 19 + 0 = 19
Winter’s Bone is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed:
127 Hours: 31 + 0 = 31
Black Swan: 123 + 5 = 128
The Fighter: 28 + 1 = 29
Inception: 215 + 2 = 217
The King’s Speech: 193 + 4 = 197
The Social Network: 281 + 7 = 288
Toy Story 3: 83 + 0 = 83
True Grit: 26 + 0 = 26
True Grit is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed.
127 Hours: 31 + 0 = 31
Black Swan: 128 + 5 = 133
The Fighter: 29 + 4 = 33
Inception: 217 + 5 = 222
The King’s Speech: 197 + 7 = 204
The Social Network: 288 + 3 = 291
Toy Story 3: 83 + 2 = 85
127 Hours is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed:
Black Swan: 133 + 5 = 138
The Fighter: 33 + 2 = 35
Inception: 222 + 12 = 234
The King’s Speech: 204 + 3 = 207
The Social Network: 291 + 4 = 295
Toy Story 3: 85 + 5 = 90
The Fighter is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed:
Black Swan: 138 + 2 = 140
Inception: 234 + 11 = 245
The King’s Speech: 207 + 7 = 214
The Social Network: 295 + 9 = 304
Toy Story 3: 90 + 6 = 96
Toy Story 3 is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed. One ballot is voided (meaning it ran out of eligible choices), so the “magic number” becomes 500, since 999 divided by 2 is 499.5.
Black Swan: 140 + 12 = 152
Inception: 245 + 35 = 280
The King’s Speech: 214 + 23 = 237
The Social Network: 304 + 25 = 329
Black Swan is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed. Three more ballots are voided, decreasing the “magic number” to 499.
Inception: 280 + 54 = 334
The King’s Speech: 237 + 48 = 285
The Social Network: 329 + 47 = 376
The King’s Speech is eliminated, and its ballots are redistributed. Four more ballots are voided, decreasing the “magic number” to 497.
Inception: 334 + 128 = 462
The Social Network: 376 + 154 = 530 (winner!)
If you made it this far, you’ll notice that, at least for a few rounds, Inception was gaining ground on The Social Network. But The Social Network was ultimately too far ahead, and when The King’s Speech was eliminated, a larger amount of those ballots were redistributed to The Social Network than to Inception.
So what did we learn from all this? Well, to state the obvious, having the most No. 1 votes is a huge advantage, but it doesn’t guarantee victory. Had The Social Network not started out so far in front of Inception, the latter film could have theoretically caught up in later rounds. We also noticed that, more often than not, a ballot was counted toward one of the voter’s top three choices. Therefore, it’s important for a film to not only receive No. 1 votes, but many No. 2 and No. 3 votes, too. However, that doesn’t mean the bottom portion of your ballot will never matter. For instance, we had five readers who placed The Social Network and Inception as their No. 9 and No. 10 choices (or vice versa). During the final round, each of those ballots was counted toward whichever movie the reader selected as No. 9, since he or she preferred it a smidgen more than the No. 10 choice.
And this concludes our class in Best Picture mathematics. When you watch the Academy Awards on Sunday, just keep in mind how much effort went into determining that Best Picture winner. Of course, the winner is still being determined by the subjective tastes of 5,755 movie-industry professionals. So if you don’t like the outcome, you know who to blame.