2020 Oscars

EW's 2021 Oscar predictions: Who will win Academy Awards?

Our best guesses for who will win Oscars as the April 25 ceremony approaches.
By Joey Nolfi and David Canfield
Updated March 24, 2021 at 01:00 PM EDT

As if 2020 wasn't chaotic enough (thanks almost entirely to the wigs of Hillbilly Elegy), awards season is here, and that means it's time to dust off your Academeters to gauge the state of the Oscar race.

Across the longest run-up to any Academy Awards ceremony in history, studios have more time than ever (13 months between January 2020 and February 2021) to unleash their prize ponies into relatively uncharted territory, as a global pandemic's impact on theatrical releases, new eligibility rules, an expanded Best Picture set (locked at a hard 10 slots), and a rapidly diversifying Academy membership viewing streaming titles en masse are all set to converge over one of the most unpredictable contests in history in the weeks ahead.

Ahead of the April 25 Oscars ceremony, EW's awards experts David Canfield and Joey Nolfi have projections for which nominees have taken a firm hold on the current race. Read on for our full set of 2021 Oscar predictions in every major category — which will be updated as the race changes. (Updated April 12)

Nomadland
Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Best Picture

Sustaining buzz throughout any season — let alone history's longest Oscar contest — is a monumental feat, but Chloé Zhao's cross-country technical masterwork Nomadland about a van-dwelling drifter (Frances McDormand) is also a cross-category player currently riding on universally enthusiastic reviews out of the fall festivals, and affection for it has only grown as it steamrolled the Golden Globes' major categories, becoming the first female-directed film to win the Globe for Best Picture — Drama. You can't ignore that kind of endurance — especially in a year as volatile and unpredictable as the unprecedented, fluid, digitally focused awards season we're traversing right now.

Minari and Promising Young Woman worked their way through the guilds to become safe second bets, in recent months (as did The Trial of the Chicago 7, which shoots to No. 2 based on the strength of a SAG ensemble victory) but nothing can get in the way of a Nomadland sweep at this point.

  1. Nomadland
  2. The Trial of the Chicago 7
  3. Minari
  4. Promising Young Woman
  5. The Father
  6. Sound of Metal
  7. Judas and the Black Messiah
  8. Mank
000JSPBTS_1.29.1
Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Director

David Fincher's black-and-white industry tale, Mank, about Herman J. Mankiewicz's liquor-soaked journey to writing Citizen Kane, might be a tough sit for more casual moviegoers, but the directors' branch has a notorious flair for complexity, and the film's meticulous construction and industry-focused story — fluffed by killer performances Fincher coached from Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfriend — might've been right up their alley to the tune of 10 nominations, but the film sunk fast and hard when it missed out on both editing and screenplay nominations.

On the other hand, Zhao has steadily risen among the ranks in the industry, and has a bright commercial future ahead of her (she's helming Marvel's Eternals starring Angelina Jolie), and the Academy is well on its way to giving her a golden stamp of approval before she blows up. While she will be the first woman of color to win Best Director, her victory won't be a token move; Zhao has directed one of the most tender, lived-in movies of the year, and her track record (including recent BAFTA and DGA wins, becoming the first woman of color to win at both ceremonies) across disparate awards bodies so far is ironclad proof.

  1. Chloé Zhao, Nomadland
  2. Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
  3. Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
  4. David Fincher, Mank
  5. Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
Promising Young Woman
Credit: Focus Features

Best Actress

Viola Davis may sing her way into the Academy's heart in Netflix's biographical drama Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, but another diva-as-diva performance from recording artist Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday took over buzz from Davis' work with a shocking upset at the Golden Globes. It's Carey Mulligan, however, whom has flexed her might the hardest on the precursor circuit in Promising Young Woman, bagging multiple pre-Oscars victories for a career-best performance that will also easily receive righteous industry votes for the themes it represents. She's also, along with Davis, Vanessa Kirby, and Frances McDormand, one of the actresses to have bagged both SAG and Globe noms.

Day's shocking victory at the Globes proved this late-breaking contender is a force to be reckoned with — and her emotional speech at the HFPA ceremony was a monumental moment for Black women at the awards show (it has been 35 years since a Black woman won in the Drama category) that served as the visibility booster she needed to go from peripheral contender to a major threat for the title — but SAG's taste was the deciding factor here, and it's anyone's game now that they strayed from Mulligan (and BAFTA went for McDormand). With three actresses (none of them Mulligan) taking three different major prizes immediately before final Oscars voting, the race is wide open, but for now, we have to predict the actress who won with the largest crossover body (SAG).

  1. Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  2. Frances McDormand, Nomadland
  3. Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
  4. Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
  5. Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Credit: David Lee/Netflix

Best Actor

Posthumous Oscars are rare, but not impossible. And the best way to honor the late Chadwick Boseman's legacy would be to adorn him with the industry's highest acting honor — but his hold on the race isn't a sympathy vote: Boseman's eclectic filmography has long been building toward an Oscar nomination, and he finally got one for his final on-screen appearance as a fitting cap for a groundbreaking career. It's clear the Academy adored The Father and Sound of Metal as well, so don't count out Riz Ahmed and BAFTA winner Anthony Hopkins entirely.

  1. Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  2. Anthony Hopkins, The Father
  3. Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
  4. Steven Yeun, Minari
  5. Gary Oldman, Mank
MINARI
Credit: A24

Best Supporting Actress

This topsy-turvy race got thrown a few curveballs after Pieces of a Woman and Mank scene-stealers (and presumed frontrunners) Ellen Burstyn and Amanda Seyfried, respectively, were blanked by SAG despite heavy campaigns for both. (Burstyn also missed out on a Globe nod.)

Instead, jumping to the top of the pack is one actress who's steadily been on the rise, the wildly funny breakout Maria Bakalova of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and another best described as a frontrunner-turned-afterthought-turned...underdog, in Glenn Close, the high point of the maligned Hillbilly Elegy. Though Bakalova has weathered highs (she's shown up at every precursor, including among the deliciously off-script BAFTA nods this year) and lows (she lost the Lead Actress in a Comedy Globe to Rosamund Pike) that have made us question her standing in the recent past, but industry support for Borat (it won the WGA Award and scored a PGA nod) made her feel like the only choice at the moment.

In recent weeks, however, Minari breakout Yuh-Jung Youn has steamrolled the precursors, delivering a swift finishing blow (at long last) to a category rife with chaos from the start of the race.

  1. Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari
  2. Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  3. Amanda Seyfried, Mank
  4. Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
  5. Olivia Colman, The Father
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
Credit: Glen Wilson/Warner Bros.

Best Supporting Actor

Shaka King's historical drama Judas and the Black Messiah — about FBI informant William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) and Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) — is a timely two-hander that made a late bid for Oscar attention, and it paid off, with the film landing a Best Picture nod as well as two nods in Best Supporting Actor — one for Kaluuya, who's long been a category frontrunner, and another shock nod for Stanfield, whom many touted as a peripheral Best Actor contender, but showed up here instead. Kaluuya's gripping transformation into the Black Panther leader, particularly, gained serious momentum at the Golden Globes, where he pulled off his first major victory of the season that ultimately gave clarity in one of the most unpredictable contests of the year. But with The Trial of the Chicago 7 performing better overall among the Globes and SAG, and Sacha Baron Cohen the clear choice of voters from that ensemble piece, we're thinking the Borat funnyman (whom has also built a steady profile for the blockbuster sequel) could sneak in a victory at SAG and change the landscape of this race.

  1. Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
  2. Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
  3. Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami
  4. Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
  5. LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
PROMSING YOUNG WOMAN
Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features

Best Original Screenplay

An Academy darling, Sorkin has notched two screenplay nominations (on top of one win) since 2012, and critical reaction to his tightly written, fact-based historical drama feels as timely as it does punchy — a perfect combination to catch voters' eyes this year. Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman seems to be riding the wave of buzz at the moment, with steadfast showings at the guilds (including recent WGA Awards and BAFTA wins), so count it as the frontrunner for now.

  1. Promising Young Woman
  2. Minari
  3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
  4. Sound of Metal
  5. Judas and the Black Messiah
NOMADLAND
Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Best Adapted Screenplay

The film might be light on dialogue, but its story is an intricately woven masterwork that comes to life on Zhao's pages. The only present threat to the film's dominance, at the moment, remains Borat, though that film won the WGA by default, as Nomadland was ineligible for recognition due to guild rules.

  1. Nomadland
  2. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  3. The Father
  4. One Night in Miami
  5. The White Tiger
Another Round
Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Best International Feature

  1. Another Round
  2. Quo Vadis, Aida?
  3. Collective
  4. Better Days
  5. The Man Who Sold His Skin

Best Documentary Feature

  1. My Octopus Teacher
  2. Time
  3. Collective
  4. Crip Camp
  5. The Mole Agent

Check out The Awardist podcast for interviews with this year's top contenders for the Oscars and more of the industry's biggest awards.

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