With the Academy Award nominations just a day away, writer, producer and self-described “film data geek” Stephen Follows has crunched the numbers on the cost of an Oscar campaign, and the results are not pretty. According to Follows’ research, which combines numerous published reports as well as his own off-the-record survey of four recent Best Picture nominees, the average cost of a Best Picture campaign is a whopping $10 million, with half of that going to advertising alone. By most accounts, even a successful campaign doesn’t earn that money back — a Best Picture win increased a movie’s box-office take on average by only $3 million, while a Golden Globe nod somehow earns more than four times that — but it’s been obvious for a long time that these campaigns have more to do with Hollywood ego and bragging rights than dollars and cents.
More sobering stats:
The Oscars are incredibly predictable, and not just in their penchant for rewarding middlebrow issue movies about white men. According to statistician Iain Pardoe, once the nominees are announced, “it should be possible to predict future winners with a prediction success rate of approximately 77% for Picture, 93% for Director, 77% for Actor, and 77% for Actress.”
The system by which Best Picture is awarded — a complicated process that involves sorting the ballots by first-place votes, then, if no film has more than half the vote, redistributing the ballots with the least-popular film in first according to their second-place choice — means that Best Picture is often determined by which films are ranked second and third.
The cost of sending out DVD screeners to the Academy’s approximately 6,000 members — a huge factor, especially in a year where the lack of screeners has been widely blamed for “Selma’s” terrible showing in the early guild nominations — can run upwards of $1 million all by itself.
Academy members have, as of 2012, a median age of 62, which means most of them are old enough to remember the events of “Selma” firsthand. Fully 86 percent were born before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.