The Academy Makes the Best Picture Rules Less Ridiculous

I know that just the act of using the words “credibility” and “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences” in the same sentence feels completely ludicrous, but on Tuesday the Academy’s governors voted in a new set of rules that lends a little bit more credibility to the act of choosing the nominees for Best Picture. It was just two years ago that they changed their long-standing tradition of having five nominees to a new standard of nominating ten films. Seeing as there are only ever two, maybe three movies that actually have any sort of chance at winning, upping the number of nominees to ten looked very transparently like a stupid marketing ploy. From one side of things, the Academy could give nominations to more “mainstream” films that Joe Six-Pack might complain never get recognition on the show. And from the other, now five more films a year could use the phrase “Academy Award Nominee for Best Picture” in their marketing.

Theoretically, that would lead to more interest in the ceremony, more people buying tickets to theaters, and everybody in the industry winning. Except that the idea is totally stupid because Joe Six-Pack won’t give a crap about The Oscars no matter what they do, and having ten nominees can’t help but make at least three or four of the films look like completely pathetic afterthoughts. It further ruins the credibility of an already oft-derided process.

This new rule, however, fixes things. And it actually adds a bit of surprise and intrigue to the nomination announcements. Instead of automatically nominating ten films for Best Picture consideration, they will now be having anywhere from 5-10 nominees, depending on how many films qualify. I like the sound of this, as back when there were only five nominees, all you had to have was a passing familiarity with the Academy’s preferences to guess who would be getting nominated, and when they upped things to ten it didn’t get all that more difficult to pull the same trick. Now there will be a bit of intrigue in guessing which films will make the cut and which won’t. But how exactly do they decide what films become eligible?

Well, when looking over the voting data of the last ten years, they determined that the average percentage of first place votes that the movie that got the most votes received was 20.5%. From there they did a little bit more mathematical voodoo to figure out that in order to get a number of eligible films that sat between five and ten, they would have to consider only films that got 5% of the first place votes. What does this mean in concrete numbers? If they were using this process from 2001 to 2008, we would have gotten years that produced 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 nominees. That sounds a lot better to me than having ten movies get the honor every year, no matter what. If they kept that process up, they were bound to pile up a huge number of real stinkers getting nominations before long.

But if this ten nomination experiment wasn’t so much a success, why not just knock the number back down to five? The Academy executive director Bruce Davis explains, “In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies.”

This falls in line with fan complaints that genre movies and comedies never get enough love from the Academy voters. By keeping this floating number of nominees in place, they just might find a happy medium between being viewed as drama snobs and being the lame kid on the playground handing out nominations to everybody just so they can make friends. Davis goes on, “A Best Picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit.  If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.” I would agree with this wholeheartedly. Now if they could only find a formula that makes sure movies like Crash don’t even make it into the top twenty, then we’ll all be set.

Other minor rule changes to more minor categories can be read by checking out their press release.

Weaned on the genre films of the 80s. Reared by the independent movement of the 90s. Earned a BA for writing stuff in the 00s. Reviews current releases at

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