What Are Movies Made Of – The Oscars (Pt. 1)

I don’t know if you remember me, I’m the guy who has a blog about film and statistics. Some time ago I started a “based on” project. Hi. Nice to meet you. It took some time to gather the data dealing with the Academy Awards and analyze it, but I promise it was worth it! There are so many insights I thought it would be better to split them into three different posts.

The first will be an introduction, including a small overview of the winners in the different categories over the years. It will be followed by two posts dedicated to the success chances based on two unique measures. But we have time until we get to the messy calculation stuff. Let’s start by looking at what’s going on at the Oscars.

Recently on “Based On”

A quick reminder for what we had in the first post: I divided films to four categories in respect to the source material they are based on: real events and people (Real Events); other art forms such as books and plays but not film and TV (Art); film and television (Film); and Original. This division is the basis for all the analysis performed in this post and in those to follow.

You should also bare in mind that I have only taken into account nominees and winners, not all eligible films. Though the grounds for this was technical (I wasn’t able at that point to collect all relevant data), it also means different methods and results.

A word about the method: not all awards and years were taken into account. During the first years of the awards ceremony, the number of nominees changed from year to year. In most categories, I included only when there were five nominees. In addition, for a few years the cinematography and costume design were divided: color and black&white. I have included only the color.

As for the awards which were not included: I believe it is self explanatory why documentaries and animated films were excluded (short and feature) as well short live action. Same goes for the writing awards, and the differentiation the academy makes between original and adapted script embodies the main argument I am presenting: origin counts. And since written work (script) is based on another written work (play, book etc.), the same goes for acting. When you have a real-life reference, it changes the performance (and what is expected from it), but most of all, it affects the judgment.


Want to Win an Oscar? Ask Me How!

Film type per Award
Each stacked bar represents a different award and is composed of the percentage of winning films by origin type.

According to the chart, the answer is clear: buy the rights to a book, play, song (heck, “Happy Birthday” can now be adapted for free!), and most probably you’ll have a winner. Unless your movie is mostly spoken in a language which isn’t English. For some reason, realism works better in other languages. But as we will see in the following posts, this is not necessarily true.

The Times, They Have Changed

Each line represents a different type of origin and the trend of awards won over time (for all awards combined)

It is evident that until the 1970s, the majority of winners came from “art” films. But during that decade there was a shift, and their dominance depleted. I find two explanations for this change: the first is New Hollywood cinema and its realistic aptitude along with the introduction of personal style by directors. The second is the ongoing legitimization process American cinema was undergoing since the days of Griffith. In order to be recognized as an art form in its own merit, film creators slowly departed from the dependency on other art forms, and celebrated originality and reflexivity, resulting in more “Original” and “Film” movies.

The Other Side of Hollywood

Perhaps television is becoming more diverse, but cinema is still somewhat behind. As the first chart shows, actors and actresses in a leading or supporting role won 14% of the performance awards when the role was based on a real person. But among black winners of acting awards, the data goes up to 33% (this is true also for the percentage of black nominees). There is a simple and sad explanation for this: black actors receive significant roles only when necessary, and history is one hell of a constraint. This is seen not only at the Oscars or in Hollywood: the controversy around Idris Elba as a possible James Bond shows that racism is still present everywhere. Luckily, the next generation of black actors will have a shot at the Oscars when the Ferguson unrest will be adapted for the screen.


3 thoughts on “What Are Movies Made Of – The Oscars (Pt. 1)

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