Best Movie Oscar Prediction Via Statistical Modeling: Update, The Model Wins

Best picture winner?
Best picture winner?
Update I humbly accept your congratulations.

Argo will win Oscar for Best Picture, according to our non-patented, statistically significant almost-mathematical computer model.

The key reasons for its victory will be: the lead actor is at least forty, the other featured actors are mainly older men, and the picture took in only 20% of the money earned by 2012’s top film.

This model correctly predicted several past winners, including last year’s The Artist and 2010’s The King’s Speech. These films also featured lead actors at least forty years old, were supported by older men, and earned only a fraction of those years’ most popular movies.

There are many other factors used in rating top films, such as script quality and content, budget, film genre, director, acting, cinematography, and so on. But none of these are important as age, sex, and non-popularity.

Ben Affleck, the lead of Argo, was 40 at the time of filming. His supporting cast featured Bryan Cranston (56), Alan Arkin (78), John Goodman (60) and several other older men. The film grossed about $128 million, which was only 20% of the $623 million snatched by The Avengers, according to Box Office Mojo.

The model also puts Lincoln in the running. It’s lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis is 55, the remaining cast is largely older men—David Strathairn (63), Hal Holbrook (87), Tommy Lee Jones (68)—but it earned $177 million, about 40% more than Argo. This puts it in a solid second place.

No other nominated movie has all three of these factors, though the reverse-racist fantasy Django Unchained is close. Jamie Foxx (45), who starred as Django, and who boasted to the press, “I kill all the white people in the movie. How great is that?”, earned $158 million, which was less than Lincoln but more than Argo. And though it featured a few older men—Christoph Waltz (56), Samuel L. Jackson (64)—it also highlighted the under-forty Leonardo DiCaprio (38) trying to look tough. Plus it had a passel of womenfolk.

Amour fit the model perfectly: it featured older actors, it earned very little (only $4 million), and the featured cast was more than 50% female. None of the other films had the key identifiers in such strength.

Remember that the Oscar process is political, so the model is a prediction of who Academy members will vote for and not what they best movie is. The model attempts to characterizes what Oscar voters will do, not what they should do.

When they trundle down to Safeway, many Academy members are offered senior citizen’s discounts, which explains their preference for older actors. Actresses, biology being cruel and politically incorrect, do not age as well as men, therefore they are not be preferred as often as actors. The sexist explanation, which couldn’t possibly be true, is that at the extremes of acting ability, as ability is distributed in many fields, more men than women are found.

The non-popularity aspect, quantified by ratio of box office take to the top film’s earnings, is easy to explain. Of the top 15 money-making movies in 2012, all but two—Skyfall (3) and Lincoln (14)—are aimed at children and teenagers, are cartoons, or might be classed as “not challenging.” Academy members, being older professionals, are less apt to be charmed by bubblegum fare like The Avengers (1), The Hunger Games (3), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (6; Part 2!), or Wreck-It Ralph (12).


  1. j ferguson

    Suppose the goal of Oscarizing is to optimize the overall take. The top film can handle itself and its earnings may not be improved by an Oscar.

    A less successful film?

    This effect might be discoverable.

  2. Ye Olde Statistician

    Voting for a low-grossing movie proves to the academy voters that they are Artistic and not crass, money-grubbing bourgeoisie. Besides, Argo celebrates movie-making. (Recall that The Artist did also.)

  3. Will

    Another masterpiece Dr. Briggs. :). Keep em coming,

  4. MattS

    Ye Olde Statistician,

    The academy seems to prefer movies beloved by the critics and hated by the public, but I doubt art has anything to do with it.

  5. Luis


  6. Joey H

    I told several people at a party about your model and the prediction; congrats on another successful best picture pick!

  7. Doug M

    What is imporant is that the “Best Picture” isn’t actually the best picture, it is the movie that academy chooses to represent itself.

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