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A Data-Driven Guide To The Oscars

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve used an election-style model to gauge which films, directors and performers have the best shot at an Oscar. Finally, tonight’s the big event: the 87th Academy Awards.

The Oscars are tricky to predict for a number of reasons, the main one being that — compared to election forecasting or sports prognostications — it’s very difficult to get relevant data; the awards are determined by the views of a small, tight-knit group of voters. No one polls them. The model we’re using is pretty simple, and we’re trying not to overfit it. Its predictions in the best picture category would have been right 80 percent of the time over the past 25 years. That’s all right, but it also means it was wrong 1-in-5 tries. (Get a more detailed description of how our Oscar model works.)

Still, if you want to watch the Oscars using the best data and stats available, you’ve come to the right place.

FiveThirtyEight’s odds

Richard Linklater is favored to win best director for “Boyhood,” but Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who directed “Birdman,” is a very close second. This is definitely a race to watch.


As for the performing awards, most have a heavy favorite. Julianne Moore is probably going to win best actress.


J.K. Simmons is leagues ahead for best supporting actor.


And Patricia Arquette’s performance in “Boyhood” has her as a frontrunner in the best supporting actress category.


There’s really only one competitive race in the main performing categories: best actor. Eddie Redmayne is leading the pack for his role as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” but there’s no reason to count Michael Keaton out for his performance in “Birdman.”


The best actor race is close, but the fight for best picture is where the real action is. Our model has “Birdman” and “Boyhood” as the two heavy favorites, with the former in the lead. But this is a tight race, one of the closest in the last 25 years. And in such cases, funny things can happen, like surprise winners from the middle of the pack. This isn’t likely, but it’s absolutely possible.


If you’re hunting for an upset — looking at you, die-hard “American Sniper” fans — your preferred film might need to pull off something unprecedented. If “American Sniper,” “Selma,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Theory of Everything” or “Whiplash” wins, it would be the single most unlikely upset in the past quarter-century.

The betting markets

According to Oddschecker (as of Saturday evening), most bookies have “Birdman” at 4-9 odds and “Boyhood” at 11-8 for best picture. Keep in mind that if you turn those odds into percentages, they’re inflated a bit — the house makes money because all the odds summed add up to a little more than 100 percent. So 4-9 odds mean the house expects “Birdman” to win 9 out of 13 times, and 11-8 odds mean bookies expect “Boyhood” to win 8 out of 19. Main takeaway: The money is on “Birdman.”

With the best director award, it’s tighter. Iñárritu is favored, but it’s really close. Same goes for best actor: Redmayne is looking at 1-4 odds, according to most oddsmakers.

As we’d expect, the odds are off the charts in the best actress and supporting categories. Julianne Moore is 1-50 or 1-100 to win, according to most bookies. It’s slightly tighter for supporting actor, but Simmons way out in front of the pack, as is Arquette.

Downstream, “Citizenfour” is the favorite to win best documentary, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to win best original screenplay, and “The Imitation Game” to win best adapted screenplay (though “Whiplash” still has a solid shot). “How To Train Your Dragon 2” is favored to win best animated feature, and “Glory” from “Selma” is ahead by a similar margin to take best original song.

Maybe there’s a way we haven’t come up with to get inside the Academy’s head, but that’s about the best we’re going to do when it comes to predictions. We’ll look at how we and the oddsmakers did after the last statue is doled out.

Odds and ends

If you’re craving still more statistical analysis of Hollywood’s big dance, we have some recommended reading:

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.