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Do Your Oscar Predictions Stack Up? Here’s What The Data Says

Predicting the Oscars is tough. We can’t poll Oscar voters, and we don’t know all that much about them. In the absence of direct data, we have to find a way to get inside the voters’ heads to find out who might win.

But whether you’re participating in an Oscar pool or wagering heavily on Irish gambling sites, everyone following the race is trying to figure out who has the edge. The FiveThirtyEight model tries to evaluate the state of the race by figuring out which award shows — like the Directors Guild and the Golden Globes — have historically predicted the winners.

Montage of Oscar candidates

Interactive: Our elections-style Oscar model looks at the predictive power of film awards over the past 25 years and tracks this year’s nominees and winners to try to gauge the race in the big six Academy Award categories. See the state of the Oscars race »

Our model has worked pretty well in the past, but here at FiveThirtyEight, we think it’s always worth trying to find new ways to solve hard problems. Over the past month, we’ve talked to eight amateur modelers who think they’ve found a better way to gauge the state of the Oscar race.

Let’s revisit them each briefly:

  • First, we looked at models that try to mine the Internet to figure out who could win an Oscar. Burak Tekin’s model uses Google News; Paul Singman’s pulls from tweets. Both of these models get more and more accurate the closer we get to the big day — Feb. 28.
  • Next, we looked at models that take in either a little bit or a whole lot of data to figure out the Oscars. Brian Goegan built a model that looks at earlier award shows and additional nominations to figure out a winner. Zach Wissner-Gross and Randi Goldman boiled their data down to box office dollars and Rotten Tomatoes scores to find their leaders.
  • Third, we checked out models that try to get inside the heads of people who think like the Academy. James England asks people to vote on films and performances they’ve seen in head-to-head matchups. Nigel Henry and his crew at Solution by Simulation analyze the MovieLens data set to find people who gave high ratings to films that won Oscars in the past and to see which films they liked this time around.
  • Lastly, we looked at two models that analyze what’s been written about movies to pick winners. Allison Walker analyzes film reviews for words that have historically been used to describe Oscar winners. Gary Angel and his team at Ernst & Young analyze cultural publications and film reviews to find which Oscar nominee best fits with the current Hollywood worldview.

Oscar voting began Friday and will continue through Feb. 23. With just over a week to go before the ceremony, we checked back in with each of the modelers for their current picks.

The best picture race has been a doozy: “Mad Max: Fury Road” got off to a strong start in our model, dueling with “Spotlight” in the early part of January. Then “Spotlight” began to pull ahead, only to fall behind “The Big Short” after the highly predictive Producers Guild awards. Once the Screen Actors Guild awards had been announced, however, the two films were neck and neck — until “The Revenant” pulled off huge wins at the Directors Guild and BAFTAs, the awards from the British Academy. Our model has “The Revenant” with a decisive lead going into the Academy Awards, but “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” can’t be counted out.

Here’s what each of the models says as of Tuesday. Not all the modelers were able to convert their picks into probabilities — I mean, we don’t either, so I hardly blame them — but for those who felt confident enough to put a number to it, we have the current probability:

Tekin Google News The Revenant 46% Spotlight 27%
Singman Twitter The Revenant 54 Spotlight 24
Goegan Award wins The Revenant 66 Spotlight 34
Zach & Randi Box office & rating Brooklyn 30 Mad Max 25
England Head to head Spotlight 28 Mad Max 22
Henry MovieLens Room Spotlight
Angel Press analysis The Big Short Spotlight
Walker Review language The Revenant Mad Max
Best picture

Although there’s some love for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Big Short,” “Room” and “Brooklyn,” it looks like our two front-runners are “The Revenant” and “Spotlight.”

Tekin Google News Iñárritu 67% Miller 17%
Singman Twitter Iñárritu 58 Miller 22
Goegan Award wins Iñárritu 83 Miller 13
Zach & Randi Box office & rating Miller 41 McCarthy 25
England Head to head Miller 50 Iñárritu 25
Henry MovieLens Abrahamson
Angel Press analysis
Walker Review language Miller Iñárritu
Best director

In our model, this category comes down to the winner of the Directors Guild award. Before Alejandro G. Iñárritu won it for “The Revenant,” George Miller, who directed “Mad Max: Fury Road,” had scooped up most of the big wins. Among the seven modelers who were able to apply their methodology to this category, all but one have one of those two directors ahead.

Tekin Google News DiCaprio 39% Fassbender 39%
Singman Twitter DiCaprio 90 Redmayne 5
Goegan Award wins DiCaprio 100 Fassbender <1
Zach & Randi Box office & rating DiCaprio 58 Fassbender 38
England Head to head DiCaprio 72 Damon 13
Henry MovieLens DiCaprio Damon
Angel Press analysis Cranston Fassbender
Walker Review language DiCaprio Cranston
Best actor

There appears to be near consensus here that Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”) will win. In 1,000 years, aliens from a star 999.5 light-years away will arrive on Earth with an intent to destroy it if Leo doesn’t get the shiny statue. And we will deserve it.

The lone dissent: The Ernst & Young team finds that Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”) is ahead in the race. (Angel reports that their model for best actor is still a bit of a work in progress.)

Tekin Google News Ronan 33% Lawrence 27%
Singman Twitter Larson 34 Lawrence 31
Goegan Award wins Larson 100 Ronan <1
Zach & Randi Box office & rating Lawrence 70 Blanchett 16
England Head to head Larson 73 Ronan 15
Henry MovieLens Rampling Larson
Angel Press analysis Lawrence Larson
Walker Review language Larson Ronan
Best actress

There’s a surprising amount of variation in this category! Our model decisively has Brie Larson (“Room”) in the lead. But among the guest modelers, every nominee appears in at least the top two, and four are the leaders in at least one model.

This category could prove a solid test for methodological soundness. The models that back Larson display a strong degree of confidence, though: Goegan’s even says it’s a virtual lock. Perhaps a consensus will emerge, but honestly, it’s way more fun this way.

Tekin Google News Winslet 36% Vikander 35%
Singman Twitter Winslet 39 Vikander 31
Goegan Award wins Vikander 49 Winslet 42
Zach & Randi Box office & rating
England Head to head Vikander 28 Mara 25
Henry MovieLens McAdams Leigh
Angel Press analysis
Walker Review language Vikander Winslet
Supporting actress

Six of the models were able to adapt to make a prediction in the supporting categories and they are split.

Our model has Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs”) in second place after she got a bump from the BAFTAs, but it’s not going to be enough to take the lead away from Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”). The models that look at Internet buzz seem to have picked up on this recent surge and are picking Winslet. The ones that look at the language of reviews, the head-to-head preferences of people who saw the films, and award wins have Vikander on top. This could be a fun one.

Tekin Google News Stallone 41% Rylance 27%
Singman Twitter Hardy 45 Stallone 32
Goegan Award wins Stallone 46 Rylance 24
Zach & Randi Box office & rating
England Head to head Ruffalo 25 Hardy 24
Henry MovieLens Ruffalo Bale
Angel Press analysis
Walker Review language Rylance Hardy
Supporting actor

I’m going to come right out and say it — this category is a catastrophe. The front-runner in our model, Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”), hasn’t won anything in a month; the winner of the Screen Actors Guild award, Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), wasn’t nominated for an Oscar; and the early favorite, Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”), is only on the board because of a last-minute win at the BAFTAs. I have very low confidence in our state-of-the-race model’s ability to provide legitimate insight into the eventual winner: It’s a coin toss at best and a dice roll at worst.

Can these folks help us out?

Nope. Everyone’s all over the map here. This should be another fantastically fun category to watch. I hope Mark Ruffalo (“Spotlight”) wins because I want to be able to say “Academy Award winner and also The Hulk, Mark Ruffalo” on first reference moving forward.

The Rest

Several of the modelers went out of their way to submit predictions outside of the top six categories.

Goegan sent in results for all the feature-length categories. We’ll hit the lot of them next week, but he has “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” winning best adapted and original screenplay, respectively, “Son of Saul” taking best foreign film, “The Revenant” winning the two sound awards and cinematography, and “Mad Max: Fury Road” winning the editing, costumes and makeup prizes.

Goegan, Singman, Henry’s team and Zach and Randi all said “Inside Out” is the odds-on favorite to win best animated feature. Singman has “Inside Out” also winning best original screenplay and “The Big Short” winning best adapted screenplay. Henry’s team has “Mustang” winning best foreign film and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” winning best visual effects and best score.

We’ll talk to all of these folks again next week for final predictions going into the Oscars. Until then, check out our ongoing coverage and our interactive tracking the state of the Oscar race.

More Predict The Oscars:

Can You Read Between The Lines To Pick The Oscar Winners?

The 2016 Oscars Race

How Much Do We Need To Know To Predict The Oscars?

Can The Internet Predict The Oscars?

FiveThirtyEight’s Guide To Predicting The Oscars

Can You Fake The Academy To Predict The Oscars?

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.