There is an interesting phenom that has come out of the Academy’s choice to use the preferential ballot with more than five nominees. You almost never see a movie win that people really hated. All of the truly divisive films that have won Best Picture, like Crash or Chicago, did so when there were only five films and a non-preferential ballot, or a majority ballot – voters picked their favorite to win and it won.
Somehow, though, once the preferential ballot was in play, the less divisive the film, the better its chances. But even more importantly, films that are really divisive have a hard time winning now.
The weird part of it is that neither SAG nor the DGA use the preferential ballot and often their choices are the same as the Academy’s and the Producers Guild who do.
How do you figure out which films are divisive? You look at the Rotten Tomatoes score. The reason being, no hated film can win Best Picture. You won’t hear anyone say they hated Argo or 12 Years a Slave or The Artist, etc. Birdman drew a few haters but nowhere near enough.
Looking back over the past five years, the negatives are something like:
Birdman – 21 (high for a Best Picture winner)
12 Years a Slave – 11
Argo – 13
The Artist – 7
The King’s Speech – 14
The Hurt Locker – 6
Slumdog Millionaire 20 (again, likely accumulated after it won Best Picture)
No Country for Old Men – 18
The Departed – 24
Crash – 57 (an outlier, but I’m guessing most of these negatives came after it won Best Picture but still it has more than any other movie of late).
Million Dollar Baby – 23
Return of the King – 14
Chicago – 34
Even without the preferential ballot, low negative counts on a film on Rotten Tomatoes was always a good way to figure out whether a movie could win. But at least when there were five slots for Best Picture a movie like Chicago or Crash could still win even if they had their haters.
How are the films doing so far in this race? Let’s look at them. I am ordering them in terms of how low the negative versus how many critics have put in reviews.
Mad Max: Fury Road – 9/200+
The Martian – 19/242
Bridge of Spies – 16/176
Room – 5/108
Brooklyn – 0/27
Spotlight – 1/34
Carol – 1/31
Beasts of No Nation – 9/86
Steve Jobs – 27/150
Straight outta Compton – 19/157
Suffragette – 26.71
Black Mass – 49/151
None of this will indicate which films will get nominated, of course, just ones will win under a preferential ballot with more than five nominees. It’s something we’ll keep tracking as the year wears on.