The Academy’s membership has grown since even a few years ago and is now around 9,000 total. But that number, according to the Academy, also includes non-voting members. Gold Derby recorded the membership back in June of 2018 this way:
Actors Branch: 1,218
Casting Directors Branch: 113
Cinematographers Branch: 246
Costume Designers Branch: 128
Designers Branch: 308
Directors Branch: 512
Documentary Branch: 320
Executive Branch: 499
Film Editors Branch: 298
Makeup and Hairstyling Branch: 183
Music Branch: 305
Producers Branch: 524
Public Relations Branch: 416
Short Films and Feature Animation Branch: 565
Sound Branch: 487
Visual Effects Branch: 450
Writers Branch: 422
They give the total as 7,258.
But last year, 900+ were invited to join. So I think it’s safe to assume the number is around 8,000 or so. Now let’s travel over to Steve Pond’s piece from 2013 about what it takes to secure a nomination.
According to Steve, there are two magic numbers for a Best Picture nomination. The first threshold is met by any film that gets in during the first two rounds of counting, where it’s mostly number one votes being tabulated — that number is roughly 9% of the ballots cast. The second (and lower) threshold can be met during the third and final round of counting, during which the films with less than 1% of the vote are eliminated and the next choices on those ballots are counted. In this final round, a film needs 5% of the vote to be nominated.
So, for first count, 9% of 8000 is roughly 720. Then, 5% of 8000 is 400. So if you don’t get nominated outright in the first round with 9%, you have to start out with a decent sized pile of number one votes to begin with, and then collect enough second or third place votes to get to that magic number of roughly 400 before voting ends. Simulations done here over the years indicate that magic number is at least 3%, or 240 votes; in other words, a film needs to be ranked as the best film of the year on at least 240 ballots to have a shot of being nominated.
The first job is going to be figuring out which films hit that magic number of 9% on the first count. So it’s probably easy to figure out at least the top seven:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
By many estimates out there, there will only be one slot left to fill if there are eight nominees. If there are nine nominees, that gives us two more openings to fill. Let’s go with nine. Assuming each of the seven films listed above were all nominated in the first round, that means about 5,000 ballots have been counted. That leaves, oh, maybe 2,000 or 3,000 ballots left. From these remaining votes, we’re looking at what hits high on the ballots of voters when their first choice wasn’t popular enough to stay in the count.
It seems safe to assume that these films will be strongly in contention:
Bombshell — SAG-splosion seems to guarantee its place
Ford v Ferrari — just the greatest movie and if it doesn’t get in the Oscars are useless
Dolemite Is My Name — could be driven by passion for Eddie Murphy and the only film with a predominantly black cast anywhere in sight
Little Women — will benefit from a passion vote by many members to push a woman into the race.
The Two Popes — never underestimate the power of Pope Francis
Knives Out — seems to be enjoying a bit of a surge
The rest of the ballots will need a bunch of number ones to start in order to reach that 5% threshold to secure a nomination. So what movies are these movies going to hit with a second or third choice that isn’t already on the ballot? That is your challenge, should you choose to accept it.
For the fun of it, let’s run a ranking poll for top five films of the year.