Saturday, February 23, 2013

On The Elusive Third Oscar

Recently I tweeted the following in reference to this year’s Oscar race for Best Actor, specifically the possibility that Daniel Day-Lewis will win an unprecedented third Best Actor* gong.

Daniel Day-Lewis HAS to win, but the Academy does like to share those Oscars around.
Oh, I should know better than to make such statements without checking the stats … I’ve always had this assumption that the Academy has been prejudiced against those actors and actresses that have won before – the example which settled this in my mind was when Adrien Brody won Best Actor in the year in which was the only nominee not to have previously won it. Essentially I always figured that no Actor or Actress had ever piled up a whole rack of Oscars because the Academy likes to share the statues around. But does the data support this?

To answer this, I looked at all the actors and actresses who had been nominated at least five times for the Best Actor or Best Actress Oscar. If you’ve been nominated five times, you would be expected to win, on average, one award (since there are five nominees each year). If the Academy was really biased against those who kept on getting nominated, then you would expect the average winning percentage of the frequently-nominated stars to be less than 20 per cent.

Well, as you can probably gather from my humility, it isn’t. For actresses with five or more nominations, they have won 24 times out of 118 nominations – a winning percentage of 20.3 per cent. For actors with five or more nominations, they have won 24 times out of 114 nominations – a winning percentage of 21.0 per cent. That is, frequently-nominated actors and actresses have won about as many times as you would expect them to.

But … this assumes the top actors and actresses are more or less equal - that is, you don’t have the equivalent of Roger Federer or Michael Jordan amongst the acting ranks. If this were the case, then the Academy’s voting patterns might suggest they are bringing the very top talent back to the pack. Perhaps though, acting is one of those professions that doesn’t have outliers. 

*Yes, I know Katherine Hepburn did it for the Best Actress category.

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