OscarLytics: How Well Do the Golden Globes Predict the Academy Awards?
Editor's Note: Ben Zauzmer is a big fan of the Oscars, as well an applied-math major at Harvard College. For the past two years, he has predicted the Oscars using nothing but math, calling 75 percent in 2012 and 81 percent in 2013. This year, he's teaming up with The Hollywood Reporter to bring you his Oscar predictions, as well as weekly updates, combining numbers and movies in the months leading up to the Academy Awards. Ben's predictions are purely math-based; see THR's Feinberg Forecast for a look at the Oscar race that takes into account other variables).
The red carpet, Tina Fey and Amy Pohler, the stars -- there are plenty of reasons to watch the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night. But for Oscar fans, the biggest reason to tune in will be to see what evidence the Globes offer about which movies will be nominated for Academy Awards -- nominations will be announced Jan. 16 -- and which movie will win the best picture Oscar on March 2.
To answer that question, it's necessary to do a little math -- and to take a look back.
The Globes -- which give out two best picture awards, one for drama and one for musical or comedy -- correctly forecast the Oscar winner last year by picking Argo for best drama. The year before, The Artist mimed its way to a best musical or comedy victory at the Globes, and it, too, went on to win the best picture Oscar. But before that, the Globes' predictive powers hit a two-year cold stretch, when Oscar champions The Hurt Locker and The King's Speech lost to Golden Globe drama favorites Avatar and The Social Network, respectively.
As far as the Globes' predictive powers go, the high point for the Globes' musical/comedy category was in the 1960s, when the Academy looked with a lot more favor on musical/comedy fare. Between Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) and Oliver! (1968), the best picture Oscar winner nabbed one of the trophies in one of the Globes' top categories for 13 years running -- the best streak in the organization's history.
But ever since the Academy expanded its best picture category to as many as 10 nominees in 2009, only 59 percent of Golden Globe best picture nominees have earned Oscar nominations. The odds improve for the actual Golden Globe winners: 88 percent of them have gone on to earn Oscar nominations. However, that statistic is based on a small sample size, since there have only been eight Golden Globe winners since 2009, with 2009's The Hangover being the lone film during that era to win a Golden Globe (in the comedy category) but not an Oscar nomination.
Then there is the flip side of the same question: Does the failure to earn a Globe nomination handicap a movie pursuing the best picture Oscar? That is to say, can a movie win the Oscar for best picture without getting a Globe nomination? That's the question on the minds of all involved with Saving Mr. Banks, The Butler, August: Osage County, Blue Jasmine and a slew of other films that did not receive Globe nominations this year for best drama or best musical or comedy.
History says it's mighty difficult. In fact, only six films have ever won the best picture Academy Award without first securing a best picture Globe nomination: 1953's From Here to Eternity, 1955's Marty, 1973's The Sting, 1981's Chariots of Fire, 1982's Gandhi and 2004's Crash. Since 1956, the year that the Globes first honored five nominees per category, only 3.6 percent of Oscar best pictures that were eligible for Golden Globe awards for best drama or best musical/comedy have failed to earn a Golden Globe nomination in either of those two top categories. (The U.K. productions Chariots of Fire and Gandhi both won Globes as best foreign film but were ineligible for the Globes two drama prizes.)
Since the Academy expanded its best picture category, 2011's The Ides of March is the only Golden Globe best drama nominee that has failed to earn an Oscar best picture nomination. (Ides is represented by the purple point on the bottom line of the above chart, signifying that the movie got four Globe nominations but failed to get a best picture Oscar nom, to say nothing of a win.) That bodes well for underdogs Rush and Philomena, both of which received Globe drama nominations this year. But be warned -- we only have four years of data in the expanded best picture era, so these trends are by no means set in stone. That said, the relationship between Golden Globe nomination number and Oscar success can be expressed by the following equations:
Oscar = 0.06 Golden Globe Drama +0.85
Oscar = 0.31 Golden Globe Musical/Comedy -0.61
What does this mean? The more Golden Globe nominations a movie gets, the more likely it will achieve Oscar success. (For Oscar, we are using 0 for no nomination, 1 for a nomination and 2 for a best picture win, as in the above chart.) Since 0.31 is bigger than 0.06, nominations help musical/comedies more than they help dramas. However, since 0.85 is much bigger than -0.61, dramas start off with a huge advantage over musical/comedies, even before the number of Golden Globe nominations has been counted!
For instance, even though Gravity, a drama, only earned four nominations, it is still in better shape than American Hustle or Nebraska, comedies that earned seven and five nominations, respectively. No one is sitting as pretty as 12 Years a Slave, a drama that picked up seven nominations.
Even if a Globe win is no guarantee of an Oscar win, there is still a reasonable chance that a movie that wasn't nominated for a Globe can sneak onto the list of Oscar nominees. It's been six years since the Golden Globe nominations included all the eventual best picture Oscar nominees. That year, the Golden Globes went to the drama Atonement and the musical Sweeney Todd, neither of which could topple No Country for Old Men come Oscar night. The last time the Golden Globes picked every Oscar nominee as well as the correct winner was when 2002's Chicago gave them the old razzle-dazzle by winning both the Globe for best musical and the Oscar for best picture.
Last year, the Globes predicted seven best picture nominees out of nine nominated by the Academy. That was actually the maximum that they could have picked, since all but two of last year's Oscar nominees were dramas, meaning that at least two of the Oscar picks could not find a place on the Globes' list, which only had room for five dramas.
So how predictive are the Globes these days?
Over the past decade, 48 percent of Golden Globe nominees received best picture nominations. However, there is a huge disparity by category: 74 percent of the drama nominees during that period also earned Oscar nominations, but only 20 percent of the musical/comedy nominees were represented among the more serious Oscar nominees.
When it comes to picking winners in the past decade, the Globes are not doing so well. Despite giving themselves two chances to pick the Oscar winner -- one drama and one musical/comedy -- the Globes have correctly predicted only four of the last 10 Oscar winners. Three were dramas -- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Slumdog Millionaire and Argo -- and one, The Artist, was a comedy. By way of comparison, the Director's Guild has picked nine of the last 10 best picture winners, even though the DGA honors only one film per year.
So expect to see a lot of the Globe's best picture nominees, especially its best drama noms, on the list of the nominations that the Academy is about to issue. But is either of the two Globe's best picture winners that will be crowned Sunday night likey to win the best picture Oscar? That's not a sure thing at all.