Surprise! The Golden Globes Predict Oscar Winners More Often Than Presumed

Golden Globe Oscar Statue Refection Illustration - P
Illustration by Christopher Silas Neal

This story appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

It's a dismal track record: just once in the past seven years have the Golden Globes been in sync with the Academy when choosing the best-picture winner -- despite the Globes having two categories, drama and comedy/musical.

This is precisely why so many awards pundits have questioned the Globes' chief claim to fame as Oscar's most reliable prognosticator -- a claim that's crucial to the credibility not only of the awards but also of their parent, the much-maligned Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

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Despite naysayers' sniping (including barbs from Globes host Ricky Gervais), the truth is that the Globes line up with Oscar far more than many believe, while still coming short of being ideal.

In terms of predicting the Oscar winner for best picture, the Globes have been on the mark in 11 of the past 20 years. One of its two winners for best drama or comedy/musical has gone on to win the award that matters most -- and the Globes were startlingly accurate from 1993 to 2003, when they matched Oscar 10 out of 11 times until stumbling with 2004's Aviator (chosen best drama at the Globes over subsequent Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby).

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The Globes have had similar accuracy regarding directors, with 12 matching picks during the same period. That's in line with their average prediction rate for Oscar's major categories (picture, director, actor, actress, supporting actor and actress and original and adapted screenplay). Twelve of the 20 most recent Oscar winners for best actor also won a Globe; so did 13 of the 20 supporting actors and 11 of the 20 supporting?actresses.

The Globes have been more successful still as a forecast for writers. The winner of the Globe for best screenplay has gone on to win an Oscar in 15 of the past 20 years. (Unlike Oscar, where there are awards for original and adapted works, the Globes give only one.)

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Most impressive is the Globes' performance in the lead actress category: The eventual Oscar winner has taken a Globe in 17 of the past 20 years.

Do the math in all the major Oscar categories for the past two decades, and the Globes have been right 91 times out of a possible 140.

So does this mean the critics are wrong in questioning the Globes' validity as a litmus test? No.

First, with the two best picture categories, along with the two categories for best actor and actress, the Globes have an unfair leg?up, allowing a hedging of bets when it comes to predicting Oscar winners. If there were only one category, would Gwyneth Paltrow have won a Globe for 1998's Shakespeare in Love, and beaten Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth)?

Second, the Globes' total count has benefited from runaway favorites that were locks for an Oscar from the beginning, such as Slumdog Millionaire (which already had been named best picture by BAFTA, the Broadcast Film Critics and -- for its cast -- by the Screen Actors Guild) and actors Colin Firth (The King's Speech) and Christian Bale (The Fighter). It would have been a shock if any of those Globes picks didn't also win Oscars. 

The Globes have been a far less reliable barometer precisely where it counts the most: in those gray zones where the race isn't clear.

They opted for Brokeback Mountain as the best drama of 2005, rather than subsequent Oscar pick Crash; they went for supporting actor Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls) the following year, when Oscar picked Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine); and they chose Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights) instead of eventual Oscar winner Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting) among 1997's performances.

The Globes' overall tally is better than many assume. But don't count on it when you fill out your ballot.


CRYSTAL BALL: During the past 20 years, the Golden Globes have predicted the major Oscar winners with varying degrees of success.

Picture: 55%
Even with two categories, the Globes synced up only once in the past seven years with Oscar, and that was for obvious front-runner Slumdog.

Director: 60%
The Globes got it wrong three of the past four years, only lining up with Oscar for Slumdog's Danny Boyle.

Actor: 60%
Just one Oscar winner  failed to win a Globe in the past eight years: Milk's Sean Penn, who lost to The Wrestler's Mickey Rourke.

Supporting Actor: 65%
Poor Eddie Murphy. He's the only Globe winner (for Dreamgirls) to miss out on Oscar since 1999.

Actress: 85%
Not since Frances McDormand won for 1996's Fargo has an Oscar winner failed to match up with one of the two Globes picks.

Supporting Actress: 55%
The Globes got it right the past two years with Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and Mo'Nique (Precious).

Screenplay: 75%
A Globe win tends to predict Oscar success -- though not for Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, surprise losers for 2009's Up in the Air.