SAG Awards: What's the Likelihood of Repeat Wins at the Oscars?

When long-valued stats begin to point in conflicting directions, what's the eventual outcome? This is the question facing many industry figures with a horse in this year's Oscar race after Sunday night's 24th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

SAG-AFTRA, the world's largest union of actors, honored Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with its best ensemble, best actress (Frances McDormand) and best supporting actor (Sam Rockwell) prizes, while Darkest Hour's Gary Oldman won best actor and I, Tonya's Allison Janney won best supporting actress.

The choices of SAG-AFTRA are studied by Oscar-watchers not because most of the union's 160,000 members members are also members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' actors branch, but because most members of the Academy's 1,218-member actors branch — the organization's largest branch, by far, accounting for some 17 percent of its membership — are members of SAG-AFTRA. In other words, no larger sample-size of the Academy members is offered prior to the Oscars itself.

Not surprisingly, the SAG Awards have a very solid track record of correlating with the Academy when it comes to the individual acting categories. The best supporting actor and best supporting actress SAG Awards have been presented 23 previous times, and their winners went on to win the corresponding Oscars on all but nine occasions. In that same time span, the groups' best actress winners have deviated only six times and best actor winners have deviated only five times.

And yet, for whatever reason, it is very rare for both groups to agree on all four of the same winners in any given year — indeed, that has happened only six times in 23 years, namely the years honoring work for 1997, 2004, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.

The most problematic SAG Award, as far as Oscar predictivity, is actually the one that is regarded as the most significant, best ensemble (or, as it is officially known, "outstanding performance by a cast"). There is no best picture SAG Award, so many treat best ensemble as that — but others take the category's title literally and seek to reward the best assemblage of actors, or the largest assemblage of actors in a good movie, or something else.

It's quite possible that the result of this confusion is that only 11 of the 22 previous best ensemble SAG Award winners went on to win the best picture Oscar. Among the 11 films that won the former but lost the latter: 2006's Little Miss Sunshine, 2009's Inglourious Basterds, 2011's The Help and 2016's Hidden Figures. However, it must also be noted that a best ensemble SAG Award victory was one of the few hints, in hindsight, of what was later regarded as a shocking best picture Oscar upset by 1998's Shakespeare in Love, 2005's Crash and 2015's Spotlight.

The most significant stat related to the best ensemble SAG Award, however, has nothing to do with its winners, but rather with its nominees: in the 22 previous years in which the best ensemble SAG Award was presented, only one film that wasn't at least nominated for it still managed to win the best picture Oscar, 1995's Braveheart.

Which raises the question: will The Shape of Water — a film that won the best picture Critics' Choice Award and, on Saturday night, the Producers Guild of America's top prize, but was not even nominated for the best ensemble SAG Award — be able to snap a streak that 2015's The Revenant and 2016's La La Land could not? (This year's best ensemble SAG Award nominees were Three Billboards and Lady Bird, both best picture Golden Globe winners, as well as streaming service standouts The Big Sick and Mudbound.)

Oscar nominations won't even be announced until Tuesday, and then the final round of Oscar voting — which, unlike the SAG Awards, employs a preferential ballot that rewards consensus over passion — will run from Feb. 20 all the way through Feb. 27, more than a month from now. In other words, there's still a lot of time for the winds to change. And, in this extremely competitive awards season, it will be fascinating to see if that crucial SAG Award stat can withstand them.

comments powered by Disqus