Every year when I watch the Oscars, I wonder about this elusive “Academy” that each winner thanks. It wields such power over which movies become classics and which ones fade away into obscurity. In the build-up to the awards, there’s always much speculation about winning strategies for getting the attention, and votes, of the Academy. UCLA sociologist Gabriel Rossman and colleagues have researched films that have won Oscars over the years and identified a number of predictors of award success, which Rossman recently shared with The Atlantic.
They find that serious roles and “meaty” dramas that are released towards the end of the year (during awards season) are more likely to get nominations. Furthermore, the sociological concept of “cumulative advantage” can be applied to the Oscars, in that talented actors who work with other talented actors are more likely to get an award, rather than one particularly talented actor within an otherwise mediocre film.
These predictors for getting a nomination may seem obvious and even formulaic, but Rossman argues that films must meet these criteria while avoiding the impression of trying too hard. He says, “It turns out that audiences dislike movies that are ‘trying’ to get Oscar nominations but really like movies that actually ‘get’ Oscar nomination.”