Secrets Behind Oscar Nominations Revealed

Cate Blanchett poses for photographers during the presentation of the movie ''Elizabeth: the Golden Age" at the Rome Film Festival, in this Oct. 19, 2007, file photo. (Image credit: AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca, file)

Movie star Cate Blanchett’s recent stirring performances may not have been the only reason she got two Oscar nods this week.

Academy Award nominations tend to go to performers in dramas, who are female, who have been nominated in the past and who command a high rank in the movie-credit pecking order, a new study shows.

Sociologists Nicole Esparza of Harvard University and Gabriel Rossman of the University of California, Los Angeles, used records from the Internet Movie Database for every Oscar-eligible film made between the founding of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 1927 and 2005 to see what conditions might improve a performer's chances of getting a nod.

"A performer's odds of being nominated are largely set before the cameras even start rolling, back when the script was bought, the director was signed and the film was cast," Esparza said. "It's surprising how many variables other than a performer's talent play a role in determining who gets nominated."

The researchers found that the largest predictor of garnering a nomination was to leave the audience in tears instead of in stitches: Actors were nine times more likely to receive a nomination for a dramatic performance than a non-dramatic one.

"In the entertainment industry, there's long been a sense that the nomination process prefers dramas, but I don't think anybody is aware of the magnitude of the effect," Rossman said.

The second strongest predictor in the study, the number of films screened that year, may seem fairly obvious.

"It's better to be nominated in a year when fewer films were screened, because there's less competition come awards time," Rossman said.

Actresses were more than twice as likely to be nominated as actors for any given performance, the findings showed, making being female the third biggest predictor.

"At least in this case, being underrepresented on the job works in women's favor," Esparza said. "Because there are fewer female than male performers in films, and both are eligible for the same number of awards, actresses stand a better chance of being nominated than actors. It's a simple matter of arithmetic, but as far as I know, nobody has ever raised the point."

Actors and actresses were also more likely to receive a nomination if they had a history of being named at the top of the credits, had been nominated for an Oscar before or if they appeared with previously nominated writers and directors.

Blanchett, who received a best actress nomination for the sequel, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age", and a supporting actress nod for "I'm Not There," certainly has many of these factors working in her favor. Nominations for the 80th Academy Awards ceremony were announced Monday morning.

Andrea Thompson
Live Science Contributor

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.