Oscars nominations by the numbers: Just how many votes do you need?

Every December, the academy updates its branch totals in anticipation of voting for the nominations, which kicks off on Dec. 29 and runs until Jan. 8. Nominations will be announced a week later and the Oscars are on Feb. 22.

This year, 6,124 members can take part in the voting process; that is up from 5,856 just two years ago. This uptick in membership is the result of the decision by the academy to do away with the cap that allowed only for replacement of those members who had died or declined to renew. 

We know the introduction of online voting has increased participation to record levels. Assuming all members take part in the process, we can calculate the “Initial Magic Number” of votes needed to get a nomination in the various categories.

Seven categories — Animated Feature, Foreign-Language Feature, Makeup & Hairstyling, Visual Effects, and the three Shorts (Animated, Documentary, Live-Action) — require attendance at special screenings and those various methods of nomination are detailed at the bottom of this post. 

For all other categories except Best Picture (which can have up to 10 nominees and uses a different method of counting), this “Initial Magic Number” is calculated by dividing the number of ballots cast by six and adding one (i.e., if five contenders each get this number of votes, it is mathematically impossible for a sixth to do so — click here for a detailed description of this method of counting). 

BEST PICTURE
All 6,124 members can cast ballots for Best Picture 
“Initial Magic Number”: 557
(Click here for a detailed description of the method of counting.)

Five branches vote only in this race (and can take part in the selection process for Animated Feature and Foreign-Language Feature if they so choose):

Casting Directors Branch: 76 members (up from 54)
Executive Branch: 457 members (up from 450)
Members-At-Large: 210 members (down from 217)
Producers Branch: 485 members (up from 479)
Public Relations Branch: 378 members (up from 377)

These branches total 1,606 members and mean that 26% of the academy roster have no Oscar category to call their own. 

Oscars 101:
Best Picture nominations ballots counted differently than rest

BEST ACTOR, BEST ACTRESS, BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Actors Branch: 1,150 members (down from 1,176)
“Initial Magic Number”: 192 
 

BEST SOUND EDITING, BEST SOUND MIXING
Sound Branch: 428 members (up from 418)
“Initial Magic Number”: 72 
 

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Writers Branch: 386 members (up from 378)
“Initial Magic Number”: 65 
 

BEST DIRECTOR
Directors Branch: 382 members (up from 377)
“Initial Magic Number”: 64 

UPDATED: Experts’ Oscars predictions in 22 categories

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Designers Branch: 269 members (up from 262)
“Initial Magic Number”: 45
 

BEST SCORE, BEST SONG
Music Branch: 244 members (up from 240)
“Initial Magic Number”: 41 
A reminder list of the 114 eligible scores and a DVD with excerpts of the 79 eligible songs is sent to the members of the branch. 
 

BEST FILM EDITING
Film Editors Branch: 236 members (up from 230)
“Initial Magic Number”: 40 
 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE 
Documentary Branch: 222 members (up from 210)
“Initial Magic Number”: 38 
 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Costume Designers Branch: 113 members (up from 108)
“Initial Magic Number”: 19 

Oscars mystery solved:
How nomination ballots (except for Best Picture) are counted

Seven categories have special rules as detailed below:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Voting on this award is restricted to academy members from any branch who volunteer to be on the screening committee and see at least two-thirds of the 20 eligible films (i.e, at least 14). Members score each film from 6 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and only those films with an average rating of at least 7.5 remain as contenders. If only one film merits such a score, it will receive a special award; otherwise, the five highest ranked above 7.5 will be the nominees. 
 

BEST ANIMATED SHORTBEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Short Films and Feature Animation Branch: 387 members (up from 366)
Voting on these two awards is done in two stages. First, branch members who volunteer to be on the screening committees watch the 58 animated and 114 live-action shorts submitted. Members score each film from 6 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and the 10 highest ranked above 7.5 go on to the second stage. All members of the branch are invited to screenings of these 10 semi-finalists and those five with the highest scores above 7.5 are the nominees. 
 

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Documentary Branch: 222 members (up from 210)
Voting on this award is done in two stages. First, branch members who volunteer to be on the screening committee watch the 58 documentary shorts submitted. Members score each film from 6 (poor) to 10 (excellent) and the eight highest ranked above 7.5 go on to the second stage. All members of the branch are invited to screenings of these eight semi-finalists and those five with the highest scores above 7.5 are the nominees. 

See latest Oscar rankings when Experts’ predictions are combined

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FEATURE
Voting on this award is restricted to academy members from any branch who volunteer to be on the screening committee. They are divided into groups and required to watch at least 19 of the 83 submissions for Foreign Language Film over a two-month period that ended Monday (Dec. 15). They scored them from 6 to 10 and their top six vote getters made it to the next round, as did three films added by the 20 members of the executive committee. 

The nine semi-finalists will be screened three per day beginning in early January by select committee members in both Gotham and Hollywood who will then vote for the final five nominees. The entire academy membership will get screeners of the five nominated films and can vote for the winner.
 

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Makeup & Hairstyling Branch: 135 members (same as last year)
Nominations are determined in two stages. First, upwards of 15 members of the branch who attend special screenings cast preferential ballots with the top seven vote-getters moving on to the second stage. Those members from the first stage and any other members who attend screenings of excerpts from these seven semi-finalists cast preferential ballots and the top three films are nominated. 
 

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Visual Effects Branch: 340 members (up from 323)
The executive committee of the branch determines the 10 semi-finalists. All members of the branch are invited to a screening of excerpts from these 10 films at which potential nominees may discuss their work. Ballots are counted using a system of reweighted range voting to determine the five nominees. 

Oscars calendar:
Deadlines and dates for Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, SAG, …

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