Producers Guild Awards mystery solved: How did Best Picture tie happen?

When Ben Affleck announced that “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slavehad tied for Best Picture at the Producers Guild Awards Sunday, he sent a shock wave through Hollywood. 

We Oscarologists count on these kudos to give us clarity as to what film will win the top prize at the Academy Awards. After all, the PGA uses the same system of voting — the preferential ballot — as the motion picture academy and has predicted all five winners of the Best Picture Oscar since that field expanded to more than five in 2009. 

Since then, the members of the PGA and motion picture academy — each of whom number about 6,000 — have ranked their respective Best Picture nominees. If one nominee garners more than 50% of the first-place votes, it will be named Best Picture. If, as is more likely, no nominee reaches this threshold, the film with the fewest first place votes is eliminated, with its ballots being reapportioned to the second place choice. 

Should no film cross the required 50% + one ballot threshold at this point, the film with the fewest first place votes is again eliminated, with its ballots being apportioned to the next choice still in play (i.e., if the second place choice on a ballot is no longer in the running, then the ballot would be reapportioned to the third place choice and so on.)

This process of elimination and reapportion continues until one film reaches at least 50% + one ballots. This year, two films — “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” — had the exact same number of ballots which ranked each higher than the other. These were a combination of original number one votes and subsequent reallocations from films that were dropped. 

While this may seem mathematically improbable, you can be sure that the accountants repeated the counting process several times when they determined that two pictures were tied for the top award. 

Could we have a tie at the Oscars too? 

Absolutely. While it has happened with other categories — which are decided by a popular vote that awards the Oscar to the nominee who tops the most ballots — there is no reason it couldn’t occur in the Best Picture race as well. [Below, relive that moment from 1968 when Ingrid Bergman was left momentarily speechless when she opened the Best Actress envelope and saw two names — Katharine Hepburn (“The Lion in Winter”) and Barbra Streisand (“Funny Girl”).]

What will win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars? 

Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. Come back and change your predictions as often as you like until Oscar night, March 2.

9 thoughts on “Producers Guild Awards mystery solved: How did Best Picture tie happen?

  1. I think it really sets up “American Hustle” to win the Best Pic Oscar. If the producers split the vote and the actors are the largest voting body who just picked AH for Best Ensemble, it allows AH to come from behind and win. AH just got the shot in the arm that it needs to win!

  2. Between the late year scheduling of films and the preferential ballot, I’m really starting to dislike Oscar season as it seems that all the voters suffer from memory loss of anything that didn’t happen in the last sixty days.

  3. I don’t understand how the mystery of the tie was solved. All I saw in this article was how the system works. And we already knew that. If a film needs 50% + 1 vote to be named best picture, how can there be two winners? Is there a 100.10% of votes? The only scenario I can imagine is that when they are allocating the votes of the movies in third place (let’s say, American Hustle) and there are still two movies in the game (Gravity and 12 Years a Slave), by the time the votes are allocated, it turns out 12 Years a Slave needed, let’s say 6.8% to reach 50%, and Gravity needed 7.1% to reach 50%… and guess what! Those American Hustle votes had exactly the votes those films needed! Both reaching 50%, but since there are no more ballots, they can’t get the +1 vote, so they both have to be named Best Picture. After 8 rounds.

  4. This is EXACTLY how I explained a tie is possible under the preferential system the other day, despite PwC’s insistence that it’s impossible at the Oscars: Once all other nominees are eliminated, each film was ahead on exactly 1/2 of the ballots. The EXACT SAME THING is possible at the Oscars, though IMO FilmRush’s scenario is more likely (that’s exactly how “Chariots of Fire” beat BOTH frontrunners “On Golden Pond” & “Reds” in 1981).

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