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

By Paul Sheehan
By Paul Sheehan
Jan 20 2014 04:56 am
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Jan 30 2015 04:51 am
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When Ben Affleck announced that "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" had 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").]

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