Why is Producers Guild Awards so good at predicting Best Picture winner at Oscars?

The Producers Guild of America Awards has an enviable track record at presaging the eventual Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards. The guild and the academy have agreed on 18 of the most recent 25 Best Picture champs, including the last seven in a row. Of course, it did double its odds last year by declaring an unprecedented tie between “Gravity” and eventual Oscar winner “12 Years a Slave.” 

This precursor prize, which will be handed out this Saturday (Jan. 24), picks a winner using the same kind of counting as the Oscars — the preferential ballot. While the academy also uses this method to determine nominees in most other races (e.g., acting, directing, writing), the winners of those categories are decided by pure popular vote.  

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And popular vote was the way the Best Picture winner was decided at the Oscars from 1946 to 2008. The PGA used this system when it began doling out awards in 1989. It previewed the Oscar winner only 13 times in the first 20 years of these kudos, getting it wrong in the following seven instances:

1992: “The Crying Game” over “Unforgiven”

1995: “Apollo 13” over Braveheart

1998: “Saving Private Ryan” over “Shakespeare in Love”

2001: “Moulin Rouge!” over “A Beautiful Mind”

2004: The Aviator” over “Million Dollar Baby

2005: “Brokeback Mountain” over “Crash”; and

2006: “Little Miss Sunshine” over “The Departed”

In 2009 — when the academy went to 10 Best Picture nominees for the first time since 1943 — the preferential system of voting, which had been used from 1934 to 1945, was reintroduced. The Oscars had first used the preferential method of voting in 1934 when there were 12 Best Picture nominees (there had been between three and 10 in the first six years of the Academy Awards). It was used the following year when there were again 12 nominees, then from 1936 to 1943 when there were 10 nominees, and finally in both 1944 and 1945 when there were just five contenders before being dropped in favor of the popular vote from 1946 to 2008.

The academy believes the preferential method “best allows the collective judgment of all voting members to be most accurately represented.” The PGA followed suit by expanding its field to 10 and using the preferential ballot. It has predicted all five Oscar winners since. 

In 2009, the guild previewed eight of the 10 Oscar contenders for Best Picture, opting for “Invictus” and “Star Trek” over academy choices “The Blind Side” and “A Serious Man.” “The Hurt Locker” won over both groups.

In 2010, the PGA foresaw nine of the eventual 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees. The guild had gone for “The Town” while the academy opted for “Winter’s Bone” for the tenth slot. Both groups crowned “The King’s Speech” as the Best Picture of the year.

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In 2011, the academy shifted to a sliding scale of Best Picture nominees that falls somewhere between five and 10, as decided by a complicated system of counting. However, the PGA stuck with 10 nominees for Best Picture. That year, the guild predicted seven of the eventual nine Best Picture contenders, including “The Artist” which won with both groups. The other PGA nominees that repeated at the Oscars were:  “The Descendants,” “The Help” “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Moneyball” and “War Horse.” The PGA filled out their slate with popular pictures “Bridesmaids,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “The Ides of March,” while the Oscars went with “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “The Tree of Life.”

In 2012, eight PGA picks — “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Les Miserables,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Zero Dark Thirty” —  were among the nine films in the running for the top Academy Award. Rounding out the roster at PGA were “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Skyfall.” The guild snubbed the French-language “Amour,” which netted a Best Picture nod from the academy. “Argo” won both prizes. 

Of last year’s PGA contenders, eight of them reaped Best Picture bids at the Oscars: “American Hustle” “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Gravity, “Her, “Nebraska,” “12 Years a Slave” and  “The Wolf of Wall Street.”  However, the academy snubbed PGA nominees “Blue Jasmine” and “Saving Mr. Banks” in favor of Brit hit “Philomena,” which nabbed the ninth slot in the Oscar race. 

This year, the guild foresaw seven of the eight Oscar contenders: “American Sniper,” “Boyhood,” “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash.” It missed “Selma,” opting instead for “Foxcatcher,” “Gone Girl” and “Nightcrawler.” 

Since 2009, Oscar and PGA voters have ranked their respective Best Picture nominees. If one nominee garners more than 50% of the first-place votes, it will win 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, 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 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. That is the Best Picture. While passionate support gets a film nominated, it is the consensus choice that prevails as the winner.

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