Does Oscar history favor ‘The Favourite’ for Best Production Design?

When it comes to predicting this year’s winner of the Oscar for Best Production Design, we would do well to consider the past winners of this prize to get a sense of the style that Academy Awards tend to embrace. Are besties Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton really the favorite for their film of the same name, albeit with that “u” for the British spelling? Or is “Black Panther” the one to beat? Let’s take a look at the last 10 winners of this award at the Oscars.

2017 – “The Shape of Water” – Sci-fi fantasy, set in the 50’s
2016 – “La La Land” – Musical, Modern-day LA
2015 – “Mad Max: Fury Road” –  Action, Apocalyptic wasteland
2014 – “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Comedy, fictional hotel/country in the 1930s
2013 – “The Great Gatsby” – Drama, 1920s
2012 – “Lincoln” – Period drama – 1860’s
2011 – “Hugo” – Paris, 1930s
2010 – “Alice in Wonderland” – fantasy, fictional world
2009 – “Avatar” – sci-fi fantasy, fictional world
2008 – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – Drama spanning 1910s, 20s, 30s, 40s, 60s, 80s, 90s, 2000s.

Creating fictional places is a great way to win Best Production Design as seen by those scenes in “Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” That bias gives a boost to “Black Panther,” which is set in the fictional country of Wakanda. Like “Alice in Wonderland,” it combines tradition and real-life culture (Victorian English/African) with fantastical designs. “Black Panther” also features sci-fi elements, as did “Avatar,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and, to a lesser extent, “The Shape of Water.” And it is an action film to boot, as were “Avatar” and “Fury Road.”

However, “Black Panther” is set in the modern day, which could adversely affect its chances. Only one out of the last 10 winners have been set in today’s world: “La La Land.” But Damien Chazelle’s musical had a timeless quality to it with the design elements including production and set decoration feeling like they could just as easily be from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s at different points during the film.

Fantasy combined with realism is something “Mary Poppins Returns” does well, too. It combines 1940s London with outright, fantastical fiction – similar to Tim Burton‘s “Alice in Wonderland.” It’s also a musical, like “La La Land” and is a beloved book come to life, which seems to be a good way to win here. “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Great Gatsby” also did this. And it’s a musical, too, which do well in this category. “Beauty and the Beast,” “La La Land,” “Into the Woods,” “Les Miserables,” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” have all been nominated in recent years, with the latter winning.

SEE How often do the Oscars for Costume Design and Production Design go to the same film?

The Favourite” is a political period drama set a couple of centuries ago against iconic backdrops, much like Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln.” It’s an outright period drama, which always does well here as evidenced by those wins for “The Great Gatsby,” “Hugo,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” “The Favourite” lacks the fantastical elements of the latter. 

“Mary Poppins Returns” and “Black Panther” may split fantasy-loving voters. And there isn’t much historical evidence to support a “First Man” or “Roma” win in this category. Set in 1960s America and 1970s Mexico City, respectively, their sets are fairly muted and subtle, compared to the bigger, bolder looks of the other three nominees. Add to that the fact that these time periods have not figured in the films that won this race in the last decade. 

PREDICT the Oscar winners now; change them until February 24

Be sure to check out how our experts rank Oscar contenders in all 24 categories. Use the drop-down menus at the top of each page to see the other categories. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your Oscar winner predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 24.

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