Winners of 22 of the 23 races are decided by popular vote: i.e, each of the 9,362 members of the academy has chosen just one of the five nominees in each category and the Oscar goes to the contender with the most votes. But the winner of the big prize, Best Picture, is arrived at by a different method. The academy uses a modified version of the preferential voting that determined the nominees in those other races.
For the 2021 Oscars, voters were asked to rank the eight Best Picture nominees: “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
If one nominee garnered more than 50% of the first place votes, it wins 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 will be the Best Picture winner revealed as the last award on Sunday’s Oscars.
This method of preferential voting for the final Best Picture ballot was reintroduced in 2009, when the academy went to 10 nominees in this category for the first time since 1943. It was kept in place in 2010 when the number of nominees shifted to somewhere between five and 10. The academy believes this “best allows the collective judgment of all voting members to be most accurately represented.”
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