Predicting the Best Picture winner is often the toughest among the 23 categories at the Oscars. We learned this at the 2020 Academy Awards. We were certain the top prize would go to “1917” but it was “Parasite” that prevailed. When making our Best Picture Oscar predictions, we weigh many factors, the most important of which is the effect of the preferential ballot that is used only for this race (voters rank all the nominees with the winner being the one that is the consensus choice.)
We also take into account the pedigree of the filmmakers, the critical reception to their previous films, the box office tally and the track record of the studios. We’ve taken all of these into consideration again as we look ahead to the 2021 Academy Awards. (Scroll down for the 2021 Oscars predictions for Best Picture.)
Early contenders were launched at the Sundance Film Festival in January before the coronavirus pandemic upended the race. Cannes was cancelled in May as was Telluride for Labor Day weekend. The three other festivals used as launching pads — Venice, Toronto and New York — are significantly scaled back. While cinemas are shuttered, the academy is allowing films that had to scrap planned theatrical releases to qualify via a streaming service.
Please note: Only those films with confirmed release dates are listed below. Check back often as new contenders are scheduled while other are dropped due to delays or critical reaction.
UPDATED: February 22, 2021
“Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix – June 12)
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Paul Walter Hauser, Norm Lewis, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.
Plot: Four Vietnam veterans return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and the promise of buried treasure.
“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics – February 26, 2021)
Director: Florian Zeller
Writers: Christopher Hampton and Zeller, who adapted the latter’s play of the same name.
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell
Plot: A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix – December 18)
Director: George C. Wolfe
Writer: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who adapted August Wilson’s play of the same name.
Cast: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman
Plot: When Ma Rainey, the “Queen of the Blues,” makes a record in a studio in Chicago, 1927, tensions boil between her, her white agent and producer, and bandmates.
“Mank” (Netflix – December 4)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jack Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard
Plot: Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz battles with director Orson Welles over screenplay credit for “Citizen Kane.”
“Minari” (A24 – February 12, 2021)
Writer/Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, and Will Patton.
Plot: A Korean-American family moves to a tiny Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, loving grandmother.
“News Of The World” (Universal – December 25)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Greengrass, Luke Davies, who adapted Paulette Jiles’ novel of the same name.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mare Winningham, Helena Zengel
Plot: A travelling newsreader is tasked with bringing an orphaned girl to her living relatives in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures – December 4)
Writer/Director: Chloé Zhao (who adapted Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book of the same name.
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
Plot: A woman in her sixties who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West.
“One Night in Miami” (Amazon – December 25)
Director: Regina King
Writer: Kemp Powers, who adapted his play of the same name.
Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.
Plot: In the aftermath of Cassius Clay’s defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964, the boxer meets with Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown to change the course of history in the segregated South.
“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features – December 25)
Writer/Director: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, Laverne Cox
Plot: A young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path.
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix – September 25)
Writer/Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Mark Rylance, Jeremy Strong
Plot: The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“Ammonite” (Neon – November 13)
Writer/Director: Francis Lee
Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw
Plot: 1840s England, an infamous fossil hunter and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.
“Cherry” (Apple+ – February 26, 2021)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Jessica Goldberg and Angela Russo-Otstot, who adapted Nico Walker’s novel of the same name.
Cast: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Bill Skarsgård, Jack Reynor
Plot: An Army medic with PTSD becomes addicted to opioids and starts robbing banks to pay for the addiction.
“First Cow” (A24 – March 24)
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, who adapted the latter’s novel “The Half Life.”
Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Lily Gladstone
Plot: A skilled cook has traveled west and joined a group of fur trappers in Oregon.
“French Exit” (Sony Pictures Classics – February 12, 2021)
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Writer: Patrick deWitt, who adapted his novel of the same name.
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts
Plot: A close to penniless widow moves to Paris with her son and cat, who also happens to be her reincarnated husband.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros. – February 12, 2021)
Director: Shaka King
Writers: Shaka King, Will Berson
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Martin Sheen
Plot: In the late 1960s, petty criminal William O’Neal agrees to work as an informant for the FBI in order to take down Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton.
“The Mauritanian” (STX – February 19, 2021)
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Writer: Michael Bronner, who adapted the memoir “Guantanamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi.
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Levi
Plot: A man held in custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp turns towards a pair of lawyers to aid him.
“Palm Springs” (Neon – July 10)
Director: Max Barbakow
Writer: Andy Siara
Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Peter Gallagher, J. K. Simmons
Plot: Two strangers meet at a Palm Springs wedding only to get stuck in a time loop.
“Pieces of a Woman” (Netflix – January 7, 2021)
Director: Kornel Mundrucz0
Writer: Kata Weber
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker
Plot: A grieving woman embarks on an emotional journey after the loss of her baby.
“Soul” (Disney/Pixar – December 25)
Director: Pete Docter
Writers: Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers, Tina Fey
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs
Plot: A musician who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself.
“Sound of Metal” (Amazon – November 20)
Director: Darius Marder
Writers: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder
Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric
Plot: A heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.
“Tenet” (Warner Bros. – September 3)
Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh
Plot: A secret agent is tasked with preventing World War III through time travel.
“The United States vs. Billie Holiday” (Hulu – February 12, 2021)
Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Suzan-Lori Parks, who adapted “Chasing the Scream” by Johann Hari.
Cast: Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Natasha Lyonne
Plot: Follows singer Billie Holiday during her career as she is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair.
“The White Tiger” (Netflix – January 22, 2021)
Writer/Director: Ramin Bahrani, who adapted Aravind Adiga’s novel of the same name.
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Nalneesh Neel
Plot: The story of Balram Halwai, a man born to poverty in a village in India, and his epic journey to the top of the heap.
“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon – October 23)
Director: Jason Woliner
Writers: Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer (based on Borat Sagdiyev by Sacha Baron Cohen)
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova
Plot: Follow-up film to the 2006 comedy centering on the real-life adventures of a fictional Kazakh television journalist named Borat.
“Emma” (Focus Features – February 21)
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Writer: Eleanor Catton, who adapted Jane Austen’s novel of the same name.
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy
Plot: A young woman interferes in the love lives of her friends.
“The Forty-Year-Old Version” (Netflix – October 9)
Writer/Director: Radha Blank
Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Kim, Oswin Benjamin, Reed Birney
Plot: Radha is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40 and reinvents herself as a rapper.
“Happiest Season” (Hulu – November 25)
Director: Clea DuVall
Writers: Clea DuVall, Mary Holland
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen
Plot: A holiday romantic comedy that captures the range of emotions tied to wanting your family’s acceptance, being true to yourself, and trying not to ruin Christmas.
“Herself” (Amazon – December 30)
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writers: Malcolm Campbell, Clare Dunne
Cast: Cathy Belton, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill
Plot:A young mother escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system. She sets out to build her own home and in the process rebuilds her life and re-discovers herself.
“I’m Your Woman” (Amazon – December 4)
Director: Julia Hart
Writers: Hart, Jordan Horowitz
Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Frankie Faison, Bill Heck
Plot: A woman must go on the run with her child due to her husband’s crimes. Their lives become intertwined with a man and a woman, forming an unlikely partnership that teaches them more than just how to survive.
“The Invisible Man” (Universal – February 28)
Writer/Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Plot: A young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path.
“Kajillionaire” (Focus Features – September 18)
Writer/Director: Miranda July
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez
Plot: A woman’s life is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join them on a major heist they’re planning.
“The King of Staten Island” (Paramount – June 20)
Director: Judd Apatow
Writers: Apatow, Pete Davidson
Cast: Pete Davidson, Bel Powley, Ricky Velez
Plot: Scott has been a case of arrested development since his firefighter dad died. He spends his days smoking weed and dreaming of being a tattoo artist until events force him to grapple with his grief and take his first steps forward in life.
“The Life Ahead” (Netflix – November 13)
Director: Edoardo Ponti
Writers: Ponti, Ugo Chiti, who adapted Romain Gary’s novel The Life Before Us.”
Cast: Sophia Loren, Abril Zamora, Babak Karimi
Plot: An aging Holocaust survivor forges a bond with a young immigrant from Senegal.
“The Little Things” (Warner Bros: January 29, 2021)
Writer/Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Terry Kinney
Plot: Two cops track down a serial killer.
“The Midnight Sky” (Netflix – December 23)
Director: George Clooney
Writer: Mark L Smith, who adapted Lily Brooks-Dalton’s novel of the same name.
Cast. George Clooney, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Demian Bichir
Plot: A lonely scientist in the Arctic races to stop astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
“Miss Juneteenth” (Vertical Entertainment – June 19)
Writer/Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Cast: Nicole Beharie, Kendrick Sampson, Alexis Chikaez
Plot: A former beauty queen and single mom prepares her rebellious teenage daughter for the “Miss Juneteenth” pageant.
“Mulan” (Disney – September 4)
Director: Niki Caro
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek, Elizabeth Martin, based on the animated film “Mulan” adapted by Tony Bancroft from Barry Cook’s story “Ballad of Mulan.”
Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Li Gong
Plot: A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.
“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (Focus Features – March 13)
Writer/Director: Eliza Hittman
Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin
Plot: A pair of teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania travel to New York City to seek out medical help after an unintended pregnancy.
“On The Rocks” (A24 – October 2)
Writer/Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate
Plot: A young mother who reconnects with her larger than life playboy father on an adventure through New York City.
“The Personal History of David Copperfield” (Searchlight Pictures – August 28)
Director: Armando Iannucci
Writers: Simon Blackwell and Iannucci, who adapted Charles Dickens’s novel of the same name.
Cast: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse
Plot: A modern take on Dickens’s classic tale of a young orphan who is able to triumph over many obstacles.
“The Prom” (Netflix – December 11)
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writers: Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, who adapted their stage musical of the same name (co-written by Matthew Sklar).
Cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, Keegan-Michael Key, Awkwafina
Plot: Four Broadway actors travel to a conservative town to help a lesbian student banned from bringing her girlfriend to high school prom.
“Supernova” (Bleecker Street – January 29, 2021)
Writer/Director: Harry Macqueen
Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, James Dreyfus, Pippa Haywood, Sarah Woodward
Plot: Sam and Tusker are traveling across England in their old RV to visit friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have.
We will be updating our Oscar predictions for each competitive category often in the days to come so be sure to bookmark this page and keep checking back as the race heats up.
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture: Updated – February 22, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Director: Updated – February 12, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Actor: Updated – February 13, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Actress: Updated – February 12, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor: Updated – February 14, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress: Updated – February 14, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay: Updated – February 16, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Screenplay: Updated – February 16, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography: Updated – February 12, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Costume Design: Updated – February 12, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Film Editing: Updated – February 12, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Updated – February 22 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Score: Updated – February 10, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Song: Updated – February 10, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Production Design: Updated – February 12, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Sound: Updated – February 12, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects: Updated – February 10, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Animated Feature: Updated – February 10, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Documentary Feature: Updated – February 9, 2021
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best International Feature: Updated – February 9, 2021
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