2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture [Updated March 14]

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.

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UPDATED: March 14, 2021

Leading Contenders

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

PREDICT the 2021 Oscar nominations through March 15

Strong Contenders

“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 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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

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Possible Contenders

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

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 – March 14, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Director: Updated – March 12, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Actor: Updated – March 12, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Actress: Updated – March 12, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actor: Updated – March 11, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Supporting Actress: Updated – March 11, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Adapted Screenplay: Updated – March 11, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Screenplay: Updated – March 11, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Cinematography: Updated – March 4, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Costume Design: Updated – March 4, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Film Editing: Updated – March 4, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Updated – March 9, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Score: Updated – March 10, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Song: Updated – February 10, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Production Design: Updated – March 12, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Sound: Updated – March 3, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Visual Effects: Updated – March 3, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Animated Feature: Updated – March 3, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Documentary Feature: Updated – March 9, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions: Best International Feature: Updated – March 9, 2021

PREDICT the 2021 Oscar nominations through March 15

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