Explainer: How Oscar winners choosen?

The Academy Awards, or “Oscars“, is a group of artistic and technical honors given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to recognize excellence in cinematic achievements. The members of the academy(AMPAS) decides the winners of oscars.

The Academy’s full name is The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The academy is made up of more than 6,00 voting members. All are film-industry professionals and almost half are active filmmakers.

Academy Members:

Academy membership is divided into 17 branches, representing different disciplines in motion pictures.

The 17 branches are: Actors, Casting directors,Cinematographers, Costume Designers, Designers, Directors, Documentary, Executives, Film editors, Makeup artists and hairstylists, Music, Producers, Public Relations, Short films and feature animations, Sound, Visual effects, Writers.

Members should not belong to more than one branch. The Academy’s membership process is by sponsorship, not application. Candidates must be sponsored by two Academy members from the branch to which the candidate seeks admission.

Additionally, Academy Award nominees are automatically considered for membership and do not require sponsors.

Nominees and sponsored candidates are reviewed by branch committees and recommendations for membership are considered by the Academy’s Board of Governors. The Board decides which individuals will receive invitations. Membership review takes place once a year, in the spring. Once inducted into the Academy, an individual can belong to only one branch. Steven Spielberg, for example, can only be an Academy member as an director and not as a producer, and Tom Cruise can only belong to the Academy as an actor and not a producer.


To be eligible for nominations in any of the feature film categories, a movie must meet these basic requirements:

  • A film can release all over the country, but if it doesn’t spend at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County, it is not eligible and also the seven consecutive days should be from midnight at the start of January 1 to midnight at the end of December 31 in the previous calendar year. So the films played in Los Angeles County theater from January 1,2016 to end of December 31,2016 are eligible for Oscars 2016(which will be presented on Feb 27,2017). For example, the 2009 Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, was actually first released in 2008, but did not qualify for the 2008 awards as it did not play its Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles until mid-2009, thus qualifying for the 2009 awards. Foreign films must include English subtitles, and each country can submit only one film per year.
  • The film must be feature-length, defined as a minimum of 40 minutes.
  • It must exist either on a 35 mm or 70 mm film print or in 24 frame/s or 48 frame/s progressive scan digital cinema format with a minimum projector resolution of 2048 by 1080 pixels.

Selection procedure:

If a producer or distributor would like their eligible film to be considered for an Oscar nomination, they must submit an “Official Screen Credits form“. This form lists the production credits for all related Oscar categories. The Academy collects these forms and lists the submitted films in the “Reminder List of Eligible Releases.” In January, the Academy mails a nomination ballot and a copy of the “Reminder List of eligible releases” to each Academy member.

The first stage in selecting Oscar winners is narrowing all the possible honorees in a given year down to five nominees for each award category. Their fate rests on the votes of the Academy’s members.

The members of the Academy’s 17 branches vote in their own fields. So directors only vote for Best Director nominees, editors only vote for Best Editing nominees, cinematographers only vote for Best Cinematography nominees, and actors only vote for nominees in each acting category. Each member is allowed to choose upto five nominees in order of preference.

Once all 17 branches have voted, the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers uses a very complex weighting system to measure the results and determine the five nominees for each category. — or the top nine, in the case of Best Picture.

Foreign film and documentary nominees are chosen by special screening groups made up of Academy members from all branches, and everybody gets to select best picture nominees. Foreign film nominees are selected from a list of films submitted by foreign nations. Every foreign country can only submit one film per year.

Once the nominations are in, things get simpler – all academy members are allowed to vote for the winner across all categories, and the nominee with the most votes wins. So after the final list of nominations is announced, Brad Pit gets to vote not only for Best Actor, but also for Best Costume Design, Best Short Film, and Best Cinematography. So while the nomination process is decided by experts in every individual category, the final winners are chosen by all the members of the entire Academy.

Oscar statuette:

The awards, first presented in 1929. The awards ceremony was first broadcast on radio in 1930 and televised for the first time in 1953. It is now seen live in more than 200 countries.

The Academy Award of Merit, more popularly known as the Oscar statuette is made of gold-plated britannium on a black metal base. It is 13.5 in (34.3 cm) tall and weighs 8.5 lb (3.856 kg) and depicts a knight rendered in Art Deco style holding a crusader’s sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes. The five spokes represent the original branches of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers, and Technicians.

Image taken from Mashable

The statuettes presented at the initial ceremonies were gold-plated solid bronze. Within a few years the bronze was abandoned in favor of britannia metal, a pewter-like alloy which is then plated in copper, nickel silver, and finally, 24-karat gold. Due to a metal shortage during World War II, Oscars were made of painted plaster for three years. Following the war, the Academy invited recipients to redeem the plaster figures for gold-plated metal ones.

Why is it called an Oscar?

The origin of the name Oscar is disputed. Bette Davis, who was a president of the Academy, claims that she named the Oscar after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. Another claimed origin is that the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, first saw the award in 1931 and made reference to the statuette’s reminding her of her “Uncle Oscar” (a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce). The trophy was officially dubbed the “Oscar” in 1939 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Current Categories:
  • Best Picture: since 1928
  • Best Director: since 1928
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role: since 1928
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role: since 1936
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role: since 1928
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role: since 1936
  • Best Animated Feature: since 2001
  • Best Animated Short Film: since 1931
  • Best Cinematography: since 1928
  • Best Costume Design: since 1948
  • Best Documentary Feature: since 1943
  • Best Documentary Short Subject: since 1941
  • Best Film Editing: since 1934
  • Best Foreign Language Film: since 1947
  • Best Live Action Short Film: since 1931
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling: since 1981
  • Best Original Score: since 1934
  • Best Original Song: since 1934
  • Best Production Design: since 1928
  • Best Sound Editing: since 1963
  • Best Sound Mixing: since 1930
  • Best Visual Effects: since 1939
  • Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): since 1928
  • Best Writing (Original Screenplay): since 1940

The Special Academy Awards are voted on by special committees, rather than by the Academy membership as a whole. They are not always presented on a consistent annual basis.

Current special categories:

  • Academy Honorary Award: since 1929
  • Academy Scientific and Technical Award: since 1931
  • Gordon E. Sawyer Award: since 1981
  • Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: since 1956
  • Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award: since 1938


Film companies will spend as much as several million dollars on marketing in attempts to improve chances of receiving Oscars and other movie awards conferred in Oscar season. The Academy enforces rules to limit overt campaigning by its members so as to try to eliminate excesses and prevent the process from becoming undignified. It has an awards czar on staff who advises members on allowed practices and levies penalties on offenders. For example, a producer of the 2009 Best Picture nominee The Hurt Locker was disqualified as a producer in the category when he contacted associates urging them to vote for his film and not another that was seen as the front-runner (The Hurt Locker eventually won).

The academy does not publicly disclose its membership—comprised of nearly 6,000 film industry professionals who decide each year’s Oscar nominees and winners. A 2012 investigation by the Los Angeles Times determined that 94% of Academy members were white. Black filmmakers and actors made up just 2% of the membership; Latinos, less than that. The group was about 77% male and also skewed older, with a median age of 62 years old. Only 14% of members were younger than 50.

In 2016 several high profile stars including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith boycotting the ceremony in protest as there were no non-white acting nominees at all, inspiring the #Oscarsowhite tag which quickly began trending on Twitter. The Academy announced plans to address this, promising to double its number of women and diverse members by 2020. Then in June 2016 the Academy invited a record number of new members to join (683 in fact), of which 41% of were people of colour and 46% were women.

10 thoughts on “Explainer: How Oscar winners choosen?

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