How Does The Academy Vote For Best Picture? It's Complicated

Unlike other categories, the Oscars' best picture winner isn't the nominee with the most votes.
Posted at 3:52 PM, Feb 28, 2018

What was the best film of 2017? For members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the answer to that question will go down in Hollywood history. So it's no surprise the voting process for the Oscars' best picture category is as complex as it is.

When voting on best picture, members of the academy don't actually pick the one film they want to win. Instead, they rank the five to 10 nominees the academy announced in January. The film that garners a clear majority — more than half — of the first-place rankings wins. If there's no clear winner, a new round of tabulation eliminates the film with the least first-place rankings and re-ranks those ballots' second-place votes to first. This process repeats until one film gains a clear majority.

This system works to ensure the winner truly has the most preference — rather than just the most votes — in the academy. It's especially important for best picture, because the category can have up to 10 nominees instead of just five.

Allowing more nominees began in 2009 with the intent of recognizing more films — specifically, films that break the arguably predictable mold of past winners. Some critics, however, argue having more nominees simply makes the category more "bloated" and less significant.

Critic Sean O'Neal argued last year that "in the effort to include everything that was 'really good' as opposed to truly excellent, the category has become diluted in a way that serves neither nominees nor viewers."

In the past couple years, winners of the top prize have been dark and gritty — touching on topics like war, corruption and injustice. This year is no different, and this Sunday, all signs point to a showdown between two of the nine nominated films: "The Shape of Water" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."