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Are the Oscars Out of Touch? A Data Perspective

February 24th, 2015



It’s quite common knowledge that Oscars are awarded not for box office revenue or mass appeal, but for film merit. It’s been suggested in recent years that the Oscars have become out of touch with the wider zeitgeist of the film industry, and public opinion of the award recipients doesn’t quite match up with the Academy’s. Nominations for this prestigious honor are calculated based on 6,000 votes from Academy members, who have been nominated by their peers. These Academy members vote within their particular subcategory on this year’s film contributions. For example, a writer would not vote for best sound editing, but rather for best adapted or original screenplay.

There is some data that seems to suggest that the academy is indeed out of touch. We can see in the chart below that the number of nominations has little correlation between the IMDb rating.

DataHero Number of Oscar Nominations by IMDb Rating (2015) (1)

Indeed, the film with the highest IMDb rating have only one nomination. We’ll take a look at these films with the highest ratings later in the post. Likewise, the films with the most Oscar nominations have pretty unspectacular IMDb ratings.

The top films with the highest IMDb ratings are as follows:

DataHero IMDb Ratings by Nomineee (1)

These include giant blockbuster hits like The Hobbit, Captain America, and Interstellar. These are films heavy on visual effects and big on budget. The films with the most Oscar nominations however, are represented in the chart below:

DataHero Number of Nominations by Title (3)

Films such as The Imitation Game, American Sniper, Unbroken, Selma and the Theory of Everything are based on historical works or popular novels. However, you’ll notice that there’s little overlap between the top rated movies by IMDb and the most-nominated films by the Academy.

One of the best ways the public can cast their vote in the film industry is through box office sales. When we take a look at these sales over time, you’ll notice an interesting trend emerge amongst box office sales and IMDb ratings, both public-opinion-driven variables. Let’s take a look at box office sales of Oscar nominees by year and by nomination category.

DataHero Box Office Earnings of Oscar Nominees by Year


You’ll notice a pretty significant dip in sales in 2005 and again 2011. Also note that the category with the most box office revenue is Best Visual Effects, followed by Best Sound Editing, Best Sound, and Best Makeup. You won’t find Best Picture until the 10th highest-grossing category.

Now when we look at IMDb ratings over time, we’ll see this trend nearly mirrored below.

DataHero Average IMDb Rating by Year (1)

We again see a dip in 2005 and 2011. However, the ratings increase pretty sharply after 2011 while in the previous chart for box office revenue, it peaked in 2012 again and then declined for the subsequent two years. Of course, films that were created in 2014 are still in theaters so there will be more box office revenue added to this year’s nominees.


This preliminary look at the data does seem to suggest that there is a certain disconnect between public opinion and Academy recognition. However, the public opinion, as expressed through box office sales and IMDb ratings tends to favor the Hollywood blockbuster. Perhaps the point of the Oscars isn’t to award the films that have brought in the most revenue or created the most awe-inspiring visual effects. Ready to explore the data on your own and see what insights you can glean from Oscars data?


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By Kelli Simpson

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