September 26, 2016

Oscar Forecast: Oscar Veteran Actors and Directors

When Meryl Streep took home the Best Actress award for The Iron Lady last year, some commentators called it a “lifetime achievement award,” implying that she beat out the competition more due to her body of work than her performance in that film. Others have speculated that veterans are more likely to win Oscars because they are more talented than their peers – the reason they are veterans in the first place.

But does any of this actually correspond with the facts? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is no. Despite the beliefs that veteran actors win more awards for their talent or their career achievements, veterans actually win 17% less often than relative newcomers.

Here, we will define an Oscar veteran as an actor who has received more than five nominations either in the lead or supporting category. There are currently 33 members of this exclusive club, with the newest – Denzel Washington – just added this year thanks to his sixth acting nomination for his role in Flight.

In the 84 years of Oscars (excluding this year), there have been, coincidentally, 84 acting nominations for those I have defined as Oscar veterans, counting only nominations after their first five. In these nominations, only 14 times has a veteran emerged victorious, for a rate of 16.7%. The overall average for acting nominees is 20%, since one out of five wins each category. Technically, before 1936 the number of acting nominations varied each year, but the first Oscar veteran was Norma Shearer, who did not receive her sixth nomination until 1938 for Marie Antoinette.

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About Ben Zauzmer

Ben Zauzmer, a Harvard sophomore with a long-time passion for math and movies, combined his twin interests to produce Oscar Forecast. By devising formulas designed to calculate the chances each movie wins Academy Awards, he offers a mathematical approach to the exciting and difficult art of Oscar predictions. He also writes a blog about the intersection of math and the Oscars. Please see www.oscarforecast.wordpress.com for more coverage.”

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