Answer: Not as many as you might think
The Academy is made up of more than 6,000 members, but to land a Best Picture nomination you only need to persuade 300 of them that your film is the year's best.
That's one lesson from TheWrap's annual calculation of how many votes it takes to secure a nomination in the 24 Oscar categories.
The Academy has compiled its annual list of the eligible members in each branch, which this year showed that voting membership has passed the 6,000 mark for the first time since AMPAS began restricting the number of new members more than a decade ago.
And now that they've revealed that their membership has grown to 6,028 potential voters (and more than 6,800 members of all kinds), we can do the math and figure out the “magic numbers” for each category.
These numbers are predicated on the idea that every eligible voter will cast a ballot. Obviously that's not true, although PricewaterhouseCoopers has said that voter participation is extremely high, and the Academy reported a record number of voters for the last Oscars.
The numbers depend on the size of each branch or voting body, as well as the number of nominations up for grabs. Under the preferential system used by the Academy, a film can secure a nomination by getting enough votes to guarantee a spot in the top five (or 10 for Best Picture). It can get those votes either by being listed first on a ballot, or by being ranked lower on a ballot that is re-allocated in the complicated redistribution process used in the nomination round.
So fewer than 40 first-place votes (or second-or-third-place votes on redistributed ballots) will get you a nomination for cinematography, film editing and documentary feature, while fewer than 50 will do so in the original song and production design categories. A film will need to hit triple digits to secure a nomination only in Best Picture and the four acting categories.
Here's the breakdown:
The entire Academy votes to nominate for this award – including the Executive, Producers and Public Relations branches and Members-at-Large, none of whom nominate in any other categories. That means 6,028 potential voters.
In this category, there are two different magic numbers: the one required to clinch a nomination after the first round of counting, which is about 8.9 percent of the ballots cast, and the five-percent threshold that will secure a nomination after the redistribution rounds are complete.
If every eligible voter casts a ballot, the first-round number will be 549 votes, while the ultimate number to shoot for is only 301.
Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress
The Actors Branch, by far the Academy's largest, has 1,176 members. A maximum of 197 votes will guarantee a nomination in the four acting categories, depending on how many eligible members vote.
Best Animated Feature
The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch consists of 366 members. If they all voted for the nominations, the magic number would be 61 – but in the category, voting is open to volunteers from both inside and outside the branch, as long as they see 66 percent of the eligible films. This year, that means they had to see 13 toons.
The Cinematographers Branch has 228 members, making the magic number for a nomination 39.
Best Costume Design
The Costume Designers Branch, formed from costume designers formerly in the Art Directors Branch, has 108 members, making it the smallest branch to vote for its own award. (The new Casting Directors Branch is smaller, but the Oscars don't have a casting award.) The magic number is 18.
The Directors Branch has 377 members, meaning that a maximum of 63 votes will guarantee a nomination.
Best Documentary Feature
The branch contains 210 members. Under new rules that went into effect this year, the committees that formerly voted for nominations were abolished, and all branch members became eligible to vote. If they all exercised their right to do so, the magic number would be 35.
Best Documentary Short Subject
The old rules still apply in nominations for the doc-short category, with volunteers from the branch using an averaged-score system to produce the shortlist and the nominees. That means the magic-number math doesn't apply.
Best Film Editing
The branch contains 230 members, making the magic number for a nomination 39.
Best Foreign Language Film
The rules are more complicated in this category than in most, with volunteers from the entire Academy viewing and scoring the eligible films over a period of months. Those viewers – known as the general committee – pick their six favorites, and then an executive committee adds three more films to make up a shortlist. Another hand-picked committee views the nine shortlisted films and votes for the five nominees. Magic numbers never come into play.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
The Makeup Artist and Hairstylists Branch has 135 members. Nominations voting is restricted to members who attend special meetings, with a minimum of 15 members required at the meeting that selects the shortlist. Members who attend a screening of excerpts from the shortlisted films can vote, along with members who've seen all seven of the semi-finalists.
Best Original Score, Best Original Song
The Music Branch is made up of 240 members, all of whom are now eligible to vote in the Original Score and Original Song categories (and all of whom receive a DVD with clips of the eligible songs as they are used in their films). The magic number, if all the branch members vote, is 41.
Best Production Design
The Designers Branch contains 262 members. That gives contenders for the production-design Oscar, which was formerly the Best Art Direction award, a magic number of 44 for a nomination.
Best Animated Short, Best Live-Action Short
The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch has 366 members, but not all of them vote in these two categories. Instead, members of the branch serve on special committees and attend special screenings, at which they score each contender on a scale of 6-to-10.
Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
With 418 members, the Sound Branch is the Academy's fourth-biggest, trailing only actors, producers and executives. If they all vote, the magic number for a nomination in the two categories is 70.
Best Visual Effects
The Visual Effects Branch has 323 members, but contenders in its Oscar category are narrowed down to 10 by committees before a “bakeoff” at which clips from each shortlisted film are played and potential nominees are allowed to discuss their work. Ballots are cast on the spot, and tallied using “reweighted range voting” to select the five nominees.
Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay
The Writers Branch has 378 members, which would mean that 63 votes are needed to secure a nomination. However, members of other branches who have been nominated or won for writing — for example Cameron Crowe and Ben Affleck — can also vote in the category, theoretically pushing the magic number higher.
Those are the theoretical numbers behind Oscar nominations. The real numbers will come into play beginning on Jan. 8, the final day for Academy members to vote online or to return their paper ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers.