This year’s Academy Awards could be decided by a few votes among the Academy’s 9,000 or so members. And while a tie in any category is rare, it’s not unprecedented.
In 1969, the Best Actress category was host to the most spectacular tie in Oscar history, with two of the most famous performers of the twentieth century each winning the statuette. Here are the six times that ties have occurred since Oscar’s beginning.
1932: Best Actor — Fredric March in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and Wallace Beery in “The Champ” • The 5th Annual Academy Awards were the occasion of Oscar’s first tie, if you could call it that. Actress Norma Shearer presented Best Actor to March, star of the imaginative horror adaptation “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” March accepted the prize, and then after “Grand Hotel” had won Best Picture and the ceremony was ending, a numbers-cruncher discovered that Beery had been only one vote behind March in the final tally. According to Academy rules of the time, this meant Beery deserved a statuette too. Thus, the star of the boxing redemption story “The Champ” became exactly that.
1950: Best Documentary (Short Subject) — “A Chance to Live” and “So Much So Little” • One was a part of “The March of Time” newsreel footage produced by Time Inc., and the second was an animated documentary made by Bugs Bunny cartoonist Chuck Jones. The Oscar tie has been largely forgotten, and wasn’t even newsworthy at the time, yet Jones’s film was recently resurrected as a meme to comment on the most debated issue in American life. It’s an unambiguous rallying cry for universal health care.
1969: Best Actress — Katharine Hepburn in “A Lion in Winter” and Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” • Ingrid Bergman was tasked with presenting Best Actress in 1969, and the accounting firm employee who handed her the envelope told her, “Make sure you read everything.” Streisand, then 26, walked to the stage hand-in-hand with Hepburn’s director Anthony Harvey. (Hepburn was absent for all four of her career Best Actress wins.) An intriguing wrinkle to the story emerged in the days after the Oscar ceremony. Academy president Gregory Peck admitted that an exception had been made to grant Streisand membership in the Academy in 1967. Membership is based on one’s credits in the industry, though “Funny Girl,” released in the fall of 1968, had been Streisand’s film debut. And so had Streisand not been fast-tracked into membership and (presumably) cast her ballot for herself, Hepburn would have won the Oscar. By one vote.
1987: Best Documentary Feature —
“Artie Shaw: Time is All You’ve Got” and “Down and Out in America” • Nearly two decades later, Oprah Winfrey presided over the next Oscar tie, announcing the split between these two very different documentaries. “Artie Shaw” was about the famed jazz clarinetist, who had served and toured in the South Pacific during World War II, and “Down and Out” was a sensitive chronicle of poverty. Both were directed by women: “Artie Shaw” by Brigitte Berman, who has also made documentaries about Hugh Hefner and jazz great Bix Beiderbecke; and “Down and Out” by Lee Grant, who won Best Supporting Actress in 1976 for “Shampoo,” and remains the only Oscar-winning actor to direct an Oscar-winning documentary.
1995: Best Short Film (Live Action) — “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Trevor” • Two interesting footnotes from this 25-year-old tie still resonate today. The 23-minute “Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life,” which starred 2019 Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) as the “Metamorphosis” author, was directed by Peter Capaldi, who would become world famous later in front of the camera as the 12th incarnation of “Doctor Who.” And “Trevor,” about a gay teenager with fondness for Diana Ross, led in 1998 to the creation of The Trevor Project, now recognized as one of the leading LGBT organizations, focusing on suicide prevention among youth.
2013: Best Sound Editing —
“Zero Dark Thirty” and “Skyfall” • The most recent tie was revealed by Mark Wahlberg and his animated bear costar Ted in the now-defunct category of Best Sound Editing. Beginning in 2021, the two achievements (sound design and sound editing) have been merged into one award. But back in 2013, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” scored its sole Oscar from five nominations (including Best Picture) here, while the win for “Skyfall” gave it distinction as the only James Bond movie to net multiple Oscars, after also landing the prize for Adele’s popular title song.