The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has grown quickly over the last four years, topping the 9,000 mark in total members and approaching 8,500 in Oscar voters after inviting 3,227 more people to join.
That means it’ll take more votes to secure an Oscar nomination in 2020 than it did in 2016, before the #OscarsSoWhite protests spurred the drive for a larger, more inclusive Academy. But the numbers are still lower than you might think: 424 votes to get a Best Picture nomination, 221 in the acting categories and fewer than 100 in 11 of the 24 categories, all the way down to 26 votes for Best Costume Design.
That’s because the entire Academy votes only to nominate in the Best Picture category – in other categories, nomination voting is restricted to members of the appropriate branch. (After nominations, every member is eligible to vote for the winners in every category.)
But the important thing to understand is that when we say it only takes 424 votes for a Best Picture nomination or 26 votes for a costume design one, we’re talking about first-place votes. Under the Oscars preferential or ranked-choice system, a voter typically lists his or her top five choices in order of preference — but the vote only goes to the film ranked first on each ballot, unless that film has already secured a nomination or been eliminated from contention.
In that case, the ballot will count for the voter’s second choice, or for the highest-ranked film on the ballot that’s still in the running. In most categories apart from Best Picture, the redistribution continues until the field is narrowed to the final five nominees.
To figure out the magic number for each category, you take the number of potential voters in that category and divide by the number of nominees, plus one. (In almost every case, that means 5+1=6.) You round the result up to the next highest number, and that gives you a “magic number” that ensures a film or achievement will be in the top five.
Here’s the breakdown of what it’ll take to land a nomination in each category when voting begins on Jan. 2.
If all 8,469 eligible voters cast ballots in this category, it would take 770 No. 1 votes to guarantee a nomination after the initial round of counting.
But Best Picture uses a unique method that can result in anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees. It requires the accountants from PwC to redistribute ballots whose first choice received significantly more than 770 votes, and also ones whose first choice received fewer than 84 votes.
After that redistribution, any film with more than five percent of the vote — which is to say, any film with at least 424 votes — will become a nominee.
Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress
If every one of the 1,324 voters in what is by far the Academy’s largest branch cast ballots, it’ll take 221 votes to land a nomination in the Oscars’ four acting categories.
Best Animated Feature
The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch has 740 members, making it the second-largest Academy branch. Normally that would mean that 124 votes would secure a nomination.
But voting in this category is open not only to all members of the branch, but to all Academy members outside the branch as well. To vote, a member must see “a minimum percentage of submitted eligible films,” which this year was 16 of the record 32 eligible films – 12 of them specifically assigned and the others up to the discretion of each member.
The number required to land a nomination will depend entirely on how many members participate in that process.
The branch has 273 current members. That means 46 first-place votes lands a nomination.
Best Costume Design
With 154 members, costume designers make up the smallest Academy branch that votes for its own award. (The Casting Directors Branch is smaller, but there’s no casting award at the Oscars — so like members of the Executives, Marketing and Public Relations and Producers Branches, as well as Members-at-Large, that branch’s members can only vote to nominate Best Picture.) So a costume-design nomination can be secured with only 26 votes, fewer than any other category.
There are now 526 voters in the Directors Branch, which means that 88 votes will guarantee a nomination if they all vote.
Best Documentary Feature
After a first round of voting narrowed the field of 159 qualifying films to a 15-film shortlist, the 486 members of the Documentary Branch pick their five favorites. If they all cast ballots, it’ll take 82 votes to be nominated. (It took 61 votes last year, making this the largest increase of any category apart from Best Picture.)
Best Documentary Short
The same 486 members of the doc branch are eligible to vote now that the 96 doc-short contenders have been narrowed to a 10-film shortlist. It’s highly unlikely that everyone in the branch will watch the eligible shorts and vote — but if they were to do that, the magic number would again be 82.
Best Film Editing
With 345 members of the Film Editors Branch, you need 58 votes to secure a nod.
Best Foreign-Language Film
This category is also open to volunteer members from all branches of the Academy, and it’s impossible to determine how many will participate. The first round of voting was open mostly to members in the Los Angeles area and is typically thought to include a few hundred voters. But the second round, with the 91 contending films narrowed to a shortlist of 10, is now open to any member who sees the 10 shortlisted films in theaters or on the Academy’s members website. The magic number will depend entirely on how many participate.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
The branch has only 206 members. Voting is restricted to members who attend a special presentation of clips, or members who have seen all 10 shortlisted films. If every member of the branch participates in one of those ways, it would take 35 votes to secure a nomination, down significantly from the 48 that would have been required last year.
The smaller number is not because the branch got smaller, but because the number of nominees was increased from three to five.
Best Original Score, Best Original Song
The Music Branch consists of 345 members. The 170 eligible scores and 75 eligible songs went through initial rounds of voting in which 22 votes were enough to secure a spot on the shortlists of 15 scores and 15 songs. In the second round of voting, the magic number to land a nomination will be 58.
Best Production Design
The branch has 343 members, so 58 votes will be enough for a nomination.
Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
With 503 members in the Sound Branch, three fewer than last year, the nomination threshold has dropped from 85 to 84 votes.
Best Visual Effects
There are 545 members of the branch, which would mean a magic number of 91 if the VFX branch calculated nominations the way most of the other branches do. But it doesn’t.
An executive committee first narrows the field down to 20 films, and then to a shortlist of 10. Clips from those films are then screened for members of the branch, followed by brief discussions with the VFX artists responsible for the work.
Members who attend this Oscars “bakeoff” then cast ballots to select the five nominees – but instead of the preferential system, the branch uses reweighted range voting, which divides each individual score by the total score given to all candidates on that ballot. The idea is to identify the films that score strongest against the rest of the field, but at no point in the count does a magic number come into play.
Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay
The Writers Branch has 485 members, meaning it requires 81 votes to guarantee a writing nomination.
Best Animated Short, Best Live-Action Short
The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch has 740 members, all of whom were eligible to score the qualifying films on a scale of 6-to-10 to determine two 10-film shortlists, one drawn from the 92 eligible animated shorts and one from the 191 eligible live-action shorts. Members of the branch who see all the shortlisted films can then vote for the final five nominees, and members of the Directors Branch are also invited to participate in voting in the Best Live-Action Short category.
In the unlikely event that the entire branch (and the entire Directors Branch) participates, that would mean a magic number of 124 votes in animation and 211 in live-action. But in reality, it’s likely far lower.
Nomination voting will begin on Thursday, Jan. 2, and close on Jan. 7 after the shortest nominating period ever.
Nominations will be announced on Monday, January 13.