A year ago, it took 457 votes to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination. This year, it’ll take 863.
But that doesn’t mean that getting into the Academy Awards’ top category has become harder. In fact, it’s easier to land that nomination this year, with a guaranteed 10 nominees for the first time since 2011.
In other categories, where nomination voting is restricted to specific branches of the Academy, the magic number to secure Oscar nominations ranges from a low of 29 for Best Costume Design to a high of 223 in the acting categories.
But when we say it takes 863 votes for a Best Picture nomination, 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. After those first-place votes are added up, the lowest-ranking films are eliminated from contention, and their ballots are redistributed to the film ranked second on each ballot. (If the second choice has also been eliminated, or if it’s already hit the magic number and secured a nomination, the vote goes to the next highest contender on the ballot.)
The redistribution continues until the field is narrowed to the final five nominees, or the final 10 for Best Picture.
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. 27. Note: as the count goes on, the magic number can decrease.
If all 9,487 eligible voters cast ballots in this category, it would take 863 No. 1 votes to guarantee a nomination. But remember: Even if a film doesn’t have that many first-place votes in the initial count, it will likely have many rounds to pick up additional votes as other films are eliminated.
This is the big change from last year. Under the system designed to produce a variable number of Best Picture nominees, voting stopped after a single round of redistribution, and everything with more than 5% of the vote was a nominee. The magic number was much lower under that system, but films had very limited opportunities to get to that number; this year, the count will likely last much longer, giving contenders many more chances to move into the Top 10.
Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress
If every one of the 1,336 voters in the Academy’s largest branch casts a ballot, it’ll take 223 votes to land a nomination in each of the Oscars’ four acting categories. That’s four less than last year, because the size of the branch has decreased.
Best Animated Feature
The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch has 844 voting members, making it the second-largest Academy branch. Normally that would mean that 141 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 who volunteer to take part in the voting. Prospective voters were divided into three groups, and each group was required to see an assigned group of eight or nine films out of the 26 films that initially qualified.
The number required to land a nomination depends entirely on how many members participated in that process.
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The branch has 290 current voting members. That means 49 first-place votes lands a nomination.
Best Costume Design
With 171 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.) A costume-design nomination can be secured with only 29 votes, fewer than any other category.
There are now 568 voters in the Directors Branch, which means that 95 votes will guarantee a nomination if they all vote. (That’s the same as last year, although the branch grew by four members.)
Best Documentary Feature
After a first round of voting narrowed the field of 138 qualifying films to a 15-film shortlist, the 618 members of the Documentary Branch pick their five favorites. If they all cast ballots, it’ll take 103 votes to be nominated.
Best Documentary Short
The same 618 members of the doc branch are eligible to vote now that the 82 doc-short contenders have been narrowed to a 15-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 103.
Best Film Editing
With 375 members of the Film Editors Branch, you need 63 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 (though it’s likely to be fewer than 1,000 members, and possibly significantly fewer). After the field of 92 contenders was narrowed to a 15-film shortlist, voting is open to any member who sees all 15 of those films, which are available on the Academy’s members website. The magic number will depend entirely on how many members see all the films and vote.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
The branch has 231 voting members. Voting is restricted to members who viewed 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 39 votes to secure a nomination.
Best Original Score, Best Original Song
The Music Branch contains 383 voting members. The 136 eligible scores and 105 eligible songs went through an initial round of voting that narrowed the contenders to two shortlists of 15. In the nomination round of voting, the magic number to land a nomination will be 64.
Best Production Design
The branch has 387 members, so 65 votes will be enough for a nomination.
With 550 members in the Sound Branch, the nomination threshold is 92 votes.
Best Visual Effects
There are 606 members of the branch, which would mean a magic number of 102 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 were then screened virtually for members of the branch, followed by brief discussions with the VFX artists responsible for the work.
Members 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 504 voting members, meaning it requires 85 votes to guarantee a writing nomination.
Best Animated Short, Best Live-Action Short
The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch has 844 voting members, all of whom were eligible to score the qualifying films to determine two 15-film shortlists, one drawn from the 82 eligible animated shorts and one from the 145 eligible live-action shorts. Members of the branch who see all the shortlisted films can then vote for the final five nominees. 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 141 votes in animation and 236 in live-action. But in reality, it’s likely far lower.
Nomination voting will begin on Thursday, Jan. 27 and close on Tuesday, Feb. 1. Nominations will be announced on Tuesday, Feb. 8.