Here’s How the Oscars Will Choose the Best Picture Winner (Exclusive Demonstration)

TheWrap teamed up with FairVote to stage a poll with the last 10 years of Oscar winners, and one of them dominated the rest

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Last week, on the day that Oscar voting began, TheWrap joined with FairVote to host a poll of the last 10 years of Oscar Best Picture winners. The poll was designed both to show which of the past decade’s winners is the favorite, and to illustrate how the Oscars’ ranked-choice (or preferential) system of vote counting works in the Best Picture category.

And now, as Oscar voting is closing, here are the results. The answer to which film is the favorite is simple: “Parasite.”

Bong Joon Ho’s South Korean film that won the Oscar in 2020, is by far the favorite of the 270 people who participated in the poll. Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” finished second, followed by, in this order, “Spotlight,” “The Shape of Water,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Argo,” “Nomadland,” “Birdman,” “The Artist” and, in last place, “Green Book.”

And here’s how it worked – which is essentially the same way the system will work this week as a small team of Oscars accountants at PwC use ranked-choice voting to determine the winner in this year’s Best Picture category.

That race, by the way, will likely be far closer than this one, which wasn’t competitive at all. (It should be added that this poll isn’t a scientific sampling, but is just the opinions of the people who took the poll by following links from FairVote and TheWrap.)

To begin with, voters were asked to rank all 10 films in their order of preference. To win, a film needed to have 50% of the votes cast, plus one vote – which, with 270 voters, means it needed 136 votes.


When all the first-place votes had been tallied, “Parasite” had a commanding lead, with more than three times as many votes as its nearest competitor:

1. “Parasite” – 110 votes
2. “Moonlight” – 32
3. “The Shape of Water” – 23
4. “12 Years a Slave” – 21
5. “Spotlight” – 18
6. “Argo” – 17
7.  “Nomadland” – 16
8. “Birdman” – 15
9. “The Artist” – 10
10. “Green Book” – 8

But since the first-place votes for “Parasite” made up 41% of the total number of ballots, it could not be declared the winner. So the count moved to a second round, in which all of the votes for the last-place film, “Green Book,” were re-allocated to the film ranked second on those ballots. This gave one additional vote to “Spotlight” and “Nomadland,” two to “The Shape of Water” and three to “Argo,” the biggest beneficiary of the “Green Book” elimination.

At the same time, one vote was moved into the “inactive” category – which means that the voter put “Green Book” in first place on the ballot but didn’t rank any of the other contenders. Because the voter’s first and only choice was eliminated, that ballot was discarded and lost a chance at influencing the vote in subsequent rounds.

The adjusted leaderboard:

1. “Parasite” – 110
2. “Moonlight” – 32
3. “The Shape of Water” – 25
4. “12 Years a Slave” – 21
5. “Argo” – 20
6. “Spotlight” – 19
7. “Nomadland” – 17
8. “Birdman” – 15
9. “The Artist” – 10

Again, “Parasite” was short of 50%. So “The Artist” was eliminated, and its 10 votes shifted to whatever film was ranked second on its ballots. (If the already-eliminated “Green Book” was the second choice, the vote moved to whatever film was third.)

This time, “Parasite” got the biggest boost from “The Artist” ballots (four votes), followed by “Spotlight” and “12 Years a Slave” (two votes each). “Nomadland” and “Birdman” each picked up a single vote, while “Moonlight,” “The Shape of Water” and “Argo” didn’t pick up any. The two new votes for “Spotlight” were enough to push it past “Argo” into fifth place.

1. “Parasite” – 114
2. “Moonlight” – 32
3. “The Shape of Water” – 25
4. “12 Years a Slave” – 23
5. “Spotlight” – 21
6. “Argo” – 20
7.  “Nomadland” – 18
8. “Birdman” – 16

With “Parasite” now claiming 42% of the vote, still short of 50%, “Birdman” was eliminated and its 16 votes were redistributed. This time, “Spotlight” got the biggest boost, picking up three more votes and passing “12 Years a Slave” to claim fourth place.

1. “Parasite” – 116
2. “Moonlight” – 34
3. “The Shape of Water” – 27
4. “Spotlight” – 24
5. “12 Years a Slave” – 23
6. “Argo” – 22
7. “Nomadland” – 20

At this point, three other ballots were thrown out because they no longer contained any of the films that were still in the running. “Parasite” increased its total to 46% but remained short of the magic number to clinch victory, so “Nomadland” was eliminated and its 20 ballots redistributed. “Moonlight” got five new votes from “Nomadland” voters, “Parasite” and “Spotlight” got four, “The Shape of Water” and “12 Years a Slave” got two and “Argo” didn’t get any.

1. “Parasite” – 120
2. “Moonlight” – 39
3. “The Shape of Water” –  29
4. “Spotlight” – 28
5. “12 Years a Slave” – 25
6. “Argo” – 22

With “Parasite” was still short of 50%, “Argo” was eliminated and its 22 ballots redistributed. “Parasite” got three of them to move it to 47%, but “Spotlight” got seven and passed “The Shape of Water” for third place. “12 Years a Slave” picked up six more votes and almost caught “Shape of Water,” but it fell one short and became the next film slated for redistribution.

1. “Parasite” – 123
2. “Moonlight” – 40
3. “Spotlight” – 35
4. “The Shape of Water” – 32
5. “12 Years a Slave” – 31

With nine new votes from the “12 Years a Slave” ballots, “Spotlight” moved into a second-place tie with “Moonlight,” which only received four votes from the “Slave” ballots. “Parasite,” meanwhile, picked up another seven votes and hit 50%. But a film needs to pass 50%, not just reach it, so another round was needed and “The Shape of Water” was redistributed.

1. “Parasite” – 130
2. (tie) “Moonlight,” “Spotlight” – 44
4. “The Shape of Water” – 40

And then, after eight rounds, “Parasite” got 19 new votes from the “Shape of Water” ballots and blew past the 50% mark to claim victory.  At this point, the “Inactive votes” total was up to 6.8%, meaning that 18 voters had cast ballots that didn’t include “Parasite,” “Moonlight” or “Spotlight” at all.

1. “Parasite” – 149
2. “Moonlight” – 54
3. “Spotlight” – 49

Best Picture poll results

In the end, “Parasite” got more than two-thirds of its votes, 110 out of 149, from the initial tally of first-place votes. It picked up a steady stream of  additional votes from every eliminated film except “Green Book,” while “Moonlight” got additional votes from every film except “Green Book” and “The Artist.”

The huge initial lead for “Parasite” guaranteed that the outcome was never in doubt, but it’s worth noting that “Spotlight” took by far the biggest jump of any film, with a Round 8 total that was almost three times larger than its Round 1 total. In a tighter and longer race with a dominant favorite, the kind of consensus that “Spotlight” was crafting could have been crucial.

By the way, the poll is still live and you can still cast a vote, which will change the numbers but not the fact that “Parasite” is the winner. (Unless 300 of you suddenly vote for “Green Book.”)