Oscar Predictions: How Well Can Audience Interest Predict an Upset?

Brandon Carter
Brandon Carter

Fairly or unfairly, it’s a test the Academy faces every year: How much do the films and performers honored at the Academy Awards reflect what’s current in today’s cultural landscape? And should the Oscars in some way be “optimized” for that result?

In the weeks leading up to this year’s ceremony, we analyzed how many page views per story the following movies and performers garnered online to gauge which nominees have the most pull among audiences vs. the nominees that seem destined for Oscar glory on Sunday.

While online interest can’t be used to predict how the Academy will vote, it can reveal an intriguing dynamic within each race — in particular, which actors, actresses and movies pose the greatest threats to the presumptive favorites.

Here’s what we found:

infographic, audience interest vs presumptive oscar winners


Best Actress — Pike’s Gone Girl vs. Moore’s Alice

Among these nominees, Julianne Moore is the closest to a sure-thing come Sunday. She’s won just about every major award in sight leading up to the Oscars and is considered one of the best actresses on the planet. For online audiences, however, Rosamund Pike is the more noteworthy performer. While an upset in the Best Actress category is extremely unlikely, if any actress could challenge Moore, it would be Pike.

Best Actor — Three-Horse Race?

The race for Best Actor is a bit harder to read, with many predicting a win for either Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) or Michael Keaton (Birdman). Recent wins at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) give a slight edge to Redmayne, but in our analysis of online engagement, it’s fellow Brit Benedict Cumberbatch who could make things interesting.

A deeper dive reveals that Bradley Cooper is also in the mix, leaving Keaton on the outside looking in. In the absence of a clear frontrunner, Cooper has some serious dark horse potential.

infographic, Best Actor race


Best Picture — The Case for American Sniper

Between the current Chris Kyle murder trial — on whom American Sniper is based — and the film’s continued box office success, few movies in 2014 inspired as much interest or debate as Clint Eastwood’s latest. Next to Boyhood, which won the Golden Globe and is widely considered the film to beat, it’s not even close. Grounds for an upset?


Infographic, Best Picture race

According to numerous sources it’s Birdman, not American Sniper, that poses the biggest threat to Boyhood. And if American Sniper did pull off the upset, it would be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. But something tells me Boyhood and Birdman fatigue among voters might make this a closer race than initially thought. And Eastwood’s films have a way of coming out of nowhere; he’s pulled off this kind of upset before, with Million Dollar Baby toppling The Aviator at the 2005 Oscars.

All the speculation will end, of course, come Sunday 7:00pm ET (or more precisely, at around 10:00pm when all the major awards start to be announced). We’ll see how well online engagement can pick a dark horse then.


Cover image courtesy of Rachel via Flickr.

Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter

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  • Ed| February 21, 2015 at 7:19PM

    I think your article and Title are flawed. The Oscars have never been about the most popular movie. or actor. But hey, writing headlines is what you guys do. Even if they’re flawed.