How Are Oscar Nominees Chosen?

The biggest night of Hollywood is finally in sight. Unless you live under a rock, you will have heard that last Tuesday the Academy Award nominations were finally revealed. In a mere five weeks, filmmakers and movie stars from around the world will assemble in Los Angeles, and some of them will leave with golden statues in their hands. As much as filmmakers insist that they do not make movies to win Oscars, the Academy Awards ceremony is nevertheless the most exciting and most emotional night in Hollywood.

The biggest anticipation has always been for the Best Picture award, the most prestigious of them all. This year there are nine nominees, led by Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water”, which has received an astounding 13 nominations. Among the other Best Picture nominees are “Call Me by Your Name”, “Darkest Hour”, “Dunkirk”, “Get Out”, “Lady Bird”, “Phantom Thread”, “The Post”, and “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri”.

While these nine movies are certainly good films in their own right, what ever happened to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Wonder Woman”? These three were after all the box office leaders of 2017. Furthermore, each of these three movies made at least 10 times as much revenue as “The Shape of Water” did.

Also, what ever happened to more diverse movies? In recent years there has been the growing criticism that the Oscars can hardly be called diverse, both in race and gender. From these nine Best Picture nominated movies, only “Get Out” features a non-white actor in the lead role. It’s very hard to believe that there aren’t any other movies starring minority groups that are worthy of the Best Picture award. Or if we turn the question around, why do the Best Picture nominated movies almost exclusively star white actors?

“The industry doesn’t offer significant roles to [diverse] actors in the first place. (…) It’s this insane circle of ‘wanting diversity’ but never being willing to take the chance to pull of actors of color into groundbreaking or ‘Oscar worthy’ roles,” says Meilin Chan (CAS ’20). Just to note, the last Asian actress to be nominated for best actress was Merle Oberon in 1935.

It’s not just in terms of races that there is an imbalance, but also in gender and sexual identity.

“I’d love to see more LGBT+ people being nominated,” says Gab Burrows-Castillo (COM ’20). “Especially trans people. (…) It’s getting better, but we still need better representation of minority characters that reinforce positive views to younger audiences.”

So who exactly is the Academy and how exactly does the Academy select which movies and actors and movie-makers are nominated and which ones aren’t?

First of all, a movie has to be submitted for nomination. The criteria in order to be eligible are the following: the movie must have a run time exceeding 40 minutes. Secondly, it must be screened to the public for paid admission in Los Angeles County. Thirdly, it must have screened for at least seven days straight; and lastly, its premiere must have been in a theatre.

If a movie meets these criteria, then it’s up to the 7,000 voting members of the Academy. Each Academy member must have a background in the movie industry, whether it is as an actor, a director, a sound editor, or in one of the various other fields. From all the eligible movies, the voting members choose five movies and list them in order of preference. However, for the nominations, members can only vote on categories they are affiliated with. For example, actors can only cast their votes for the acting categories, whereas cinematographers can only vote on Best Cinematography and only editors can vote on Best Editing, etc. For the Best Picture category, however, every member of the Academy can choose between five and ten movies.

Through a complicated mathematical procedure, the returned ballots are counted (which is done without the help of computers!) and the potential nominees finally become official nominees.

After this official selection is made, each Academy member has one vote per category. Furthermore, every member can now vote on every category.

So, while it is a requirement that the Academy members must have a background in the movie business it is not a requirement that every voting member has seen every movie they vote on.

Therefore, to return to our question, the reason that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture is because the Academy doesn’t take the box office into account, but only whether they personally preferred it to the other movies that were up for nomination. Nevertheless, “The Last Jedi” received four nominations in Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing, which is still something.

The roots as to why the Oscar nominees aren’t more diverse on the other hand, depends on the industry, which in turn depends on the audience. If more people go to watch movies that are helmed by a diverse cast or created by diverse producers, then the industry will produce more of these movies. This in turn will hopefully lead to more diverse Academy Awards ceremonies – and hopefully better representation too.

Below, I assembled the list of all nominated feature films in every category (excluding the shorts and the documentaries). Luckily the 90th Academy Awards Ceremony won’t be held until the Mar. 4, so you still have time to catch up. Happy watching!


“All the Money in the World”

“Baby Driver”

“Beauty and the Beast”

“The Big Sick”

“Blade Runner 2049”

“The Boss Baby”

“The Breadwinner”

“Call Me by Your Name”


“Darkest Hour”

“The Disaster Artist”


“A Fantastic Woman”


“The Florida Project”

“Get Out”

“The Greatest Showman”

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

“I, Tonya”

“The Insult”

“Kong: Skull Island”

“Lady Bird”



“Loving Vincent”


“Molly’s Game”


“On Body and Soul”

“Phantom Thread”

“The Post”

“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

“The Shape of Water”

“The Square”

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

“Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri”

“Victoria and Abdul”

“War for the Planet of the Apes”


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