This weekend saw Hollywood’s 90th Academy Awards ceremony, a celebration of the brightest and best talent in one of, if not the, largest entertainment industry in the world. True to the trade, The Oscars often has plenty of drama, from protest speeches to shock results. Plenty of content exists addressing the hot gossip and political statements from the night, but here I’d like to take a data approach and ask, could we have predicted the winner?

Looking at the Best Picture winner, Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, let’s work backwards through big data and see if we missed some clear hints. Quartzy’s ‘ultimate predictor’ believes that the most important metrics for predicting the winner are 1) conversational buzz, 2) critics’ reviews and 3) box office takings.

Through social listening, we know that in the 7 days before the awards, The Shape of Water generated a buzz of 23,133 total mentions in the US, but this was topped by Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with 29,969; (quick note on buzz wear out, TBOEM was actually in cinemas a month before TSOW).

So if not buzz, perhaps the key is in critics’ reviews. IMDB gives TSOW a very high 77 out of 100, but TBOEM comes in with 83 (Metacritic gives 87 and 88 respectively). It’s looking like TBOEB might take home the coveted statue.

Maybe we need to talk brass tacks. As TBOEM has a full month’s head start on TSOW, we’ll need to look at their opening weekend for comparability’s sake. It was close but TBOEM wins out here, with an extra 6.8K over TSOW. Just looking at box office takings misses some important factors, like marketing, and ‘star power’. Three Billboards boasts some big names like Rockwell and Harrelson, as well as director McDonagh of In Bruges fame.

However, the main reason caution is advised when using Box Office takings is because there’s very little correlation between box office success and winning Best Picture.

For context, the last film to top the box office and take home best picture was Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003.

Whilst we can use these metrics to give us a good indication on how well a film will perform at the Oscars, it is not a guarantee. Ultimately, this is because the Oscars aren’t based on public opinion; it’s an invitation only, 7000-strong board of academy members, made up of the who’s-who of Hollywood, who are judging the films artistic merit by their own standards.

In short, there’s no accounting for taste.

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