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The Golden Globes don’t “predict” the Oscars

Except when they do.

Sacha Baron Cohen and his wife Isla Fisher onscreen at the Golden Globes.
Sacha Baron Cohen won two Golden Globes for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The 78th Golden Globe Awards were handed out on Sunday, February 28 — about two weeks before the nominations for the 93nd Academy Awards, a.k.a. the Oscars, are set to be announced on Monday, March 15. (The Oscars will take place April 25; the usual timeline was pushed back by about two months this year because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.)

The Golden Globes are known to be an oddball ceremony, partly due to their open bar. This year they were even weirder than usual, since the pandemic made the customary packed ballroom unsafe. Instead, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted from opposite coasts, joined by a small number of masked and socially distanced front-line workers as guests. Some of the awards presenters took the stage in person; others read nominees’ and winners’ names through a screen. And winners accepted their awards from home, beamed into the ceremony via videoconferencing software while all decked out in their ball gowns and tuxes and, in some cases, hoodies.

This year, the big winners in the film categories were Nomadland (Best Drama and Best Director), Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (Best Comedy or Musical and Best Lead Actor for Sacha Baron Cohen), and Soul (Best Animated Film and Best Original Score). The rest of the movie awards were spread out: Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I Care A Lot, and The Trial of the Chicago 7 all took home awards, as did HBO Max’s Judas and the Black Messiah, STXfilms’s The Mauritanian, Hulu’s The United States vs. Billie Holiday, and A24’s Minari.

NBC’s “78th Annual Golden Globe Awards” - Winners Press Experience
Chloe Zhao won two Globes for her film Nomadland.
NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

It’s tempting to clock any film’s trophy count at the Golden Globes as evidence that the Globes function as an “Oscar predictor.” That’s a natural assumption, because both shows honor movies with a glitzy, star-studded televised ceremony. Plus, the Globes take place about two months before the Oscars and kick off the awards season that culminates in the Oscars.

But is there anything to the idea that Globes results predict the eventual Oscar winners?

(Note: The awards that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hand out are called “Oscars” for reasons that are disputed. But “Oscars” and “Academy Awards” are generally used interchangeably to refer to the ceremony.)

No — because the Golden Globes aren’t set up to be an Oscar predictor

Walt Hickey, writing at FiveThirtyEight, noted that in 2013, the Golden Globes had a success rate of only 48 percent in predicting the Oscars’ eventual Best Picture winner. That’s not abysmal, but it’s not great either.

One of the issues is structural: The Golden Globes give out two Best Picture awards — one for drama and one for musical or comedy — while there’s only one Best Picture Oscar. The awards for Best Actor and Best Actress are also split into drama and comedy/musical categories at the Globes, but the Supporting Actor and Actress categories — along with Best Director and Best Screenplay — are not.

Similarly, while the Oscars separate screenplays into Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay, the Globes lump them all into one category.

These disparities mean it’s virtually impossible for the Globes to “predict” wins in a meaningful fashion. But the Globes nominations do tend to track near the Oscar nominations (though there are always a few outliers). And since 2010, the Oscars have been able to nominate up to 10 films for Best Picture, making it technically possible for all 10 Golden Globe Best Picture nominees (in both the drama and comedy/musical categories) to also earn a Best Picture nod at the Oscars.

Sometimes, the results of the Globes track moderately closely with the Oscar results. In 2019, Green Book won three Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, then went on to win in the three equivalent categories at the Oscars. In 2017, the powerhouse La La Land broke records by winning seven awards at the Globes, including Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical; it later won six of the 14 Oscars it was nominated for. And Moonlight, which took home the Best Motion Picture – Drama award at the Globes, was the eventual Best Picture winner at the Oscars — though not until after a historic snafu.

But as an Oscar predictor, the Globes are still fairly inaccurate, or at least they don’t work in any logical order. The 2020 Best Picture winners at the Globes were 1917 (in the drama category) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (in the comedy or musical category). But at the Oscars, both of those films were bested by Parasite, whose Best Picture win at the Globes was in the rarely tapped foreign language category. The 2018 Best Picture winners at the Globes were Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (in the drama category) and Lady Bird (in the comedy or musical category) — but both missed the major awards at the Oscars. And two years prior, in 2016, The Revenant won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, beating out eventual Oscars Best Picture winner Spotlight.

There are plenty of other categories at the Globes, however, and the awards have a much better track record when it comes to predicting the Oscars’ Best Actor and Actress winners. In January 2016, Jason Bailey found at Flavorwire that over the past decade, the Globes boasted a nearly 90 percent accuracy rating for predicting the Oscars’ acting awards, versus Best Director (40 percent) or Best Picture (50 percent).

Daniel Kaluuya looks straight into the screen.
Daniel Kaluuya won for his performance in Judas and the Black Messiah. Will he repeat it at the Oscars?
NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

But if you’re looking to win your Oscar pool this year, you’re best off also checking who ultimately wins the top prizes at the various guilds: The Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Producers Guild of America (PGA) are typically the strongest predictors of the eventual Oscars Best Picture winner; the Screen Actors Guild Awards (given out by SAG-AFTRA) is usually the place to check for performance frontrunners (alongside the BAFTAs and the Globes); the Writers’ Guild (WGA) helps predict the screenwriting awards; and so on. FiveThirtyEight’s prediction model from 2016 has a great rundown.

No — because the people who vote for the Golden Globes don’t overlap with the people who vote for the Oscars

The reason for the overlap with industry-specific awards is simple: A high percentage of the people who vote for the Academy Awards also belong to guilds like the DGA, PGA, SAG-AFTRA, and WGA. So people’s votes often overlap, disparate categories notwithstanding.

The people who vote for the Golden Globes, however, are an entirely different group, and they’re not industry voters. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association hands out the Golden Globes, and there is virtually no overlap between the HFPA and the Academy.

In brief: The membership of the HFPA never surpasses 100 and is ostensibly made up entirely of journalists based in Southern California who work for foreign publications — though even that status is hard to verify in a few cases. Currently, its membership numbers 87. That small membership means it’s known for being unpredictable, and it’s sometimes accused of letting publicity and favors skew the results.

The Academy, on the other hand, is made up of nearly 10,000 members, all of whom work or previously worked in the filmmaking business in some capacity or another — actors, directors, producers, screenwriters, and more. Academy voters still skew overwhelmingly white, male, and over 60, but new rules instituted in 2016 (after the #OscarsSoWhite controversy) are changing that.

But then again, maybe

The thing about awards buzz is that it’s generated by journalists and critics, and also by the way film studios try to market their films to voters. A great deal of this happens through the distribution of screeners for major films, which are sent to people who belong to major voting bodies (guilds and critics’ circles, as well as the Academy) to help ensure they can watch as many films as possible and aid them in filling out their ballots.

Writer and director Lee Isaac Chung accepts the award for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language for Minari.
NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

In 2021, voting members of the Academy must submit their Oscar nomination ballots by Friday, March 5 — only five days after the Golden Globes. And given how wild and confusing this awards season has been, it’s reasonable to bet that plenty of Oscar voters still have a stack of screeners sitting on their coffee tables as you read this.

So while they’ve probably watched the favorites by now — Nomadland and The Trial of the Chicago 7 and One Night in Miami — a Golden Globes win for an underdog like I Care A Lot or The Mauritanian might push a voter to give the film or performance another look in what little time remains before they must submit their ballot. And thus, Rosamund Pike or Jodie Foster, both of whom have been part of awards conversations but not frontrunners in the Best Actress category, may still have a chance; you never know.

That means that while the Golden Globes aren’t established “predictors” for the Oscars, they can still influence the Oscars. A surprise win at the Globes, if it inspires enough Academy members to watch a film they haven’t yet seen, or to reconsider a film or performance they had forgotten about, could give a film the extra nudge it needs.

And in 2021, that matters, because at this point it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen between now and the end of April, when Hollywood convenes (probably largely virtually) for the Oscars. In a year when Oscar buzz has been muted without the usual rounds of red carpet premieres, parties, meet-and-greets, and relentless campaigning — and when films that wouldn’t normally seem like Oscar bait, like Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, are taking home trophies — the field feels wide open.

So, nobody really knows. Nomadland’s and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’s big night at the 2021 Golden Globes could be an indicator of future success, or it may not have any bearing at all. Other films that won big at the Globes may enjoy a boost. And that’s why, seemingly against all reason and sense, we keep talking about the Golden Globes.

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