Oscars 2014: Predicting The Winners With Data

Quants vs. critics: who will be right?

Here at Popular Science, the Oscar race we’ll be watching this year isn’t Best Picture or Best Actress. It’s the quants versus the critics. Who’s better at predicting Oscar wins? Statisticians who use data, but none of their own preferences or feelings? Or film critics who may have been in the business for decades?

Last year, among the handful of predictors I compared, data did better than human experience, but only by a little. On average, the mathematical models were correct 78 percent of the time among 10 popular Oscar categories. On average, the four critical reviews I chose to compare to my four models were correct 73 percent of the time.

Ben Zauzmer

About the predictor

Zauzmer is an undergraduate applied math student at Harvard University. This year, he’s publishing his predictions with The Hollywood Reporter.

How it works

Zauzmer examined movies’ Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores, as well as their performance in other award shows, such as the BAFTAs. He then wrote a mathematical formula describing how well each of those things predicts a movie’s Oscar win. Each Oscar category has its own formula.

Past performance

Before the 2012 show, Zauzmer offered 15 correct predictions out of 20 overall. Last year, he was 17 for 21.

12 Years a Slave

Farsite Forecast

Who

Farsite Forecast is an Ohio-based company that helps other companies analyze their own big data. Oscar-predicting seems to be a fun side project for its staff.

How it works

The New Scientist reported last year that critical sentiment and the Writer’s Guild of America awards play roles in Farsite’s projections.

Past performance

Farsite offered predictions for only six categories last year. It got five of them right.

PredictWise

About the predictor

Microsoft Research economist and forecaster David Rothschild runs PredictWise.

How it works

Rothschild combines data from betting exchanges with a mathematical adjustment of his own.

Past performance

Last year: 19 out of 24 categories correct

Blue Jasmine

Studio System News

About the predictor

Studio System News is an industry news site.

How it works

Editors at the site examined 30 years’ worth of data about other awards—such as Golden Globes, Directors Guild Awards and others—to see which predicted Oscar wins. Like Zauzmer, they came up with different formulas for each Oscar category.

Past performance

The site has never tried prediction-by-math before.

PaddyPower

Who

This Irish bookmaker offers odds on dozens of sports. But it’s also in on some novelty bets, including papal elections and the Oscars.

How it works

Guys, I don’t really know how bookmakers work. Presumably their odds are related to real winning probabilities, but adjusted so that the bookie is likely to get its cut.

*The outcomes of the models profiled here change over time as they get more data. For example, Rothschild’s predictions will change if betting market numbers change. The models may also publish more predictions in the coming days. Popular Science, on the other hand, is updating the Google spreadsheet by hand, so the predictions may not always match. Click on each predictor’s header in this post to see its latest.