Who Votes for the Oscars?

Who is Eligible to Vote for the Academy Awards?

Oscars
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Every movie fan who recognizes that the Academy Awards are the highest film achievement awards has probably second-guessed at least one decision made by the Academy on who to award an Oscar to. Perhaps you think Taxi Driver should have won Best Picture over Rocky in 1977, or that Saving Private Ryan should have won Best Picture over Shakespeare in Love in 1999, or maybe you're a fan of blockbusters and wonder why so many box office hits never win -- whatever your gripe is, you've probably wondered who these Academy voters actually are.

Who Are The Voters?

When founded in 1927, the Academy consisted of just 26 members. Today, the Academy keeps the list of all of the roughly 5,800 voters a secret, although new members are often announced by the Academy and independent counters have managed to create lists of thousands of members. Joining the Academy is by invitation only.

The Academy has recently been derided for lack of diversity among its members -- as late as 2012, the Los Angeles Times revealed a study that discovered that the Academy voters are overwhelmingly Caucasian (94%), male (77%), and a majority were over the age of 60 (54%). The Academy has since stated its efforts to diversify the voters with future invitations.

Roughly a third of the voters are former Oscar nominees or winners. Academy membership is split into 17 different branches -- the largest (22% of membership) is the acting branch, and other branches include Casting Directors, Costume Designers, Executives, Producers, Film Editors, and Documentary Filmmakers.

How Does the Nomination Process Work?

Following the "#OscarsSoWhite" controversy in 2016 -- when all 20 acting nominees were Caucasian for the second year in a row -- many critics pointed fingers at "old, white executives" for choosing only Caucasian acting nominees. However, this criticism misunderstood how the Academy votes for nominees.

In truth, only actors can nominate actors for Oscars. Members of the executive branch -- or any other branch -- do not nominate for acting nominees.

Members are restricted to nominating within for awards that are covered by their branch only (with the exception of Best Picture, which every voter can nominate films for). For example, only the Cinematographer branch can nominate individuals for Best Cinematographer. In other words, members of individual branches select their own nominees.

Of course, while this allows the branches to select "their own" it is an imperfect system -- for instance, some critics believe the Directors branch did not nominate Ben Affleck for Best Director for Argo because the Directors branch viewed him as more of an actor than a director (Argo would go on to win Best Picture, one of the few films to win Best Picture without the director of the film being nominated for Best Director). Then again, that year Affleck could have been shut out by only a handful of votes. Being that the ballots are secret and vote counts are never revealed, this is all speculation.

At the end of the process, the nominee votes are tallied and the top five (or up to ten for Best Picture) are announced as nominees.

In some instances of categories with limited entries per year -- such as Animated Feature or Best Song -- there may ultimately be less than five nominees in a category.

Note that the voting category that is an exception to this process is the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film since there are thousands of potential nominees. Details on voting for that category can be found here.

How Are Final Ballots Cast?

Once nominees are announced, each Academy member receives a final ballot. At this point, members may vote in all categories regardless of what branch they are based in. The final votes are tallied and the winners are ready to be announced at the Oscars ceremony.

The Future

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy has enacted several controversial measures that might strip members deemed "inactive" (i.e., members who are no longer actively working in the film industry) of voting rights.

Critics of these measures say that it is unfair for the Academy to assume older members of the Academy to be the source of the obvious diversity issues within the industry.

These measures may result in the Academy being divided into voting and non-voting members, which would fundamentally change the voting process. As in the past, the Academy will likely adapt to future changes -- but fans will also never stop second-guessing the Academy voters when their favorite films don't win on Oscar night.