Oscar-winners tend to inspire one particularly powerful emotion, especially in men

Are you happy now?
Are you happy now?
Image: Reuters/Phil McCarten
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This year, the Academy Awards’ best-picture category highlighted films like The Big Short, Spotlight, and The Revenant, which painted dark pictures of the financial crisis, child molestation in the Catholic church, and life on the frontier.

As it turns out, outraging viewers may be the best recipe for winning an Oscar. Researchers have found correlations between the emotions Oscar-nominated films inspire in audiences and the ultimate award winners.

Oscar-winning films are 9% more likely to elicit anger from online reviewers than other emotions like love, sadness, and anticipation, researchers at consumer research firm Clarabridge and consultancy Cognizant found. The companies teamed up on a joint study that analyzed Internet Movie Database and Rotten Tomatoes reviews for every Oscar-nominated and winning film from the last 15 years. 

They found that while people rated the winning films highly overall, they were also vexed by the injustices they highlighted (12 Years a Slave), or the intense emotions they brought to light (last year’s big winner, Birdman).

And those powerful feelings stuck with them.

Interestingly, researchers found that it was mostly men who became angry when watching the winning films. Women, in turn, became more sad or nostalgic when watching the same movies, and were drawn to winners that were more self-reflective or reminiscent of a time in their own lives, like Silver Linings Playbook.

Overall, female Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB users rated Oscar-winning films 13% less often than men did, which could indicate that the share of women in the audience was smaller, or simply that women reviewers didn’t have strong reactions to the films.

Researchers found that movies with a larger audience of female reviewers typically win fewer awards. For example, the online reviewers for Carol, a 2015 romance starring Cate Blanchett, were split almost evenly between men and women, which is unusual for an Oscar-nominated film. Researchers say they expected Carol to nab a best picture nod due to ratings and reviews, but it didn’t. ”One reason could be that it had more of a female audience,” Dheepan Ramanan, a data scientist at Clarabridge, told Quartz. “Films with more of a female audience tend to get lower audience ratings,” because men rate them lower, he said.

Although online reviewers have no sway over the Academy, this could help explain why films that are highly rated by female reviewers get snubbed at the Oscars: About 75% of the Academy Awards voters are men.

After facing backlash for the lack of diversity in its Oscar nominees this year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences vowed to double the number of “women and diverse members” in its ranks by 2020, Quartz reported.