If a movie is released before June, it’s probably not going to win Best Picture at the Oscars

Easier said than done.
Easier said than done.
Image: Reuters/Phil McCarten
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Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece Get Out is already generating Oscar buzz—and it’s only June. The film’s movie studio has reportedly been pushing the movie to Academy voters ever since the surprise hit debuted to critical acclaim and impressive box-office returns in February. If Get Out was to win Best Picture in March 2018 at the next Academy Awards, it will join an elite subset of Oscar winners.

Based on a Quartz analysis of Best Picture winners dating back to 1942**, only 10 winners in the last 75 years were released by this point in the year. By contrast 65% of the Best Picture winners from the last 75 years rolled out between October and December. And 35% came out in December—the height of the holiday movie season.

Image for article titled If a movie is released before June, it’s probably not going to win Best Picture at the Oscars
Image: Quartz

The films that won and were released before June 1 in their respective years were Casablanca, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Sound of Music, Patton, The Godfather, Annie Hall, The Silence of the Lambs, Braveheart, Gladiator, and Crash. Just three of those—Casablanca, The Greatest Show on Earth, and The Silence of the Lambs—premiered by February.

What do those that bucked the trend have in common? They are some of the best films ever made.

Six ranked among the 100 greatest films of all time by the American Film Institute. Five of them earned at least a 95% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. And, although Oscar winners aren’t usually big box office draws, at least three went on to become the top-grossing movies at the US box office in their respective years. They were all made by acclaimed filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Michael Curtiz, Jonathan Demme, and Ridley Scott.

The release pattern is less about Academy voters recognizing films that come out early in the year, and more about the movie slate they have to choose from. Studios usually save their Oscar bait—the most likely to earn critical praise—for the end of the year, ahead of US awards seasons. They tend to be arthouse flicks and headier dramas, and the studios use the nominations to build buzz among theatergoers. (Even with the extra attention, it’s tough to get people to watch.)

Studios drop their Oscar-worthy tentpoles, like the 2003 Best Picture winner The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, during this time of the year, too. And a late-in-the-year release means the film will be fresh in voters’ minds when they cast their ballots.

Films that break this pattern often have a run on the film-festival circuit, which starts with Sundance in January each year, carries on through May with Cannes, and continues in earnest through the fall. Studios use those events to pick up critical steam on the way to the Oscars. And independent films land distribution deals during these events. Winners like The Hurt Locker, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and Slumdog Millionaire all had healthy film-festival runs before their Oscar-qualifying runs.

**We started in 1942 as that is when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began requiring feature films to run in a commercial theater for at least seven consecutive days, starting within the awards year, to be eligible for an Oscar. The Academy also requires that qualifying run to be in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County, as per previously established rules. For the purposes of this story, Quartz used the earliest wide or limited commercial-release dates that included Los Angeles County, based on data from the Internet Movie Database. A movie like Casablanca, which premiered in New York in January before its wide release in February, would be counted in the latter month, for example.