How are the Oscar winners chosen? Here’s what goes on behind the scenes

How are the Oscar winners chosen? Here’s what goes on behind the scenes
  • The Academy members use a secret ballot to vote for films at three different stages - shortlisting from all eligible films, selecting the final nominees and picking the winner.
  • Most categories are nominated by the Academy members of the corresponding branch – actors nominate actors, film editors nominate film editors, etc. However, all voting members can nominate films for best picture.
  • For the 95th Academy Awards, the final voting opened on March 2 and ended on March 7, five days before the final event.
The 95th Academy Awards took place on March 13. SS Rajamouli’s period drama RRR won Best Original Song for its track Naatu Naatu. Kartiki Gonsalves’ directorial debut The Elephant Whisperers won Best Documentary (Short). But Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes lost the Documentary Feature Film Oscar to Navalny.

Though in recent years it has been called out for lack of diversification and racial bias, the Academy Awards are one of the most popular international award shows. And winning an Oscar is not exactly a simple process.

From nominations to shortlists to finalists, the Academy goes through a lengthy process while choosing the winners. Here’s a look at the process in detail:

What makes a film eligible for the Oscars?

The Academy has laid down clear guidelines for the consideration of a feature film in the categories of Best Picture, Director, Actor, etc.


As per the Academy’s guidelines, feature films must have a running time of more than 40 minutes. They also need to run in a commercial motion picture theater in at least one of six US metropolitan areas: Los Angeles County; the City of New York; the Bay Area; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia.

For 2023 nominations, the films must have been screened between January 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022, and complete a minimum qualifying run of seven consecutive days in the same venue.

There are additional guidelines for International feature films (over 50% of dialogues need to be non-English).

Shortlist, Finalist and The Reminder List

Certain categories at the Oscars like Best International Feature, Best Documentary (short and feature), Best Song, etc. have shortlists. These are categories for which the Academy creates a shortlist from all the submitted eligible films. Films from 92 countries and regions were eligible in the Best International Feature Film category this year but only 15 films were shortlisted. India’s official entry, Chello Show, was one of the 15 shortlisted films.

From the shortlists, the Academy selects the final nominees (usually five) for the Oscars. For example, this year, Naatu Naatu from RRR won the Best Song nomination, but Chello Show didn’t make it to the final five in the Best International Feature category.

The Academy votes on these final nominees to pick the winner.

A few categories, like Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, etc. don’t have shortlists. For these categories, the final nominees are directly announced before the Oscars. In 2023, the final nominations for all categories were announced on January 24, 2023.

The Academy also releases the Reminder List. This is the list of movies that are eligible for consideration as per the Academy guidelines but have not been shortlisted by the Academy. They may or may not win a final nomination. For example, this year, Gangubai Kathiawadi, The Kashmir Files and Kantara, among others, made the Reminder List but were not nominated or shortlisted for any categories.

The who, how and when of the voting process

From the shortlist to the final nominations, right up to choosing the winner, the Academy follows a voting process. The Academy has over 10,000 members, divided among 17 branches, who vote for different categories. All academy members have to be involved in the movie business in some capacity.

As per the Academy, “most categories are nominated by the members of the corresponding branch – actors nominate actors, film editors nominate film editors, etc.” However, all voting members can nominate films for best picture.

Simply put, the Academy members vote in three stages – to determine the shortlist from eligible films, to determine the final nominations from the shortlist, and to determine the winner from the final nominations. As per the Academy guidelines, voting for nominations and awards is done by secret ballot. The final voting takes place close to the ceremony – in 2023, reports state the voting for winners opened March 2 and ended March 7, five days before the final event.

For most categories the nominee that gets the most votes wins. However, for Best Picture, the Academy employs ranked-choice voting or preferential voting.

As per PBS, “voters order the nominees by preference; if one movie comes away with more than 50% of the first-place votes in the first round, that’s the winner. But if no movie meets that threshold, then the one with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated — people who had ranked that film first will have their votes transferred to their second choices. And so on it goes until some movie wins a majority.”

Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) tabulates the votes. Only two partners from the firm know the results before the final ceremony. And yes, it was a PwC accountant who handed the wrong envelope to presenters Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway in 2017 - leading to La La Land being incorrectly announced as the Best Picture winner, instead of the actual winner, Moonlight.


RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’ dances away to an Oscar! Here’s a look at the other winners
Oscar-winning documentary short The Elephant Whisperers - Two women created this magic