Speed Reads

race to the Oscars

How the Oscars' preferential voting works — and what it could mean for the Best Picture race

Could the voting system used to determine the Oscars' Best Picture winner make all the difference this year?

The Academy uses a preferential ballot to select Best Picture, which means voters don't simply check off one movie to win. Instead, they rank all of the nominees. When ballots are collected, a film wins if it was ranked first by more than 50 percent of the Academy.

But that's a difficult feat considering there can be as many as 10 choices. If no film captures a majority, whichever receives the fewest votes is eliminated, and those who ranked that eliminated film first have their second pick moved up to first. For example, let's say someone ranked Vice first, followed by Roma. If Vice receives the fewest votes during the first round, this person's Best Picture pick is now Roma. The elimination and movement goes on until one film earns more than 50 percent of the votes.

A common theory among Oscars pundits is that when the Best Picture race is fairly open, many voters' second or third favorite takes the prize. Or, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, the movie that is "least disliked" will win.

So what's the least disliked this year? Many have argued it's Black Panther, while others think it could be The Favourite, which tied with Roma for the most nominations. The system may not help Green Book, though, seeing as controversy around the film has divided viewers, much like last year's losing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Bohemian Rhapsody could be set back for similar reasons, although the Academy has shown a surprising amount of love for that film.

It may be, however, that the system simply benefits the existing frontrunner, Roma. The technical accomplishments of Alfonso Cuarón's film can't be denied, even if it's not every Oscar voters' very favorite, and that may be enough to push it over the top.