Guilds Awards’ Rare Split Results Keep Oscar Race Wide Open

Only four times have the industry's top three guilds split three different ways.

big Short Revenant Spotlight Oscar Race
Courtesy of paramount/20th Century Fox/Open Road

For the first time in more than a decade, three of the industry’s major guilds — the producers, directors and screen actors — have split entirely different ways in handing out their top prize, keeping the awards season wide open as it heads into the final stretch.

To recap, “The Big Short” won the PGA honor — using the same kind of preferential ballot among its membership of more than 7,000 as Academy voters will use for the Oscars. “Spotlight” took home the SAG ensemble trophy from a group totaling more than 160,000. And “The Revenant” claimed the DGA prize from 16,000-plus voters.

Historically speaking, the DGA has been the top Oscar barometer. Only 14 times in 67 years has its awardee not seen his or her movie go on to win best picture, including a number of instances when the guild didn’t correctly predict the Oscar-winning director. The PGA has a smaller sample of 27 years to pull from, but only seven times has that group’s decision not presaged the Oscar vote. SAG sports an even smaller sampling of 20 years, with the ensemble winner claiming best picture gold just 10 times.

You can get lost in the statistical history and miss a lot of nuance. For instance, the PGA’s 2001 merger with the American Assn. of Producers drastically altered its makeup (to say nothing of the guild’s adoption of the preferential ballot in tandem with the Academy’s in 2010). The annual SAG Nominating Committee, meanwhile, is a revolving door of 2,000 or so members randomly chosen anew each season — not exactly a model of consistency.

It’s also instructive to take a look at the other three years the industry was this divided. The first instance came in the 2000 season, when “Gladiator” won the PGA, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” snagged the DGA and “Traffic” claimed the SAG ensemble honor. “Gladiator” ultimately won the best picture Oscar, as well as actor and a trio of craft categories. “Traffic” won for director, as well as supporting actor, adapted screenplay and film editing. “Crouching Tiger” won three crafts categories and the foreign-language prize.

It happened again the next year, with “Moulin Rouge!” winning the PGA, “A Beautiful Mind” winning the DGA and “Gosford Park” winning SAG ensemble. “A Beautiful Mind” ultimately won best picture, director, supporting actress and adapted screenplay. “Moulin Rouge!” won a pair of craft categories and “Gosford Park” won original screenplay.

Three years later, “Million Dollar Baby” was a wild card, thrust into the season at the 11th hour and fast becoming the emotional favorite. “The Aviator” won the PGA before going on to claim four Oscars in the craft categories and another for supporting actress. SAG awarded “Sideways,” which managed only an adapted screenplay Oscar (in the wake of star Paul Giamatti’s unexpected exclusion from the actor category) — and “Million Dollar Baby,” which had taken the DGA honor, walked away with Oscars for best picture, director, actress and supporting actor.

In the first instance, the PGA winner (prior to the org’s merger with the AAP) took the best picture Oscar. In the other two, the DGA was the best picture indicator. For the record, there have been only two instances in which a film has won the SAG ensemble prize but neither the PGA nor DGA award and still managed to pull off a best picture victory: “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998 and “Crash” in 2005.

And lest we be tempted to look to the British Academy’s history for guidance — where “The Revenant” triumphed this year — remember that only since 2012 has it used the same paradigm for selecting nominations and winners as the American Academy (i.e., the various branches determine nominees and the entire membership determines winners). And just last year, the Brits opted for “Boyhood” over eventual Oscar victor “Birdman.”

Ultimately, whatever happens, the winners will not be the story of this year’s Oscar season. Rather, the huge outcry over the lack of diversity among the nominations, the Academy’s heavily criticized rush to correct representation in its membership and various calls to boycott the awards ceremony itself will forever be the legacy of Oscars 2016.

In the face of that, will anyone really care how the math added up?