The Academy Awards, known as the Oscars, are the biggest awards Hollywood gives itself. Held annually, Oscar Night is the biggest star-studded event in the American film industry. Knowing how to bet on the Oscars can make it even more fun for someone watching at home.
The purpose of the Academy Awards is to reward “excellence in cinematic achievement.” Each award comes with a golden Art Deco statuette, nicknamed an Oscar for various apocryphal reasons.
Betting on the Oscars starts well before nominees are announced and continues right up through the event itself. Depending on the sportsbook you use, you may have access to bets on all the Oscars categories or just the major awards.
This post explains betting on the Oscars, how it works, which categories are ideal for betting, and covers some recent Oscars betting trends. If you’re interested in other novelty bets and betting sites, check out this post on the subject.
Wait, Why Would Anyone Bet on the Oscars?
Forget for a second that we’re talking about an entertainment awards show.
The Oscars produce a set of results based only on items of popular culture and the votes of an unknown group of people. These results are preceded by predictions, then “seeding” (the nomination process), and a one-time live result announcement.
It’s a perfect situation for betting.
Part of the appeal is the fact that the awards are based on movies. Most people enjoy watching movies. Don’t downplay the value of celebrities in this equation. We like watching beautiful famous people laugh and cry and tell jokes about each other. Adding a friendly wager to that situation just ramps up the emotion.
Betting on the outcome of your favorite Oscar category is no different from betting on a pro baseball game or the Super Bowl. Your knowledge of that category can give you some insight into your wager. And just like in sports betting, you can handicap the categories and look for places where you think you have value.
Sportsbooks Take Bets on These Oscar Categories
The Academy Awards includes 24 competitive categories. These are the ones you and your friends can probably all name if you try. This list includes things like best sound mixing and best documentary short. The Academy also hands out lots of scientific and technical awards, honorary awards, achievement awards, and awards in other non-standard categories.
Some sportsbooks take bets on all 24 competitive categories, but most of them offer a dozen or so. Every sportsbook that has an Oscars market will take bets on at least these six categories, known as “the big six:”
- Best Picture
- Best Director
- Best Actor
- Best Actress
- Best Supporting Actor
- Best Supporting Actress
These categories are the focus of Oscars betting because they get the most media coverage and generate the most interest among the public. Most people don’t have an opinion on who the best production designer is or who made the best animated short film, but anyone who watches the Oscars can give you ten minutes on which movie should win Best Picture.
The Best Oscar Categories to Bet On
You should think of those big six categories as the Lakers and Yankees and Cowboys all rolled into one market. Everyone has a hot take on Best Director, every media outlet crowns their own Best Actress, and all the dumb money that pours into Oscars betting takes place in these categories. There’s not much room between the likely winners and the movies and performers that the books favor.
The less-popular categories are like small-market teams in college basketball, ripe for inefficiency in pricing and outright wrong odds. Bettors who become experts in the history of costume design winners and study a given year’s nominees can easily gain an advantage against a book.
Some of the smaller-market awards are tied closely to those tricky big six categories, making them less valuable to bettors. The Academy Award for Best Film Editing has gone to the editor of the Best Picture winner for 33 straight years. The same goes for Best Original Score, which almost always goes to either the Best Picture or the Best Animated Feature winner.
Here’s a list of some lesser-known competitive Oscar categories where bettors might find value relative to the big six categories:
- Best Animated Short – awarded to the best animated film with a running time of 40 minutes or less. Favorites win about half the time.
- Best Documentary Short – awarded to the best documentary film with a running time of 40 minutes or less. Favorites win a little less than half the time.
- Best International Feature – awarded to the best feature-length film with a predominantly non-English dialogue track. Favorites win about 40% of the time.
- Best Live Action Short – awarded to the best live-action short film with a running time of 40 minutes or less. The favorite has never won this category as far as I can tell.
Handicapping the Academy Awards (How to Bet on the Oscars)
Most of the talking heads that predict winners base their predictions on the outcomes of other major awards events that take place before the Oscars. Specifically, pundits extrapolate their likely winners based on the SAG and BAFTA awards.
The SAG and BAFTA award nominations come out before the Oscar nominations, and they take place well before the typical late-March Academy Awards date. The SAG Awards take place in the last week of February, and the BAFTAs are handed out in the second week of March. By looking at both the nominees and eventual winners of these awards, it’s easy to get a sense of how Academy voters might vote.
The SAG Awards have been handed out for 25 years, and in that time, the four actor awards have matched 7 times. The SAG and Oscars acting awards have matched up 3 out of 4 awards 11 times out of 25, a much more likely result. This suggests there’s value in trying to work out what that one mismatch award will be and backing that result for the Academy Awards.
Then again, if everyone in the industry is handicapping this way, it doesn’t have a lot of value as a strategy.
This is why advantage-minded Oscars bettors stick to the less-discussed awards when they’re available. You have an easier job handicapping a category that no one is really talking about than trying to wade through the piles of content on Best Picture and Best Director.
Oscars Betting Trends (How to Bet on the Oscars)
I prefer to research trends in the various Oscar categories and begin my handicapping process after I watch the films involved. I feel like this gives me a leg up against a market based almost entirely on the speculation of entertainment reporters.
Here are some powerful trends in Oscars results that you can use to inform your betting:
- Performers who sweep the acting awards at the precursor award shows (Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, SAG, and BAFTA) have won their acting category at the Oscars almost 100% of the time. Russell Crowe’s 2001 performance in A Beautiful Mind is the only exception. He lost that year to Denzel Washington in Training Day.
- Repeat performer awards are rare; only two actors (Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy) and two actresses (Luise Rainer and Katharine Hepburn) have ever won back-to-back acting awards at the Oscars.
- Science fiction movies rarely earn Best Picture nominations; superhero movies never do.
- The average age of the Best Actor winner is 48.2 The average age of the Best Actress winner is 39.4
- Four of the big six awards went to favorites in both 2019 and 2020.
- Going back ten years, the favorite in the Best Live Action Short category hasn’t won once. The average odds for the winner in this category are +270 going back to 2012.
- Two actors (Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton) have been nominated eight times without winning.
- Actors who perform as characters with mental or physical disabilities dominate the performance awards. About 1/3 of all Best Actor awards since 1931 have gone to actors portraying such a character.
- Here’s an awful trend – just 28 African American performers have ever been nominated for a Best Actor or Best Actress award, with only four performers ever claiming that top prize.
Conclusion – How to Bet on the Oscars
Betting on the Oscars adds another layer of excitement to Hollywood’s biggest night. If you’re a movie fan and you have strong opinions about the Academy Awards, putting a little money on it ramps up the stakes at the Oscars.
If you genuinely have a good line on a particular award or can identify a mispriced category, it can be a profitable part of your betting strategy.