Toronto’s audience award and the impact on the Oscars

The Toronto People’s Choice Award at Toronto International Film Festival is by many seen as a very good indicator for who will be one of the big contenders for Best Picture at the Oscars. But is there a statistical reason for that? And in which case, has it always been like that? And why?

Before we look at this, I should say we have looked at above the line and below the line categories. Above the line is defined as Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay. The rest is considered below the line for this piece.

What does the stats say?

The past 10 winners of the Toronto People’s Choice Award have all gone on to get a Best Picture nomination. And three of them went on to win Oscar’s biggest award. Since the 2010 Oscars (where Best Picture category was expanded to 10 nominees) only one Toronto winner has not been nominated for Best Picture. This was the Lebanese picture Where Do We Go Now, which did not receive a single Oscar nomination.

The 12 Best Picture nominees since 2010 has on average been nominated for 7,7 Oscars, with 4,9 of them being in above the line categories and 2,8 being below the line.

All the 12 Best Picture nominees has won at least one Oscar in categories above the line.

Only one of the 12 Best Picture nominees has won Oscars below the line. This was La La Land, which won four Oscars below the line and two above the line.

Of the 12 Best Picture nominees Room is the only one to have no nominations below the line.

In total the 12 Best Picture nominees won an average of 2,3 Oscars, with 2,0 above the line and 0,3 below the line.

So, a quick conclusion is that the stats are backing the pundits who claim this is a very influential award.

Has it always been like that?

The quick answer is “not really”. But it is not as simple as that. The People’s Choice Award has been handed out since 1978, and up until the expansion of the Best Picture category at the 2010 Oscars (the 2009 Toronto Festival) only 8 of the 31 Toronto winners had been nominated for Best Picture, and just 3 of them won the big award. However, 21 of the 31 winners (68%) did get nominated for at least one Oscar.

The 8 Best Picture nominees before the category expansion were on average nominated for 7,4 Oscars with 4,1 above the line and 3,3 below the line. They won 3,4 Oscars on average with 1,6 above the line and 1,8 below the line. So, this is not dramatically different from the Best Picture nominees of recent years.

But what is more interesting is, that even the Toronto winners which were not nominated for Best Picture got an average of 1,2 Oscar nominations. But they only won 0,26 Oscars. Most of the nominations and wins were below the line.

In conclusion the Toronto People’s Choice Award has always been an indicator for at least one film which would participate in the Oscar race. But the Best Picture significance is a relatively new thing.

Why is that?

There are mainly two reasons why the People’s Choice Award has become predictive for the Oscar nominations. The first one is of course that the number of Best Picture nominees was expanded to up to ten from the 2010 Oscars. Films like Precious, The Imitation Game, Room, Jojo Rabbit and Belfast might not have made the cut with only five nominees. Just like movies like Hotel Rwanda, Amélie, The Fisher King and Cyrano de Bergerac might have made the cut with ten nominees. This is of course part of the explanation.

The other part is that Toronto has become a more vital part of Award Season. Of the 21 Oscar nominated films (in any category) in the first 31 years of the award, 8 of them (or 38%) were nominated in the foreign language category. And on top of that is a handful of foreign language films that were not nominated. We have seen an increasing number of the real big Oscar contenders screening in Toronto, and with this the chance of a big Oscar contender winning the People’s Choice Award has also increased. 

These two factors combined seems to be a golden combination for Oscar pundits, and with The Fabelmans winning this year’s People’s Choice Award, the statistical relevance of the award seems to be safe. But it will be very interesting to see if The Fabelmans can live up to the average of previous Toronto winners.

Click here to see more stats on film festivals and their connection to the Oscars