Betting on the Oscars: The safe bets and the risks which might pay off

By Jack Rear

With the Oscars taking place on this weekend, there’s plenty of interest in the winners.

This year’s nominees are the cream of the crop of this year’s films. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Shape Of Water, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name look like they could come away with some of the biggest awards of the night but, as ever, it’s impossible to know anything for sure.

Having spent weeks analysing the list of nominees, Verdict has a good idea of who might end up taking home awards.

If you’re the sort who likes betting, we’ve also included  the best odds we could find via Oddschecker for each of the nominees mentioned below. We’ve also found the second most likely to win, who might earn more money.

Finally, there’s the no-hopers who will almost certainly not win but could make gamblers a fortune if they’re chosen.

Who will win at the Oscars?

Best Picture:

The safe bet: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (1/1)

The riskier choice: The Shape Of Water (15/8)

No chance: Phantom Thread/Darkest Hour (200/1)

Best Director:

The safe bet: Guillermo Del Toro – The Shape Of Water (8/13)

The riskier choice: Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk (7/1)

No chance: Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread (100/1)

Best Actress:

The safe bet: Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (1/40)

The riskier choice: Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird (16/1)

No chance: Meryl Streep – The Post (189/1)

Best Actor:

The safe bet: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour (1/20)

The riskier choice: Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name (28/1)

No chance: Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel Esq. (100/1)

Best Supporting Actress:

The safe bet: Allison Janney – I, Tonya (8/11)

The riskier choice: Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird (6/1)

No chance: Octavia Spencer – The Shape Of Water (50/1)

Best Supporting Actor:

The safe bet: Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (4/11)

The riskier choice: Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project (7/1)

No chance: Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (66/1)

Best Original Screenplay:

The safe bet: Get Out (13/10)

The riskier choice: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (6/4)

No chance: The Big Sick (60/1)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

The safe bet: Call Me By Your Name (1/10)

The riskier choice: Mudbound (10/1)

No chance: Logan (66/1)

Best Animated Feature Film:

The safe bet: Coco (1/20)

The riskier choice: The Breadwinner (18/1)

No chance: Ferdinand (60/1)

Best Foreign Language Film:

The safe bet: A Fantastic Woman (Chile) (3/4)

The riskier choice: The Square (Sweden) (9/4)

No chance: On Body And Soul (Hungary) (33/1)

Best Documentary – Feature:

The safe bet: Faces Places (2/5)

The riskier choice: Icarus (4/1)

No chance: Abacus Small Enough To Jail (33/1)

Best Documentary – Short Subject:

Edith And Eddie (4/9)

The riskier choice: Heroin(e) (39/1)

No chance: Traffic Stop (33/1)

Best Original Song:

The safe bet: ‘Remember Me’ – Coco (8/11)

The riskier choice: ‘This Is Me’ – The Greatest Showman (6/4)

No chance: ‘Stand Up For Something’ – Marshall (33/1)

Best Live Action Short Film:

The safe bet: DeKalb Elementary (1/2)

The riskier choice: The Silent Child (4/1)

No chance: My Nephew Emmett (22/1)

Best Animated Short Film:

The safe bet: Dear Basketball (4/9)

The riskier choice: Lou (4/1)

No chance: Revolting Rhymes (28/1)

Best Original Score:

The safe bet: The Shape Of Water (2/9)

The riskier choice: Dunkirk (11/2)

No chance: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (45/1)

Best Sound Editing:

The safe bet: Dunkirk (2/11)

The riskier choice: Baby Driver (7/1)

No chance: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (50/1)

Best Sound Mixing:

The safe bet: Dunkirk (2/11)

The riskier choice: Baby Driver (11/2)

No chance: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (50/1)

Best Production Design:

The safe bet: The Shape Of Water (1/4)

The riskier choice: Bladerunner 2049 (15/4)

No chance: Darkest Hour (50/1)

Best Makeup And Hair Styling:

The safe bet: Darkest Hour (1/8)

The riskier choice: Wonder (20/1)

No chance: Victoria And Abdul (20/1)

Best Cinematography:

The safe bet: Blade Runner 2049 (3/13)

The riskier choice: Dunkirk (37/5)

No chance: Darkest Hour (80/1)

Best Costume Design:

The safe bet: Phantom Thread (1/7)

The riskier choice: Beauty And The Beast (9/1)

No chance: Victoria And Abdul (50/1)

Best Film Editing:

The safe bet: Dunkirk (8/15)

The riskier choice: Baby Driver (17/10)

No chance: I, Tonya (50/1)

Best Visual Effects:

The safe bet: Bladerunner 2049 (4/6)

The riskier choice: War For The Planet Of The Apes (11/8)

No chance: Kong: Skull Island (50/1)

How often are the bookies correct in their predictions?

Further down the list, in the more niche awards like Best Sounding Mixing and Best Makeup And Hairstyling, it becomes increasingly clear that the bookies have very little idea about who will win.

However, in the main awards, the bookies are correct a surprising amount of the time. This is probably due to the fact that the winners are, in general, sign-posted from a long-way off. After watching the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the SAG awards, the Directors Guild awards, and the Producers Guild awards in the lead-up to the Academy Awards, there are few surprises by the time the Oscars roll around.

That’s partially due to the fact that these award shows help boost films’ momentum. It’s also partially due to the way the Academy votes for the Oscars: members often also belong to voting bodies at the other award shows.

In the four major categories, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress since 2004 the bookies favourite has won 45 times out of 56.

The category which the bookies most often get wrong is Best Film which they’ve been wrong about 6 times. Second most often incorrect of these four are Best Director and Best Actress, both of which have defied the bookies odds twice.

Finally, the bookies best track record is for Best Actor which has only been wrong once.

However, one noteworthy thing to consider this year is the Academy’s recent intake of a younger, more diverse voters. The upset that was Moonlight beating La La Land at the 2017 show is definitely an indication that these new voters have the capacity to change the norm.

Whether the conventional wisdom for which films will succeed and fail still holds true with these new voters remains to be seen.

This year, the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress awards are also looking pretty seriously locked down too. As are Adapted Screenplay and Best Animated Feature. Still, in the other categories, there’s everything to play for.

The notable upsets in Oscars history:

Of the 11 times that the bookies have been wrong about the Oscar winners, the bookies’ second favourite has almost always won. However, looking further back and across a few more categories, there are definitely some notable upsets in Oscars history.

2017 – Best Picture – Moonlight beats La La Land

For a decidedly mediocre film, La La Land sure did get a lot of nominations. No one was surprised when the film was announced as Best Picture, beating its closest competitor, Moonlight. After all, Moonlight was a small film from A24, a studio who, at the time were basically unknown. Plus the subject of the film, a gay black man was hardly Oscar-bait. Still, the real surprise came when it turned out that Moonlight had beat La La Land after all! This was absolutely one of the biggest scandals in Oscars history.

2011 – Best Picture – The King’s Speech beats Black Swan, True Grit, The Social Network, and 127 Hours

In the UK, everyone knew that The King’s Speech would succeed. As one of the most successful UK films ever made, the movie’s audience had grown and grown. However, over in America audiences were sure that The Social Network had it in the bag. However, The King’s Speech came from the back of the pack to beat them all.

2006 – Best Picture – Crash beats Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Munich

Crash is widely considered the worst Best Picture winner of all time. And for good reason. Crash is a spectacularly silly film about racism that spends around half its run-time excusing the racists it appears to be criticizing.

The fact that it won Best Picture, beating Brokeback Mountain is widely considered to be due to homophobia from the Academy. Prominent Academy members Ernest Borgnine and Tony Curtis even publicly boasted that they would not watch the film.

2002 – Best Director – Roman Polanski with The Pianist beats Rob Marshall for Chicago and Martin Scorsese for Gangs Of New York

In the year of #MeToo and #TimesUp it seems impossible to imagine that a director who once pleaded guilty to the charge of “Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a minor” could win an Oscar. But even in 2002, it was shocking that Polanski managed to win an Oscar, especially since Chicago would go on to scoop Best Picture.

1999 – Best Supporting Actress – Judi Dench wins for Shakespeare In Love

There’s no denying that Judi Dench is a brilliant actress and thoroughly deserves an Oscar. But she did not deserve this Oscar. After appearing in Shakespeare In Love in a minor role as Queen Elizabeth I for just eight minutes, she won an Oscar. We all know that the Oscars like to reward actors for their lifetime achievements but this win made a mockery of the awards.

1999 – Best Picture – Shakespeare In Love beats Saving Private Ryan

When Saving Private Ryan came out, everyone knew it would win Best Picture. It went unchallenged for months. And then, in the December, just days before the application window closed, Shakespeare In Love came along.

Not only is it silly and frivolous, it’s also a preposterous movie which, despite being a period drama, elects to eschew historical fact at every turn. Plus, it’s one of that series of films where, for some reason in the late 1990s, Gwyneth Paltrow could do a British accent. To be clear, she cannot. Shakespeare In Love snatched this Oscar from the jaws of Saving Private Ryan and it didn’t deserve to.

1995 – Best Picture – Forrest Gump beats Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption

Forest Gump is a classic, and like Judi Dench above, it probably deserved a win. But in the context of the other films it was pitted against, it did not deserve this win. Both Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption are much better than Forest Gump.

1982 – Best Picture – Chariots Of Fire beats Reds, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and Atlantic City

Widely considered one of the biggest upsets in history, not even the creative team behind Chariots Of Fire expected it to win. Everyone assumed Reds would win due to its dark, serious subject matter about John Reeds, an American who made serious waves in the communist Soviet Union due to his enthusiasm for their ideals.

The performances were great, the form of the film was unusual (featuring interviews with people who’d known Reeds) and it looked like a shoo-in. But, just like in its subject matter, Chariots Of Fire came out of no where for the big win.

1977 – Best Supporting Actress – Beatrice Straight won for Network.

Anne Hathaway got a lot of flack for showing up in Les Misérables, singing one song, then dying and disappearing off screen for the rest of the film, Oscar in hand. Well, Hathaway’s performance looks like an Ancient Greek epic compared to Beatrice Straight’s win in Network. Straight was in Network for a grand total of five minutes. She actually holds the record for the shortest Oscar-winning performance of all time.

1977 – Best Picture – Rocky beats Taxi Driver, All The President’s Men, and Network

Rocky is another of the film’s which grew to be a classic, but was widely dismissed at its time. That the movie managed to beat Taxi Driver to win Best Picture is nothing short of a miracle.

1975 – Best Actor – Art Carney in Harry And Tonto beats Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II and Jack Nicholson in Chinatown

Does anyone remember Harry And Tonto? No, we didn’t think so. Meanwhile, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson were out there giving the performances of their careers in their respective films. The only explanation is that Nicholson and Pacino were both so good that they split the vote, allowing Carney to come out of no where to win.

1955 – Best Actress – Grace Kelly in The Country Girl beats Judy Garland in A Star Is Born

It’s a well-known fact that Judy Garland never won an Oscar. Her best chance was for her role in A Star Is Born and she missed out on that opportunity after Grace Kelly beat her for an arguably inferior performance in The Country Girl. What’s even more galling is that The Country Girl wasn’t even Kelly’s best performance of that year. She had also just appeared in Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window.