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Statistician uses mathematics to predict Oscar winners

An Oscar statue on display
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images
An Oscar statue on display

Looking to win that Oscar office pool? Ben Zauzmer might be able to help.

The recent Harvard grad and professional Oscar predictor for The Hollywood Reporter has correctly picked at least 75 percent of the award show's categories each year since 2012.

Last year, he predicted 85 percent of the winners.

How? Mathematics, or as he calls it, "Oscarlytics."

An avid fan of statistics and film, Zauzmer collected massive amounts of data about current and past Academy Award ceremonies to create a mathematical model that calculates the probability that a nominee will win an Oscar.

This data include nominations and winners of other major award competitions, aggregated critic scores for films and even betting data. Using this information, Zauzmer is able to determine the most significant indicators for each Oscar category.

Overall, the U.K.'s BAFTAs are the best predictor for the Academy Awards, according to to Zauzmer. However, the guild awards for each category — Screen Actor's Guild Awards, Directors Guild of America Awards, The American Society of Cinematographers Awards, etc. — often are the best indicators for individual categories.

He also noted that some categories correlate significantly with other categories. For example, The best director winner is often the best picture winner and the best production design winner is often the best costume winner.

"One [predictor] that people commonly mistake for being a good predictor, that I have thoroughly studied and has just about nothing to do with winning, is box office results," Zauzmer told CNBC. "What the people have to say on the movie, what they vote for with their dollars has pretty much nothing to do with any category."

There is one exception to this, according to the statistician. Box office results have a very slight correlation to the visual effects award, because big visual effects films tend to do well at the box office.

"Interstellar," "Gravity," "Life of Pi" and "Avatar" were all winners of the Academy Award for best visual effects and made more than $600 million globally at the box office.

To those who argue that using statistics to predict the Oscars ruins the fun of the big night, Zauzmer notes that percentages are not guarantees.

If "The Revenant" has a 51.5 percent chance for best picture that means there is a 48.5 percent chance that it will lose, he said. "That's important to remember," he said. "This doesn't tell us who is going to win. This tells us who has different probabilities of winning. Because none of them are 100 percent or zero percent, to me, it is just as exciting as if we never had mathematical formulas in the first place."

However, with Zauzmer's mathematical model the odds are definitely in your favor.

Read Zauzmer's Oscar predictions with The Hollywood Reporter.

(UPDATE: This story was updated to reflect a more specific estimate for the chance of "The Revenant" winning.)