The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are the most prominent and most watched film awards ceremony in the world. Awarded annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1929[1] in Los Angeles, it recognizes excellence in many aspects of motion picture making, such as acting, directing and screenwriting.

Academy Awards are granted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a professional honorary organization, which as of 2007 had a voting membership of 5,830. Actors (with a membership of 1,311) make up the largest voting bloc at 22%. The votes have been tabulated and certified by the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and its predecessor Price Waterhouse for 72 years, since close to the awards' inception.[2]

Most recently, the 79th Academy Awards ceremony took place on Sunday, February 25, 2007 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, and was produced by Laura Ziskin and hosted by day-time television talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

The Oscar

The official name of the Oscar statuette is the Academy Award of Merit. Made of gold-plated britannium on a black metal base, it is 13.5 inches (34 cm) tall, weighs 8.5 lb (3.85 kg) and depicts a knight (rendered in Art Deco style) holding a crusader's sword standing on a reel of film with five spokes, signifying the original branches of the Academy: Actors, Writers, Directors, Producers and Technicians.[3] MGM’s art director Cedric Gibbons, one of the original Academy members, supervised the design of the award trophy[4]by printing the design on scroll. Then sculptor George Stanley sculpted Gibbons' design in clay, and Alex Smith cast the statue in tin and copper and then gold-plated it over a composition of 92.5 percent tin and 7.5 percent copper (Levy 2003). The only addition to the Oscar since it was created is a minor streamlining of the base (Levy 2003). Approximately fifty Oscars are made each year in Chicago, Illinois by the manufacturer, R.S. Owens. If they fail to meet strict quality control standards, the statuettes are cut in half and melted down.[5]

The root of the name "Oscar" is contested. One biography of Bette Davis claims that she named the Oscar after her first husband, bandleader Harmon Oscar Nelson.[6] Another claimed origin is that of the Academy’s Executive Secretary, Margaret Herrick, who first saw the award in 1931 and made reference of the statuette reminding her of her Uncle Oscar (Levy 2003). Columnist Sidney Skolsky was present during Herrick’s naming and seized the name in his byline, "Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette 'Oscar'" (Levy 2003). Both Oscar and Academy Award are registered trademarks of the Academy, fiercely protected through litigation and threats thereof.

Ownership of Oscar statuettes

Since 1950, the statuettes have been legally encumbered by the requirement that neither winners nor their heirs may sell the statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for $1. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, then the Academy keeps the statuette. Academy Awards not protected by this agreement have been sold in public auctions and private deals for six-figure sums (Levy 2003).

This rule is highly controversial, since it implies that the winner doesn't own the award.[7] The case of Michael Todd's grandson trying to sell Todd's Oscar statuette illustrates that there are many who do not agree with this idea. When Todd's grandson attempted to sell Todd's Oscar statuette to a movie prop collector, the Academy won the legal battle by getting a permanent injunction. Although some Oscar sales transactions have been successful, the buyers have subsequently returned the statuettes to the Academy, which keeps them in its treasury.

Academy membership

All members must be invited to join. Invitation comes from the Board of Governors, on behalf of Academy Branch Executive Committees. Membership eligibility may be achieved by a competitive nomination or a member may submit a name based on other significant contribution to the field of motion pictures. Though winning an Academy Award usually results in an invitation to join, membership is not automatic.

New membership proposals are considered annually. The Academy does not publicly disclose its membership, although past press releases have announced the names of those who have been invited to join.

Academy membership is divided into 15 Branches, representing different disciplines in motion pictures. Members may not belong to more than one Branch. If a person not yet a member is nominated in more than one category in a single year resulting in invitations from more than one Branch, he/she must choose which branch when he/she accepts membership. Members whose work does not fall within one of the Branches may belong to a group known as "Members At Large."


Today, according to Rules 2 and 3 of the official Academy Awards Rules, a film has to open in the previous calendar year (from midnight at the start of January 1 to midnight at the end of December 31) in Los Angeles County, California, to qualify.[8]Rule 2 states that a film must be "feature-length" (defined as at least 40 minutes) to qualify for an award (except for Short Subject awards). It must also exist either on a 35mm or 70mm film print OR on a 24fps or 48fps progressive scan digital film print with a native resolution no lower than 1280x720.

The members of the various branches nominate those in their respective fields (actors are nominated by the actors' branch, etc.) while all members may submit nominees for Best Picture. The winners are then determined by a second round of voting in which all members are then allowed to vote in most categories.[9]

Awards night

The major awards are given out at a live televised ceremony, most commonly in February or March following the relevant calendar year, and six weeks after the announcement of the nominees. This is an elaborate extravaganza, with the invited guests walking up the red carpet in the creations of the most prominent fashion designers of the day. Black tie dress is normally required for men, although fashion may dictate not wearing a bowtie, and musical performers typically don't adhere to this (nominees for Best Original Song quite often perform those songs live at the awards ceremony, and the fact that they are performing is often used to promote the television broadcast). The Academy has for several years claimed that the award show has a billion viewers internationally, but this has so far not been confirmed by any independent sources. Neither has the Academy explained how it has reached this figure.

The Academy Awards is the only awards ceremony televised live nationwide (the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Grammys are broadcast live in the East Coast, but they are on tape delay in the West Coast).

The Awards show was first televised on NBC in 1953. NBC continued to broadcast the event until 1960 when the ABC Network took over, televising the festivities through 1970, after which NBC reassumed the broadcasts. ABC once again took over broadcast duties in 1976; it has contracted to do so through the year 2014.[10]

After more than fifty years of being held in late March or early April, the ceremonies were moved up to late February or early March starting in 2004 to help disrupt and shorten the intense lobbying and ad campaigns associated with Oscar season in the film industry. The earlier date is also to advantage of ABC, as it currently usually occurs during the highly profitable and important February sweeps period. The Awards show holds the distinction of having won the most Emmys in history, with 38 wins and 167 nominations.[11]

On March 30, 1981, the awards ceremony was postponed for one day after the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and others in Washington, D.C. The awards event itself is now designated a National Special Security Event by the United States Department of Homeland Security.

Movie studios are strictly prohibited from advertising movies during the broadcast.

Since 2002 movie stars have been seen arriving at the Academy Awards in hybrid vehicles;[12] during the telecast of the 79th Academy Awards in 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio and former vice president Al Gore announced that ecologically intelligent practices had been integrated into the planning and execution of the Oscar presentation and several related events.[13]


The 1st Academy Awards were presented at a banquet dinner at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood. Subsequent banquet ceremonies in the 1930s and early 40s were held in Los Angeles at either The Ambassador Hotel or the Biltmore Hotel

Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood then hosted the awards from 1944 to 1946, followed by the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles from 1947 to 1948. The 21st Academy Awards in 1949 were held at the "Academy Award Theater" at the Academy's then-headquarters on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.[14]

From 1950 to 1960, the awards were presented at Hollywood's Pantages Theater. The Oscars then moved to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California in 1961. By 1968, the Academy decided to move the ceremonies back to Los Angeles, this time at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Los Angeles Music Center. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion hosted 20 consecutive Oscar ceremonies until 1988, when the Academy started to alternate between the Music Center and the Shrine Auditorium.

In 2002, Hollywood's Kodak Theatre became the first permanent home of the awards. It is connected to the Hollywood & Highland Center, which contains 640,000 square feet of space including retail, restaurants, nightclubs, other establishments and a six-screen cinema.


The Academy Awards have also often been criticized for being overly conservative. Critics have noted that many Best Picture Academy Award winners in the past have not stood the test of time. Several of these films, such as Around the World in 80 Days, Grand Hotel, Oliver!, Marty and Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth are often considered to have aged poorly and to have little of the impact they had on their initial release.[15][16][17]

Several films that currently have wide critical approval were not named Best Picture;[18] the most obvious example is Citizen Kane (nominated for nine Oscars but winner of only one, Best Original Screenplay) which has since come to be regarded by many as one of the greatest American films of all time. Other films that achieve critical claim and cult status are not even nominated for Best Picture.

It has been suggested that actors are at a disadvantage in comedic roles, as few acting awards have been given for performances in films that could be considered primarily comedic.[19][20]

It has also been suggested that actors occasionally win awards that are given more in commemoration of a career or past performances than in honor of the role for which the actor is nominated. One example is Judi Dench's relatively brief appearance (about eight minutes of screen time) in Shakespeare in Love, for which she won the 1999 Best Supporting Actress award, the year after she was unsuccessful in the Best Actress category for Mrs. Brown.

Studios also lobby heavily for their films to be considered, leading to the complaint that nominations and awards may be largely a result of this lobbying rather than the quality of the material.[21] Academy members are also not required to watch all films nominated in a category (with notable exception being given to Best Documentary Feature and Best Foreign Language Film) before being allowed to vote, leading to voting that is often politicized by campaigning or by personal connections within the Hollywood community.

Since the Membership of the Academy is dominated by the Actors' Branch, actors nominated in other categories (writing, directing, etc.) could be seen to have an unfair advantage in the voting process.



Academy Award of Merit

Current Awards

Some awards are for a film as a whole, some are for an aspect of a film.

Retired Awards

In the first year of the awards, the Best Director category was split into separate Drama and Comedy categories. At times, the Best Original Score category has been split into separate Drama and Comedy/Musical categories. Today, the Best Original Score category is one category. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costume Design awards were split into separate categories for black and white and color films.

New Awards

The newest awards to be added to the list of available awards from the Academy are the awards for Best Animated Feature in 1999 and Best Makeup in 1981. The Board of Governors meets each year and considers other new categories. To date, the following proposed awards have not been approved.

  • Best Casting: rejected 1999
  • Best Stunt Coordination: rejected 1999; rejected 2005[22]
  • Best Title Design: rejected 1999

Special Awards

These awards are voted on by special committees, rather than by the Academy membership as a whole.

Current Awards

Academy Award records

Film records

Acting records

Miscellaneous records

  • George Bernard Shaw and D.B. Sweeney are the only people to have been awarded both an Oscar (Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Pygmalion in 1938 and for Terry the Blubber in 1998) and a Nobel Prize (the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925, 1984).
  • Walt Disney holds the record for receiving as well as being nominated for the most Academy Awards. He won more than 22 competitive awards and received four honorary awards. He was also nominated for more than 59 Academy Awards.
  • With 45 Oscar nominations, film composer John Williams is currently the most-nominated person alive.
  • Sound re-recording mixer Kevin O'Connell currently holds the record for most Oscar nominations without a win at 19. His most recent nomination was for Apocalypto (2006).
  • The youngest person ever to be awarded an Oscar is Shirley Temple Black (age 6), who was awarded the inaugural (now retired) non-competitive Academy Juvenile Award in 1934.
  • The youngest person ever to be nominated for Best Director is John Singleton, who was 24 years old when he was nominated for Boyz N the Hood (1991). He is also the first (and only) African American director ever to be nominated for Best Director.
  • The longest standing ovation during an awards ceremony was given to Charlie Chaplin in 1972 after receiving his Oscar. This standing ovation lasted for a full five minutes.
  • D.B. Sweeney currently holds the record for winning the most Academy Awards with a total of 114 Oscars and 1 nomination as well as all 6 Special Awards, more than any other Winners to this day.

See also


  • Gail, K. & Piazza, J. (2002) The Academy Awards the Complete History of Oscar. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
  • Levy, Emanuel. (2003) All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards. Continuum, New York.
  • Wright, Jon (2007) "The Lunacy of Oscar; The Problems with Hollywood's Biggest Night." Thomas Publishing, Inc.


  1. The Oscars
  2. The men who are counting on Oscar
  3. Statuette Legacy
  4. Academy to Commemorate Oscar® Designer Cedric Gibbons
  5. Oscar Manufacturing, Shipping and Repairs
  6. Bette Davis biography
  8. Academy Awards Rules
  9. Voting rules
  10. ABC and Academy Extend Oscar® Telecast Agreement
  11. Emmy Loves Oscar, by Paul Sheehan (
  12. 'Hybrid' cars were Oscars' politically correct ride
  13. Academy Statement re: Green Initiative Announcement
  17. [1] - Review of The Poseidon Adventure by Roger Ebert, December 21, 1972. Ebert disliked the film and claims that it contains "More clichés than "Grand Hotel."
  18. [2] "Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® has awarded many deserving honors to its nominees over the years (Academy Awards® Winners from 1927/8 to the present), many other Great Films have been entirely overlooked, receiving not even a single Academy Nomination. Other Great Films received Academy Awards® Nominations but failed to win a single award. The same can be said for various great acting performances that were snubbed or passed over." Web page titled "Academy Awards/ Mistakes and Omissions" at "The Greatest Films" Web site, which cites well-known film critic Roger Ebert's endorsement of the site on its home page ( )as an "awesome website (that) contains detailed descriptions of 300 great American films, along with many other riches." Accessed December 14, 2006
  19. Notable examples of actors who have received Oscars for comedic roles are Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) and Jessica Lange (Tootsie). This was joked upon at the 2007 awards with a by Jack Black, John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell.[3] "comedic roles rarely win"; Clinton, Paul, "Pulling for 'Shakespeare in Love'", undated (although copyright notice was dated 2001) article about the (then upcoming) 71st Academy Awards, Web site for CNN accessed December 14, 2006
  20. [4] "the academy has long held a bias against comedic roles when selecting winners"; By Scott Bowles, Claudia Puig and Susan Wlosczcyna, "Can the favorites go on to win?" article in USA TODAY, January 27, 2004, accessed December 14, 2004
  21. [5] "Aggressive studio lobbying still appears the most powerful indicator of what movie's likely to luck out at the Oscars, not what the British Academy have deemed award-worthy," said Simon Crook, assistant editor of Total Film magazine, as quoted in "How Bafta moved with the times" article by Rebecca Thomason the Web site of the British Broadcasting Corporation, February 21, 2003, accessed December 14, 2006
  22. "One stunt they've been unable to pull off" By Michael Hiltzik, Times Staff Writer, The Envelope, August 4, 2005

External links