This story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For the first time in its its 25-year history, the Producers Guild's top film award resulted in a tie between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. What are the odds the Academy's best picture vote could do the same?
The best picture race uses the complicated preferential voting system, so if there is an odd number of voters, then the probability of a two-way tie is zero. But there are 6,028 voting members in the Academy. Not everyone will vote, but if, say, 6,000 ballots are cast, the overall tie probability is only 0.52 percent, meaning one could expect a tie for best picture every 192 years.
Is a tie getting closer now that Oscar is turning 86? No. As the saying goes, "Dice have no memory," so never having a best picture tie does not increase the chances of having one. (Oscar ties in other categories have happened six times, including in 1969 between lead actresses Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand and last year between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall for sound editing.)
What's the probability that the PGA and the Academy could produce a best picture tie in the same year? It's a whopping 37,702-to-one.
Zauzmer, a math major at Harvard, is making math-based Oscar predictions at THR.com/Oscarlytics.