What the Academy’s Best Picture Voting Tells About Investing

From: news.morningstar.com

Opportunities exist to be exploited, but they don’t remain constant.

Not-So-Total Recall

Initially, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored films that had been released over portions of the previous two years. That decision weakened the awards’ rhetorical power. For example, the Best Picture winner of the dinner held in March 1934, which was hosted by Will Rogers, could neither be called the best film of 1932 nor of 1933. It was instead…the recipient of the 6th Academy Award. Much better to boast “named the year’s best film” than “we won a trophy that was given away at a dinner.”

Thus, for its 1935 dinner, the Academy switched to using calendar years. All nominated films had been released during 1934.

This permits a nifty test on recency bias. Behavioral researchers have documented how people tend to employ near-term memories while responding to questions. Ask them to list potentially dangerous accidents, and they’ll mention automobiles if they dented a fender last month, or showers if they slipped in the stall last week. Did that same principle apply to the Academy’s early voters? Were they likelier to support films that were closer to mind, being released later in the calendar year?

Easy enough to check. Below are the release dates for the Best Picture nominees, sorted by release-date quarter, for the first five years in which the Academy used its new approach. (Five years might not seem like much, but in the 1930s the Academy nominated a boatload of Best Pictures.) Presumably, with the Academy Awards being a relatively new event, the change to evaluating films over a calendar year having just occurred, and no behavioral scientists lecturing about recency bias, the studios released their films naively, without regard to how the timing might affect their Academy Award prospects.

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