A comprehensive history of the Academy Awards

A comprehensive history of the Academy Awards

 The awards are presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), an international recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements, as assessed by the Academy's voting membership. The various category winners receive a copy of a golden statuette as a trophy, officially referred to as the "Academy Award of Merit," although it is more commonly referred to as the "Oscar." The statuette depicts a knight rendered in Art déco style.

George Stanley originally sculpted the award from a design sketch by Cedric Gibbons.AMPAS first presented it in 1929 at a private dinner hosted by Douglas Fairbanks at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in what would become the first Academy Awards. Radio first broadcast the Academy Awards ceremony in 1930, and was televised for the first time in 1953. It is the oldest worldwide entertainment awards ceremony and is now televised live worldwide. It is also the oldest of the four major annual American entertainment awards. Its equivalents — the Emmy Awards for television, the Tony Awards for theater, and the Grammy Awards for music — are modeled after the Academy Awards. Since its inception in 1929, 3,140 Oscar statuettes have been presented. They are widely cited as the most prestigious competitive awards in entertainment.


The first Academy Awards presentation was held on May 16, 1929, at a private dinner function at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with an audience of about 270 people. The post-awards party was held at the Mayfair Hotel. The cost of guest tickets for the ceremony was $5 ($75 at 2020 prices). Fifteen statuettes were awarded honoring artists, directors, and other participants in the film industry of the time for their works from 1927 to 28. The ceremony ran for 15 minutes.

The winners were announced to the media three months earlier for this first ceremony. For the second ceremony in 1930 and the rest of the first decade, the results were presented to newspapers on the night of the awards at 11:00. In 1940, the Los Angeles Times announced the winners before the ceremony began. The Academy then started using a sealed envelope to reveal the names of the winners.


The first Best Actor awarded was Emil Jannings, for his performances in "The Last Command" and "The Way of All Flesh". Before the ceremony, he had to return to Europe, so the Academy agreed to give him the prize earlier. As a result, he became the first Academy Award winner in history.

During the qualifying period, the winners were recognized for all their work in a particular category. Jannings, for example, received the award for two films in which he starred during that period, and Janet Gaynor later won a single Oscar for performances in three films. But with the fourth ceremony, the system changed, and professionals were honored for a particular performance in a single film. For the first six ceremonies, the eligibility period spanned two calendar years.

At the 29th ceremony, held in 1957, the category Best Foreign Language Film, now known as Best International Feature Film, was introduced. Until then, foreign language films had been awarded the Special Achievement Award.

Perhaps the most widely seen streaker in history was 34-year-old Robert Opel, who streaked across the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles and flashed a peace sign on US television at the 46th Academy Awards in 1974.

Bemused host David Niven quipped, "Isn't it fascinating to think that the only laugh man will ever get in his life is to strip off and show his shortcomings?" Later, evidence suggested Opel's appearance was facilitated as a publicity stunt by the show's producer Jack Haley Jr.  Robert Metzler, the show's business manager, believed the incident had been planned. During the dress rehearsal, Niven had asked Metzler's wife to borrow a pen so he could write down the famous line, which was thus not the ad-lib it appeared.

The 74th Academy Awards, held in 2002, presented the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. From 1973 to 2020, all Academy Awards ceremonies have ended with the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In 2021, this tradition was broken, as the ceremony ended with the Academy Award for Best Actor. Traditionally, the winner of the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor presented the awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in the previous year, while the winner of the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress presented the awards for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. On February 9, 2020, Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards. Tom Hanks announced the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on 14 December 2020 at the 2020 Oscar ceremony.

The museum development started in 2017 under Kerry Brougher, but is now led by Bill Kramer. The industry-curated exhibits will focus on the history of motion picture, the art and science of film production, exhibit trail-blazing directors, actors, film makers, sound editors and more, and host famous artifacts from acclaimed films such as Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers.

The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony, which honors the best films of 2020 and early 2021, took place on April 25, 2021. After it was postponed from its original schedule on February 28, 2021 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cinema. Like two previous ceremonies, there was no host. The ceremony took place on ABC. It was held for the 19th consecutive year at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, California, along with a satellite location at Union Station in Los Angeles.

Because of the virus impact on films and TV industries, Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson announced that streaming movies not shown in theaters would be eligible for the 2021 Oscar Ceremony, though at some point the requirement that movies be shown in theaters would return.

Oscar statuette


The Academy officially adopted the name "Oscar" for the trophies in 1939. However, the origin of the nickname is disputed.

One biography of Bette Davis, who was a president of the Academy in 1941, claims she named the award after her first husband, band leader Harmon Oscar Nelson. A frequently mentioned originator is Margaret Herrick, the Academy executive secretary. When she first saw the award in 1931, she said the statuette reminded her of "Uncle Oscar", a nickname for her cousin Oscar Pierce.

Columnist Sidney Skolsky, who was present during Herrick's naming in 1931, wrote that "Employees affectionately dubbed their famous statuette "Oscar". The Academy credits Skolsky with "the first confirmed newspaper reference" to Oscar in his column on March 16, 1934, which was written about that year's 6th Academy Awards.

The 1934 awards appeared again in another early media mention of Oscar: a Time magazine story. In the ceremonies that year, Walt Disney was the first to thank the Academy for his "Oscar" during his acceptance speech.


To prevent information identifying the Oscar winners from leaking ahead of the ceremony, Oscar statuettes presented at the ceremony have blank baseplates. Until 2010, winners returned their statuettes to the Academy and had to wait several weeks to have their names inscribed on their respective Oscars.

Since 2010, winners have had the option of having engraved nameplates applied to their statuettes at an inscription-processing station at the Governor's Ball, a party held immediately after the Oscar ceremony. The R.S. Owens company has engraved nameplates made before the ceremony, bearing the name of every potential winner. The nameplates for the non-winning nominees are later recycled.

Ownership of Oscar statuettes

Prior to 1950, Oscar statuettes were (and remain) the property of the recipient. Since then, the requirement has legally encumbered the statuettes that the statuette be first offered for sale back to the Academy for US$1. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, the Academy keeps the statuette. Academy Awards predating this agreement have been sold in public auctions and private deals for six-figure sums.

In 1989, Michael Todd's grandson tried to sell Todd's Best Picture Oscar for his 1956 production of "Around the World in 80 Days" to a movie prop collector. The Academy earned enforcement of its statute contract by gaining a permanent injunction against the sale.

In 1992, Harold Russell consigned his 1946 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for "The Best Years of Our Lives" to auction to raise money for his wife's medical expenses. Though his decision caused controversy, the first-ever Oscar to be sold passed to a private collector on August 6, 1992 for $60,500 ($111,600 today). Russell defended his action, saying, "I don't know why anybody would be critical. My wife's health is much more important than sentimental reasons. The movie will be here, even if Oscar isn't." In December 2011, Orson Welle's 1941 Oscar for "Citizen Kane" (Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay) was put up for auction. After his heirs won a 2004 court decision, Welles did not sign any agreement to return the statue to the Academy.

On December 20, 2011, it sold in an online auction for US$861,542 ($991,200 today). Some buyers have subsequently returned the statuettes to the Academy, which keeps them in its treasury.


Since 2004, Academy Award nomination results have been announced to the public in mid-January. Prior to that, the results were announced in early February. In 2021, the nominees are announced in March.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), a professional honorary organization, maintains a voting membership of over 7,000 as of 2018. Academy membership is divided into different branches, each representing a different discipline in film production. Actors constitute the largest voting bloc, with 1,311 members (22%) of the Academy's composition. The auditing firm has certified votes for PricewaterhouseCoopers (and its predecessor Price Waterhouse) since the 7th Academy Awards in 1935. The firm mails the ballots of eligible nominees to members of the Academy in December to reflect the previous eligible year, with a due date in January of the next year, then tabulates the votes in a process that takes thousands of hours.

All AMPAS members must be invited to join by the Board of Governors, on behalf of Academy Branch Executive Committees. A competitive nomination may achieve membership eligibility, or a member may submit a name based on other significant contributions to motion pictures. New membership proposals are considered annually. The Academy does not publicly disclose its membership, although as recently as 2007, press releases have announced the names of those invited to join.

The 2007 release also stated it has just under 6,000 voting members. While the membership had been growing, stricter policies have kept its size steady since then.

In 2012, the results of a study conducted by the Los Angeles Times were published describing the demographic breakdown of approximately 88% of AMPAS' voting membership. Of the 5,100+ active voters confirmed, 94% were Caucasian, 77% were male, and 54% were over 60. 33% of voting members were former nominees (14%) and winners (19%).

In May 2011, the Academy sent a letter advising its 6,000 voting members that an online system for Oscar voting would be implemented in 2013.


According to Rules 2 and 3 of the official Academy Awards Rules, a film must 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, and play for seven consecutive days, to qualify (except for the Best International Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature, and awards in short film categories). The film must be shown at least three times on each day of its qualifying run, with at least one of the daily showings starting between 6 pm and 10 pm local time.

For example, the 2009 Best Picture winner, "The Hurt Locker", was originally first released in 2008, but did not qualify for the 2008 awards, as it did not play its Oscar-qualifying run in Los Angeles until mid-2009, thus qualifying for the 2009 awards.

Foreign films must include English subtitles, and each country can submit only one film for consideration in the International Feature Film category per year.

Rule 2 states that a film must be feature length, defined as a minimum of 40 minutes, except for short-subject awards. It must exist either on a 35 mm or 70 mm film print, or in 24 frame/s or 48 frame/s progressive scan digital cinema format with a minimum projector resolution of 2048 by 1080 pixels.

Since the 90th Academy Awards, presented in 2018, multi-part and limited series have been ineligible for the Best Documentary Feature award. This followed the win of O.J.: Made in America, an eight-hour presentation screened in a limited release, before being broadcast in five parts on ABC and ESPN, in that category in 2017. The Academy's announcement of the new rule made no direct mention of that film.

The Best International Feature Film award does not require a U.S. release. It requires the film to be submitted as its country's official selection. The Best Documentary Feature award requires either week-long releases in both Los Angeles County and New York City during the previous calendar year, or a qualifying award at a competitive film festival from the Documentary Feature Qualifying Festival list (regardless of any public exhibition or distribution), or submission in the International Feature Film category as its country's official selection. The qualifying theatrical runs must meet the same requirements as those for non-documentary films regarding numbers and times of screenings. A critic must have additionally reviewed a film from The New York Times, Time Out New York, the Los Angeles Times, or LA Weekly.

Producers must submit an Official Screen Credits online form before the deadline. If the defined deadline does not submit it, the film will be eligible for Academy Awards in any year. The form includes the production credits for all related categories. Then, each form is checked and put in a Reminder List of Eligible Releases.

Awards in short film categories (Best Documentary Short Subject, Best Animated Short Film, and Best Live Action Short Film) have noticeably different eligibility rules from most other competitive awards.

First, the qualifying period for release does not coincide with a calendar year, instead of covering one year starting on October 1 and ending on September 30 of the calendar year before the ceremony. Second, there are multiple methods of qualification. The major method is a week-long theatrical release in either Los Angeles County or New York City during the eligibility period. Films can also qualify by winning specified awards at one of several competitive film festivals designated by the Academy, also without regard to prior public distribution.

Finally, a film selected as a gold, silver, or bronze medal winner in an appropriate category of the immediately previous Student Academy Awards is also eligible (Documentary category for that award, and Animation, Narrative, Alternative, or International for the other awards). The requirements for the qualifying theatrical run are also different from those for other awards. Only one screening per day is required. For the documentary award, the screening must start between noon and 10 pm local time. For other awards, no specific start time is required, but the film must appear in regular theater listings with dates and screening times.

In late December, ballots and copies of the Reminder List of Eligible Releases are mailed to around 6,000 active members. For most categories, members from each branch vote to determine the nominees only in their respective categories (i.e. only directors vote for directors, writers for writers, actors for actors, etc.). All voting members are eligible to vote for the best picture nominees. In all major categories, a variant of the single transferable vote is used, with each member casting a ballot with up to five nominees (ten for Best Picture) ranked preferentially. In certain categories, including International Feature Film, Documentary and Animated Feature, nominees are selected by special screening committees made up of members from all branches. In most categories, the winner is selected from among the nominees by plurality voting of all members.

Since 2009, instant runoff voting has chosen the Best Picture winner. Since 2013, re-weighted range voting has been used to select the nominees for the Best Visual Effects. Film companies will spend as much as several million dollars on marketing to awards voters for a movie in the running for Best Picture, in attempts to improve chances of receiving Oscars and other movie awards conferred in Oscar season. The Academy enforces rules to limit overt campaigning by its members to eliminate excesses and prevent the process from becoming undignified. It has an awards czar on staff who advises members on allowed practices and levies penalties on offenders.

For example, a producer of the 2009 Best Picture nominee, "The Hurt Locker", was disqualified as a producer in the category when he contacted associates urging them to vote for his film, not another front-runner ("The Hurt Locker" eventually won).

Academy Screening Room

The Academy Screening Room or Academy Digital Screening Room is a secure streaming platform that allows voting members of the Academy to view all eligible films (except, initially, those in the International category) in one place. It was introduced in 2019, for the 2020 Oscars, though DVD screeners and Academy in-person screenings were still provided. For films to be included on the platform, the North American distributor must pay $12,500, including a watermarking fee, and a digital copy of the film to be prepared for streaming by the Academy. The platform can be accessed through an app on Apple TV.

The watermarking process involved several video security firms, creating a forensic watermark and restricting the ability to take screenshots or screen recordings. In 2021, the Academy banned all physical screeners and in-person screenings for the 2022 Oscars, restricting official membership viewing to the Academy Screening Room. Films eligible in the Documentary and International categories were made available in different sections of the platform. Distributors can also pay an extra fee to add video featurettes to promote their films on the platform. The in-person screenings were said to be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible films do not have to be added to the platform, but the Academy advertises them to voting members when they are.

Everything we know about the 2022 Oscars

The first post-pandemic Oscar ceremony, held last April, was a real emotional swing for the audience. We saw Chloe Zhao become the first woman of color to win Best Director, Frances McDorman literally howled on stage, and Anthony Hopkins beat outright favorite Chadwick Boseman to win Best Actor. So what to expect in 2022 from the 94th ceremony? We tell you everything you need to know on the eve of the most important night in the world of cinema.

Who is nominated?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees on February 8. So, 10 films will compete for the Best Picture: "Belfast", "Coda", "Don't Look Up", "Drive My Car", "Dune", King Richard", "Licorice Pizza", "Nightmare Alley", "The Power of the Dog" and "West Side Story".

Best Director nominations: Paul Thomas Anderson ("Licorice Pizza"), Kenneth Branagh ("Belfast"), Jane Campion ("Power of the Dog"), Steven Spielberg ("West Side Story") and Ryusuke Hamaguchi ("Drive my car"). Dune has 10 nominations, but Denis Villeneuve did not fall into the Best Director category (the actors were also ignored). Jane Campion became the first female director in the award's history to receive a second nomination in this category for the first time she received such an honor in 1994 for the film The Piano. "Best Director" was not taken then, but Campion got the statuette for "Best Screenplay". In 2022, her painting "The Power of the Dog" received 12 nominations.

Speaking of acting talent, Kristen Stewart ("Spencer"), Penélope Cruz ("Parallel Mothers"), Nicole Kidman ("Ricardo"), Olivia Colman ("Strange Daughter") will compete for the statuette in the Best Actress category, and Jessica Chastain ("The Eyes of Tammy Fey"). And Will Smith ("King Richard"), Andrew Garfield ("Tick-tock… BOOM!"), Denzel Washington ("Macbeth"), Benedict Cumberbatch ("Power of the Dog") and Javier Bardem ("Ricardo") will argue for the Best Actor award.

Best Supporting Actress: Jessie Buckley ("Strange Daughter"), Ariana DeBose ("West Side Story"), Judi Dench ("Belfast"), Kirsten Dunst ("Power of the Dog"), Anjanue Ellis ("King Richard "). And in the Best Supporting Actor J.K. Simmons ("As Ricardo"), Troy Costur ("Coda"), Ciaran Hinds ("Belfast"), Jesse Plemons ("Power of the Dog"), Cody Smith  McPhee ("The Power of the Dog"). 

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