It’s no secret that an Oscar win, or even nomination, can transform an actor or filmmaker’s career.
It’s also no secret that Hollywood’s most prestigious awards are handed out by “the Academy” each year — but what exactly is the Academy, and how do its members decide who wins awards?
Here’s what to know about who chooses Oscar nominees and winners, and the Oscars voting process.
Who is part of the Academy?
More than 10,500 “global film industry artists and leaders” are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, according to the Academy’s website.
Members include actors, writers, directors, costume designers, makeup artists, producers and other film industry professionals.
The Academy expands its membership each year. Last year, nearly 400 industry insiders were invited to join, including actors Selma Blair, Austin Butler, Paul Mescal, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and Keke Palmer.
Taylor Swift, who penned a song for the 2022 film “Where the Crawdads Sing,” and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, who contributed a song to 2022’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” were also among the artists invited to join in the music branch last year.
The Academy’s Board of Governors, which "directs the Academy’s strategic vision," per is website, is also comprised of several notable industry professionals, including director Ava DuVernay in the directors branch and Rita Wilson in the actors branch.
How do people join the Academy in the first place?
It isn’t possible to apply to the Academy, but industry members can be sponsored by two other Academy members. The Board of Governors makes the final decision on whether a sponsor gets an invitation for membership.
All Oscar nominees, meanwhile, are automatically considered for membership in the Academy and do not need to be sponsored, per the Academy's website.
A staff of more than 700 people “conduct the Academy’s day-to-day business,” according to the Academy's website.
The Academy oversees other awards in addition to the Oscars: the Governors Awards, which highlight a handful of individuals’ creative and humanitarian achievements, the Student Academy Awards, and the Scientific and Technical Awards.
The voting process for Oscar nominations
The voting process for the Oscars begins well before the nominations are announced. For the 96th Academy Awards, the submission deadline for general entry categories was in mid-November, and preliminary voting began on Dec. 14, 2023, according to the Academy’s website.
A shortlist was announced later in December and following this, Academy members voted for nominees from Jan. 11 to 16.
All Academy members are eligible to nominate films for best picture picture, but for most of the 24 Oscars categories, Academy members vote for nominees within their own field — so, actors nominate actors, editors nominate editors, and so forth.
Best international feature film and best animated feature have specific nomination rules.
In the case of the international feature film category, nominees are chosen via two rounds of voting, which all Academy members are invited to partake in. In the first round, members vote by secret ballot to create a shortlist of 15 nominees from the eligible submissions. Then, members vote again to narrow this list to five nominees. In this second round of voting, members are required to have seen all 15 films on the shortlist.
Similarly, all members can also vote on the best animated feature film.
The 96th Academy Awards nominations were announced in a live ceremony on Jan. 23.
Who votes for Oscar winners?
In the final step, which is choosing winners, all voting members of the Academy can vote on all Oscar categories, per the Academy's website.
Final votes are conducted online, and the results are tabulated by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
How are Oscar winners decided?
For most categories, the nominee with the most votes wins.
It's a bit more complicated for best picture. Since 2009, the Academy has used ranked-choice voting system, or a preferential ballot, to determine best picture. The Oscars says this is the "fairest possible" outcome for nominations in a video on its YouTube page. The Hollywood Reporter phrases it differently: "The point of it is to ensure that the best picture winner is the movie that is the most widely liked by the electorate."
Here's how it works. Voters rank the eligible films in order of their preference. If one film receives the majority of the top votes, it's automatically the winner. If no single nominee gets over 50% of the vote, the movie with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the voters who had that film as their number one have their votes count for their next choice.
This process continues until one movie gets over 50% of the share.
Only two partners at PwC know the results before they are announced live during the Oscars ceremony, per the Academy's website.
Despite the rigorous protocols around selecting winners and guarding the results, human error can still bungle the process — just recall the infamous flub at the 2017 Oscars, when “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as the winner for Best Picture, instead of the actual winner, “Moonlight.”
That night, an official from PwC accidentally handed presenter Warren Beatty the envelope containing the winner for best actress (Emma Stone for “La La Land”) instead of the best picture envelope, and after a moment of confusion, Beatty read out “La La Land” as the Best Picture winner.
“One of the most disappointing things to me was all the great work that had been done, not only last year but over the last 83 years, around accuracy, confidentiality (and) integrity of that process,” PwC senior partner Tim Ryan told the Associated Press in 2018. “And where we got it wrong was on the handing over of the envelope.”
PwC, which helped build the digital system used for Oscars voting and also handles the Academy’s taxes, according to the AP, said they were introducing new procedures and safeguards to ensure such an error couldn’t happen again.
The 96th Academy Awards will air on ABC on March 10, 2024, at 7 p.m. ET.