Howard Hughes, the daredevil billionaire with a penchant for dabbling in Hollywood and gambling, would have liked these Oscar odds.
“The Aviator,” Martin Scorsese’s epic biography of Hughes, is the favorite to take the Academy Award for best picture, according to offshore oddsmakers who began taking bets on Hollywood’s highest honors as soon as nominees were announced Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx, who portrayed soul legend Ray Charles in “Ray,” was the top pick by a wide margin to take the Oscar for best actor.
“He’s a runaway favorite,” said Warren Lush, chief oddsmaker and spokesman for London-based Ladbrokes Limited.
Oscar presenter comedian Chris Rock has jokingly vowed that Foxx will not leave the ceremony without a gold statue for his critically acclaimed performance — even if an Oscar has to be stolen for him.
Oddsmakers agreed. Ladbrokes made Foxx a prohibitive 1-4 favorite, meaning that a successful $4 bet would pay off just $5. Antigua-based BetWWTS.com put Foxx at 1-5.
Hilary Swank was the favorite as best actress for her transformative turn in the boxing ring in “Million Dollar Baby.”
TradeSports, an online exchange that makes a market on a range of events including the Oscars, offered a Hillary Swank contract implying that the actress has a 59 percent chance of winning. The same Web site gave Foxx an 83 percent chance of clinching an Oscar.
But the race for best picture was closer with “The Aviator” a 4-7 odds-on favorite, followed by Clint Eastwood’s drama “Million Dollar Baby” at 2-1 at BetWWTS.com.
TradeSports had chances for “The Aviator” to win at 58 percent with “Million Dollar Baby” at 28 percent.
“It looks like a scrap between those two films,” Lush of Ladbrokes said. “It’s more open than we’ve seen for many years.”
Meanwhile, Scorsese, who has been nominated six previous times for the Academy Awards but has never won, is seen as a narrow favorite this time as best director against previous Oscar-winner Eastwood.
Among the biggest longshots: first-time actress Catalina Sandino Moreno, a surprise Oscar nominee for her portrayal of a Colombian drug “mule” in “Maria Full of Grace.”
Ladbrokes put her odds at 25-1; BetWWTs.com had them at a slightly narrower 15-1.
An Oscar nomination in one of the top categories can boost a movie’s profile with audiences and its future earnings, prompting high-profile print and television marketing campaigns by the studios in the run-up to the awards.
The Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 27 in a red-carpet ceremony in Los Angeles and broadcast live by ABC.
“The Aviator’ was distributed by Miramax, a unit of The Walt Disney Co., Initial Entertainment Group and Warner Bros., the studio owned by Time Warner Inc. “Million Dollar Baby” was a Warner Bros. production.
Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co.-controlled NBC Universal, distributed “Ray.”