2021 Academy Awards Odds & Predictions: The Favorites and Longshots to Bet for the 93rd Ceremony
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic. Pictured: Frances McDormand at the 90th Academy Awards
It’s difficult to find good value when betting the Academy Awards. Unless you jumped on a longshot six months ago that rose to prominence, often times by the week of the show, the favorites have separated themselves at the books — and with good reason.
The last Academy Awards will be remembered for a couple of key upsets at the top of the card.
Bong Joon-ho beat Sam Mendes for Best Director and Joon-ho’s film, Parasite, bested Mendes’ 1917 for Best Picture. It was a memorable and well-deserved upset, but the shock of the night tells the story of how rare upsets truly are: Joon-ho entered the night with the second-best odds to win Best Director at +275 to Mendes’ -455 while Parasite also had the second-best odds to win Best Picture at +225. 1917 was -167.
These were upsets, yes, but not to an extreme degree. After all, Joon-ho’s implied odds were still better than one in four.
As for the rest of the card, it was almost exclusively chalk. The next biggest upset came in the always exciting Best Sound Editing category, where Ford v. Ferrari (+200) bested, once again, 1917 (-305). Every other award went to a favorite.
The year prior saw a few more upsets: Green Book beat Roma for Best Picture, Olivia Colman (The Favourite) beat Glenn Close (The Wife) for Best Actress, Green Book beat The Favourite for Original Screenplay, and there were upsets in Costume Design, Production Design and Visual Effects. Still, none of the upset winners were worse than second favorites with the exception of Visual Effects, which saw a ton of late movement leading up to the show.
The point is, while upsets can happen, they’re rare — and even the upsets we see aren’t longshots. So while it might seem appealing to bet on, say, Gary Oldman to win Best Actor at 20-1, it’s just not going to happen.
That doesn’t mean that value can’t be found, of course. The key is identifying which of these underdogs have the best chance of pulling off the upset. Betting wisely can still mean ending the night with more than than you started it with.
Below I’ve broken down each category, the history of the awards, as well as the early-season awards that are the best predictor of Academy Awards success. Finally, because I am ripe with film opinions, I’m giving my pick of what deserves to win each award on Hollywood’s Biggest Night.
All odds via DraftKings and as of April 25.
New to betting? Favorites have a minus (-) sign and the number indicates the money you would need to risk to win $100, whereas underdogs have a plus (+) sign while that number indicates the money you would win for every $100 bet.
Example: The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a +600 underdog for Best Picture, which means you would net a $600 profit on a $100 bet if it wins. Learn more here.
The Major Awards
|The Trial of the Chicago 7||+600||14.3%|
|Promising Young Woman||+1700||5.6%|
|Judas and the Black Messiah||+3300||2.9%|
|The Sound of Metal||+5000||2.0%|
Guild awards have historically been a pretty good precursor to Best Picture success.
Going back to 2000, the Producers Guild and Directors Guild have both awarded their top prizes to the film that ultimately won Best Picture on 13 occasions, more than the Screen Actors Guild (10), BAFTA (8) or either Best Picture wing of the Golden Globes (seven for drama and three for comedy). There hasn’t been a single year dating back to 2000 when at least one of those earlier awards failed to pick the film that ultimately won Best Picture.
Those guilds have been less successful lately, however. Last year’s great Parasite upset meant that only the SAG successfully predicted the winner, and the other notable upset from recent history — Moonlight over La La Land — was correctly predicted by only the Golden Globes.
Excluding the Golden Globes’ comedy/musical category — which is only successful when a Best Picture nominee is in contention, which is rare — we have five previous awards to pick from, and 4-of-5 (PGA, DGA, BAFTA, Globes Drama) awarded their top prizes to Nomadland this year. The one outlier was the SAG, which went to The Trial of the Chicago 7 … which mirrors last year’s upset, when the SAG went with Parasite and the rest awarded 1917.
Will history repeat itself? The oddsmakers are hedging at least a little bit in making Trial a pretty considerable second favorite, but Nomadland still has a meaningful edge. Given all the indicators pointing in that film’s direction, I don’t see any value in the six films listed at +1400 or better. If you wanted to throw down a small play on Trial, I wouldn’t fault you, but it’s tough to see anything other than Nomadland taking it home — whether it’s deserving or not.
Betting Pick: Nomadland -670
What Deserves to Win: Promising Young Woman
|Chloé Zhao (Nomadland)||-3335||97.1%|
|David Fincher (Mank)||+1000||9.1%|
|Lee Isaac Chung (Minari)||+1700||5.6%|
|Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)||+2000||4.8%|
|Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round)||+2500||3.9%|
The DGA has hit this on the head with some consistency over the last two decades, awarding its top prize to the Best Director winner 16 times in the last 20 years.
Last year, much like Best Picture, was a notable exception when Bong Joon-ho deservedly upset Sam Mendes. Before that, the last time Best Director went to someone not awarded by the DGA was in 2012, when Ben Affleck was awarded by the DGA for Argo but not nominated for the Academy Award that ultimately went to Ang Lee for Life of Pi.
If you go back even further — all the way to 1950 — the DGA has actually been on the same page as the Academy every year except eight times, and in three of those instances, the winner at the DGA wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award: Affleck, Ron Howard for Apollo 13 in 1995, and Steven Spielberg for The Color Purple in 1985.
This is all a roundabout way to saying Chloé Zhao is winning Best Director and the odds reflect that, as she has dropped from +225 back in November (behind David Fincher) to her current odds of extreme favorite. So stop pondering those longshot odds — even with last year’s upset so fresh in our memories, it’s tough to imagine it happening two years in a row. Besides, the DGA and the BAFTAs (11 similar picks in the last 20 years) both went to Zhao, too.
Betting Pick: Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) -3335
Who Deserves to Win: Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman)
|Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)||-1667||94.3%|
|Anthony Hopkins (The Father)||+700||12.5%|
|Riz Ahmed (The Sound of Metal)||+1400||6.7%|
|Steven Yeun (Minari)||+2500||3.9%|
|Gary Oldman (Mank)||+3300||2.9%|
It’s tough to imagine any award where the favorite is -1667 could have some intrigue, and while the award is almost certainly going to Chadwick Boseman, there’s at least a puncher’s chance for Anthony Hopkins (who actually deserves to win the award).
Boseman, as you know, sadly died from colon cancer in August. He would be just the third posthumous acting award recipient after Heath Ledger in 2009 and Peter Finch in 1977. Back in November, you could’ve gotten Boseman at +850 (worse odds than both Hopkins and Gary Oldman), and he’s seen these odds go as high as -3500 in early March.
It was presumed a foregone conclusion for Boseman for most of the last several months, with the intrigue around Hopkins coming via his Best Actor win at the BAFTAs earlier this month. The BAFTAs don’t have the predictive success of the Screen Actors Guild — BAFTAs: 13 of the last 20; SAG: 15 of the last 20 — but the BAFTAs have been correct in each of the last six years, where the SAGs were wrong in 2016, when they awarded Denzel Washington for Fences and the Academy went with Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea.
Again, it’s entirely likely that Boseman wins this award, and it will likely lead to the most emotional moment of the night for whomever — presumably his widow, Taylor Simone Ledward — accepts the award on his behalf. But at +700, Hopkins is worth a flier. I’ll be throwing down a small amount and hoping for what would be a deserved upset.
Betting Pick: Anthony Hopkins +700
Who Deserves to Win: Hopkins
|Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)||+125||44.4%|
|Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)||+200||33.3%|
|Frances McDormand (Nomadland)||+400||20%|
|Andra Day (The United States vs. Billie Holiday)||+600||14.3%|
|Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)||+2000||4.8%|
By far the most interesting of the major award categories, these odds have zigzagged all over the place, and favorite Carey Mulligan’s current price actually lists her at plus odds for the first time since early February. Shortly thereafter, she moved to -190 and has been around there until recently, when buzz for Viola Davis changed the game entirely.
Davis — whose performance as Ma Rainey was the best acting performing of the year across the board and absolutely deserves this award — didn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But as recently as mid-March, she was tracking around the fourth-best odds, behind Frances McDormand and Andra Day, along with Mulligan. An honor by the Screen Actors Guild lowered her odds, but are complicated by the fact that the BAFTAs honored McDormand.
Further complicating things is the fact that Mulligan wasn’t honored by either, and there’s been only one time in history when the Academy Award Best Actress winner wasn’t honored by either the SAG or the BAFTAs: 1994, which just so happens to be the first year of the SAG Awards, when the Oscar went to Jessica Lange (Blue Sky), the SAG Award went to Jodie Foster (Nell) and the BAFTA went to Susan Sarandon (The Client).
But wait, there’s more.
Andra Day was awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for Best Actress (drama) at the Golden Globes. The Globes split their awards into two categories, of course, but the last time neither of the Globes Best Actress awards went to the actress who won at the Academy Awards was 2001, when Halle Berry won the Oscar for Monster’s Ball while Nicole Kidman won a Globe for Moulin Rouge! and Sissy Spacek won one for In The Bedroom. The other time that happened was in 1994, the same year the SAGs and BAFTAs got it wrong.
So to sum it all up, Mulligan — the favorite — winning this award would mean the Academy Awards’ Best Actress wouldn’t have won at the SAGs, BAFTAs or Golden Globes, something that’s only happened once in history, 27 years ago.
Given all the chaos, the best advice I can give is to close your eyes and throw a dart. Or, in reality, take a flier on the most appealing odds among the four contenders (while pouring one out for Vanessa Kirby, who is very good in Pieces of a Woman). That means a bet on Day at the time of this writing, but whichever of the four have the highest odds at the book of your choice at the time of your wager would work just the same.
Betting Pick: Andra Day +600
Who Deserves to Win: Carey Mulligan
Best Supporting Actor
|Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah)||-2500||96.2%|
|Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7)||+1200||7.7%|
|Paul Raci (Sound of Metal)||+1200||7.7%|
|Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami)||+1700||5.6%|
|Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah)||+3300||2.9%|
The supporting actor category is strangely underwhelming this year, although the favorite will be a deserving winner. There’s no drama here as Daniel Kaluuya has swept through award season, winning this award at the SAGs, BAFTAs and Golden Globes.
The former two award shows have been the best at predicting the winner over the last two decades. The SAG winner has won the Academy Awards in 13 of the last 20 years, with the most recent miss coming in 2015 when Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) won at the SAGs over Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies). The BAFTAs have also predicted 13 of the last 20 — its last miss was in 2016, when it picked Dev Patel (Lion) over Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight).
Kaluuya will win this year, and none of the underdogs — including second-favorites Sasha Baron Cohen or Paul Raci — have a reasonable chance.
Betting Pick: Daniel Kaluuya -2500
Who Deserves to Win: Leslie Odom Jr.
Best Supporting Actress
|Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)||-500||83.3%|
|Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)||+375||21.1%|
|Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy)||+1000||9.1%|
|Olivia Colman (The Father)||+2000||4.8%|
|Amanda Seyfried (Mank)||+3300||2.9%|
This started out as a two-headed race between Youn Yuh-jung and Maria Bakalova until the odds slowly but steadily moved in Yuh-jung’s direction, and we’re very likely going to see the 73-year-old — who is the first Korean actress ever nominated for an Academy Award — take home the top prize on Sunday night.
A win for the 24-year-old Bakalova would be strange but not entirely undeserved, although it’s tough to find a lot of data pointing to the upset here. Both the SAGs and BAFTAs honored Yuh-jung, and their predictive power — 15-of-20 and 14-of-20, respectively — is tough to ignore.
The Glenn Close nomination is yet another reminder that the Academy has somehow failed to honor the legend despite her being nominated now eight times with her bid for the utterly forgettable monstrosity that was Hillbilly Elegy. It was tough to argue with Olivia Colman (The Favourite) beating Close (The Wife) for Best Actress two years ago, and now Close is a longshot along with the woman who beat her — although Colman’s performance in the insanely underrated The Father is worth consideration.
Bakalova’s odds are within range to pull the trigger on a small longshot bet. I’d prefer it around +450 or longer (it’s tracking in that direction as it was +300 a few weeks ago), but will probably throw down a small wager and keep an eye on the movement as we get closer to showtime. Yuh-jung is probably winning it, though.
Betting Pick: Maria Balakolva +375
Who Deserves to Win: Youn Yuh-jung
Best Original Screenplay
|Promising Young Woman||-455||82%|
|The Trial of the Chicago 7||+275||26.71%|
|Sound of Metal||+3300||2.9%|
|Judas and the Black Messiah||+3300||2.9%|
In both screenwriting categories, it’s important to keep in mind that the Academy’s qualifications are much different from the Writer’s Guild of America’s top prizes. Every year, the WGA’s nominations leave out several Oscar contenders that were not written by guild members, and this year’s list included Nomadland, Mank, Minari and more.
That said, it’s tough to argue with Promising Young Woman as the strong favorite. The BAFTAs have a so-so predictive record (12 of the last 20 correct) and Promising Young Woman emerged victorious there over The Trial of the Chicago 7. Although it’s important to note that the BAFTAs drastically overhauled their voting process this year, so even that track record is tough to fully figure.
I think this is where Promising Young Woman gets rewarded where it’s going to fall short in most of the bigger categories (unless Mulligan pulls out Best Actress), but I can see an argument for The Trial of the Chicago 7. The Academy loves Aaron Sorkin. Well, it at least loves to nominate him, at least. And a loss here would make him 1-for-4 in screenwriting nominations.
This category is right in line with where we often see upsets, though, so I’m recommending a play on Sorkin’s Trial down to +200. Minari is the toughest to figure, so my recommendation there is to watch for movement and if you see the odds start to shorten, jump before they get to short.
Betting Pick: The Trial of the Chicago 7 +275
What Deserves to Win: Promising Young Woman
Best Adapted Screenplay
|Borat Subsequent Moviefilm||+800||11.1%|
|One Night in Miami||+1400||6.7%|
|The White Tiger||+3300||2.9%|
The same WGA caveats from above apply here, and given the Academy’s love for Nomadland up and down the card, it’s understandable that it’s the favorite here. The next two favorites are the winners at the BAFTAs and WGA, respectively, and while the latter organization has the uncertainty over its nomination process, it’s still been successful in predicting 14 of the last 20 Best Adapted Screenplay winners.
That makes Borat’s long odds surprising. It seems unfathomably that the Academy would give a statuette to a mockumentary sequel where a man (who has a very serious role in The Trial of the Chicago 7, I might remind you!) does the same bad Eastern European accent while embarrassing the hell out of ignorant Americans, but it gave this award to a movie about a young Nazi who talked to a fake Hitler a year ago, so giant shrug emoji.
Borat at +800 will be my biggest longshot flier of the night. It’s a longshot for a reason so don’t get crazy, but bet it to +600.
Betting Pick: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm +800
What Deserves to Win: One Night in Miami
Other Noteworthy Categories
|News of the World||+1400||6.7%|
|Judas and the Black Messiah||+1700||5.6%|
|The Trial of the Chicago 7||+2000||4.8%|
Unlike most of the other guild awards, the American Society of Cinematographers doesn’t have the best track record in terms of selecting the same award winner as the Academy.
The ASC has honored the top feature film cinematographer in each of the last 34 times, and only 15 times has it awarded that prize to the same film that won the Best Cinematography Award at the Academy Awards. It’s been a bit better of late, however, matching winners in five of the last seven years, including last year with 1917.
The BAFTAs, however, have been better, matching winners in each of the last eight years. When the BAFTAs and ASC disagree in 2016 (Lion vs. La La Land) and 2018 (Cold War s. Roma) the Academy went with the BAFTA’s choice (La La Land and Roma).
This year, we’ve got another disagreement. The BAFTAs gave their top prize to Nomadland, while the ASC honored Mank. Going back 20 years, the only times the ASC and BAFTAs disagreed and the Academy went with the ASC’s choice were in 2007 (There Will Be Blood over No Country for Old Men) and 2010 (Inception over True Grit).
The odds fall within that line of thinking, and there’s not a lot of value in Mank at +350, nor any of the longer shots.
Betting Pick: Nomadland -400
What Deserves to Win: Nomadland
Best Film Editing
|Sound of Metal||-118||54.1%|
|The Trial of the Chicago 7||-110||42.4%|
|Promising Young Woman||+4000||2.4%|
While Best Actress is the closest race based on the implied odds, Best Film Editing is next in line. And it’s easy to see why.
The American Cinema Editors Eddie Awards, like the Golden Globes, split their top prize between drama and comedy/musical. And between the two, the organization has awarded the film that ultimately won Best Editing at the Academy Awards 13 times in the last 20 years. By comparison, the BAFTAs have awarded the same film just nine times, however, one of those was last year when Ford v Ferrari beat out Parasite. The prior two years saw Bohemian Rhapsody (ACE) beat Vice (BAFTA) and Dunkirk (ACE) beat Baby Driver (BAFTA).
Sound of Metal is a logical favorite, especially when you consider the intricate editing process that goes along with editing a film about musical performances. In recent years, the Academy has awarded Bohemian Rhapsody and Whiplash, so there’s a bit of a theme there.
The fact that the ACE Awards are a stronger indicator than the BAFTAs makes The Trial of the Chicago 7 a deserved favorite, but I’m going with Sound of Metal. I got this at plus money a few weeks ago (+125), but wouldn’t bet it worse than -110, making this (just barely) a no-play for me.
Pick to Win: Sound of Metal -118
What Deserves to Win: The Father
Best Original Song
|Speak Now (One Night in Miami)||-155||60.8%|
|Io Sì (Seen) (The Life Ahead)||+225||30.8%|
|Husavik (Eurovision Song Contest)||+350||22.2%|
|Fight for You (Judas and the Black Messiah)||+2500||3.9%|
|Hear My Voice (The Trial of the Chicago 7)||+2500||3.9%|
The drama here revolves around Diane Warren, writer of Io Sì for La vita davanti a sé (The Life Ahead). Warren’s songwriting prowess is well known in the industry, and this is her 12th nomination in this category. She’s won zero times.
Warren list of credits include 1997’s “Because You Loved Me” for Up Close & Personal, 1999’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” for Armageddon, 2016’s “Til It Happens to You” (shared with Lady Gaga) for The Hunting Ground, and 2019’s “I’ll Fight” for RBG. She’s written so many songs you know, yet is mostly unfamiliar to the average fan.
This year, her song enters with the second-best odds, but it’s really tough to see her breaking through ahead of the popular and moving “Speak Now,” from One Night in Miami, a film that was simply seen by more people.
I’ll be rooting for Warren to get her first Academy Award in her 12th attempt. The odds don’t make her worth a bet, however.
Betting Pick: Speak Now -155
What Deserves to Win: Io Sì
Best Production Design
|Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom||+650||13.3%|
|News of the World||+2000||4.8%|
The belongs in the “Other Noteworthy Categories” section based primarily over my annoyance that Mank is likely to beat Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which should win. The Art Directors Guild actually splits its feature film awards into a number of categories: Period, Fantasy, Contemporary and Animated (the latter only for the last four years and everything but Contemporary only since 2006).
That Contemporary category was actually terrible at predicting Academy Awards success even when it was a standalone category. Going back to 2000, the only time the ADG Contemporary prize went to the film that won Best Production Design was in 2016, when La La Land won. In all, though, one of the ADP categories has gone to the ultimate Oscar winner 11 out of the last 14 years. The BAFTAs, by comparison, have matched up seven times during that span and eight times in the last 20 years.
Mank was the winner in this category at the ADG for period pieces as well as the BAFTAs, which is why this category has little drama. Da 5 Bloods (not nominated) won in the Contemporary category, and Tenet won in Fantasy. Since Da 5 Bloods was not nominated and Tenet is tracking behind both Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Mank, a small wager could be justified as long as it stays in the +800 range. This award is likely going to Mank, however.
Pick: Tenet +800
What Deserves to Win: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Best Documentary Feature
|My Octopus Teacher||-500||83.3%|
|The Mole Agent||+5000||2%|
This category is interesting mostly because the film I thought would be the favorite ended up with the second-longest odds in Crip Camp. Instead, My Octopus Teacher has run away, at least to a certain extent, surpassing Time and Collective, both of which have also been viewed as favorites at some point along the nomination process.
The International Documentary Awards is the most prestigious of the category-specific awards hosted ahead of the Academy Awards, but it doesn’t have much of a noteworthy track record of predicting Oscars success. Just five times in the last 20 years has those two awards gone to the same film, most recently in 2016 (O.J.: Made in America).
Instead, the Academy’s selection winds up being the film that’s the most popular, something that has also gotten trickier over the years as documentaries have become more widespread consumable in the streaming era. That title this year belongs to My Octopus Teacher, a fascinatingly weird creation that is deserving of its favorite stature.
It wouldn’t shock me to see Time or Collective pull off the upset, and I might throw a few bucks on Crip Camp anyway, and just not tell anyone because it goes against my strategy of betting against longshots.
Pick: My Octopus Teacher -500
What Deserves to Win: My Octopus Teacher
Extreme Favorites Not Worth Discussing
Best Animated Feature
|Over The Moon||+2800||3.5%|
|A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon||+4000||2.4%|
Best International Feature
|Another Round (Denmark)||-1250||92.6%|
|Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)||+650||13.3%|
|Better Days (Hong Kong)||+2500||3.9%|
|The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia)||+2500||3.9%|
Pick: Another Round -1250
|Sound of Metal||-2500||96.2%|
|News of the World||+3300||2.9%|
Pick: Sound of Metal -2500
Best Original Score
|Da 5 Bloods||+2500||3.9%|
|News of the World||+2500||3.9%|
Pick: Soul -1667
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
|Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom||-670||87%|
Pick: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom -670
Best Visual Effects
|The Midnight Sky||+275||26.7%|
|The One and Only Ivan||+2500||3.9%|
|Love and Monsters||+2500||3.9%|
Pick: Tenet -560
Best Documentary Short Subject
|A Love Song for Latasha||-250||71.4%|
|A Concerto is a Conversation||+300||25%|
|Do Not Split||+1400||6.7%|
Pick: A Love Song for Latasha -250
Best Animated Short
|If Anything Happens I Love You||-335||77%|
Pick: If Anything Happens I Love You -335
Best Live Action Short
|The Letter Room||-167||62.6%|
|Two Distant Strangers||+150||40%|