Do The Independent Spirit Awards Help Movies Get Into Best Picture?

People used to say “win on Indie Spirits night, lose on Oscar night.” This adage formed after multiple decades of the Independent Spirit Award winner for Best Picture did not line up with Oscar’s pick. After “Platoon” won in 1986, it took 25 years before “The Artist” broke the curse. Since then, five of the last eight Indie Spirit Best Picture winners have also taken home Best Picture at the Oscars. If you count “The King’s Speech” (which won Best International Film at the Indie Spirits, barring it from Best Picture), that number jumps to six out of eight. Now that the Independent Spirit Awards have revealed their nominations, will it line up with Oscars once again?

Are we looking at our Best Picture winner?

It’s worthwhile to note that the eligibility rules of the Independent Spirit Awards make it hard to line up with Oscars. Films nominated must be able to prove they had a budget that was less than $20 million (so not “Black Panther,” “A Star is Born” or even “Green Book”). However, the Oscars have recently been rewarding these behemoths in director and giving Picture to its smaller, indie counterpart.

Part of this comes from the preferential ballot, which favors movies that are well-liked across the board. This seems to work out better for smaller films rather than big blockbusters. “Gravity” won Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron, but “12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture. “The Revenant” won Best Director for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, but “Spotlight” won Best Picture. This could boost the Oscar win chances for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” however, the movie needs to open, which will tell a lot.

An even better indicator of our Oscar winner this year could also be in Best International Film. By Independent Spirit rules, a movie submitted for Best International Film cannot compete in its Best Picture category. This year, “Roma” faces off against “The Favourite” in that category. Much like when “The King’s Speech” won in 2010, our Oscar winner could come from the Indie Spirit’s International Film Winner.

How Many From the Lineup Will Make It?

The Independent Spirit Award nominees have varying degrees of overlap with Oscars. Some years (like 2014), four of the five Indie Spirit Best Picture nominees also show up in Best Picture at the Oscars. Other years (like 2015), only “Spotlight” (the eventual winner) appears in both top categories.

The one consistent thing the expanded field has done is make sure that at least one film from the lineup will make it in each year. Yes, past nominees like “Chronic,” “American Honey” and “Greenberg” were probably never going to make their Best Picture lineups. “Leave No Trace” and “You Were Never Really Here” both look to fall in that category. However, the Indie Spirit nominations have jump-started the awards push for many little indies that could. “Winter’s Bone” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” were able to transition from festival buzz to awards contenders thanks to these awards.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” was always in the awards conversation and looks to be the most likely of the five to get into Best Picture. However, the success of A24’s pair of contenders – “Eighth Grade” and “First Reformed” – puts them in the conversation. Can one or both of them make it in Best Picture? This boosts those chances, along with their Original Screenplay chances and possible nominations for Ethan Hawke and maybe even Elsie Fisher.

Can Movies Recover From a Snub?

Not every Best Picture nominee that was eligible for an Independent Spirit Award got nominated by this group. There have been 31 Best Picture nominees since the expanded lineup (2009 – 2017) that were eligible. Only 24 were nominated for Best Picture at the Indie Spirits. That is a 77% success rate. Here are the seven films that were eligible for Indie Spirits, were snubbed for Best Picture, but still made it into the Oscar lineup. (Bold/Underline if they won)

  • “A Serious Man” (2009) – 3 Nominations/2 Wins: Best Director, Best Cinematography, Robert Altman Award
  • “The Hurt Locker” (2009)– 2 Nominations: Best Actor (Jeremy Renner), Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Mackie)
  • “Midnight in Paris” (2011) – 2 Nominations: Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography
  • “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013) – 2 Nominations/2 Wins: Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto)
  • “Room” (2015) – 3 Nominations/2 Wins: Best Actress (Brie Larson), Best First Screenplay, Best Editing
  • “Hell or High Water” (2016) – 3 Nominations/1 Win: Best Supporting Actor (Ben Foster), Best Screenplay, Best Editing
  • “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – 3 Nominations/2 Wins: Best Actress (Frances McDormand), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), Best Screenplay

If you are an independent film that was not up for the Indie Spirits Best Picture, you need to show up with significant nominations elsewhere to contend for Best Picture at the Oscars. All who missed had at least two nominations, with at least one being in the top categories. This does not spell death for any titles. However, it means bad news for films like “Ben is Back,” “Boy Erased,” and “Beautiful Boy” that received no nominations. Meanwhile, there’s hope for “BlackKklansman” (1 nomination) and “Can You Ever Forgive Me” (2 nominations) in Best Picture. They will just need help at other precursors to do so.


In short, the Independent Spirit Awards are not powerful enough to destroy your Oscar hopes. However, they are helpful at catapulting smaller movies into the Oscar race. Congratulations to the nominees and cheers to a great start of awards season. For those who were snubbed, remember its a marathon, not a sprint.

What did you think of the Independent Spirit Award Nominations? Share with us in the comments below.

Be sure to check out our Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where this film ranks among the contenders!

What do you think?

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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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