At the Oscars, Best Actress and Best Picture Rarely Coincide

Best Actor nominees are almost twice as likely as their female counterparts to have starred in Best Picture-nominated films.

Danny Moloshok/Reuters

The five women who were Oscar-nominated for Best Actress Thursday morning represent some of the best-reviewed films of the year. Their films are inspiring, moving, finely crafted affairs. And with the exception of Felicity Jones’ The Theory of Everything, they're nowhere to be found on the rest of the Oscar ballot.

The 2014 Best Actress field shook out thusly:

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Of those five women, Cotillard, Moore, and Pike are their film’s sole Oscar nominee. Witherspoon is one of two, with her co-star Laura Dern snagging a surprising (but well-deserved) Supporting Actress nod. The Theory of Everything, which despite Jones’ nomination is largely a biopic about Stephen Hawking (Best Actor nominee Eddie Redmayne), scored five nominations in total, including one for Best Picture. Not only is it the one Best Picture nominee this year to have a corresponding Best Actress nominee, but it's also the only Best Picture nominee this year to have what could realistically qualify as a lead actress at all.

This is an especially distressing observation, but it's nothing particularly new. Over the past 25 years, Best Actress nominees have represented films that have earned a total of 443 nominations. Over that same period, Best Actor nominees have represented films that have earned a total of 638 nominations. Best Actress nominees have come from films nominated for Best Picture 37 times in 25 years, while Best Actor nominees have crossed over with Best Picture 60 times. More than half of the Best Actress nominees in that 25-year span have either been their film's sole nominee or one of two, double the rate of their Best Actor counterparts.

YEAR Total Nominations Among Best Actress Films Total Nominations Among Best Actor Films YEAR Total Nominations Among Best Actress Films Total Nominations Among Best Actor Films
1990 9 24 2003 8 25
1991 22 31 2004 14 34
1992 16 24 2005 15 26
1993 21 34 2006 16 9
1994 8 33 2007 13 20
1995 17 18 2008 16 29
1996 26 28 2009 14 21
1997 28 20 2010 15 38
1998 25 24 2011 16 25
1999 15 19 2012 23 33
2000 15 19 2013 29 29
2001 19 18 2014 10 33
2002 33 24 TOTAL 443 638

What this all points to—a dearth of leading roles for women—is by no means a novel observation. But these numbers are stark. They provide a glum response to the question of why Wild, a film whose Rotten Tomatoes score (91 percent) puts it ahead of The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and American Sniper, got zero nominations in non-actress categories. Nothing for its picturesque cinematography, its challenging screenplay adaptation, nor its direction by Jean-Marc Vallée, whose Dallas Buyers Club scored six Oscar nods last year, including a win in Best Actor for Matthew McConaughey. Rosamund Pike and Julianne Moore, while excellent, are by no means the only laudable elements of their respective films. There need to be more films made with female lead characters, period. But this wasn't a barren year for women in movies; not speaking qualitatively (Beyond the Lights, Obvious Child, Le Week-End) nor commercially (Gone Girl). It was certainly a barren year for women at the Oscars, though.

The shame of it all is that this year's paltry showing for Best Actress films—the 10 total nominations represent the lowest number since 2003—demolishes what had been an encouraging uptick in Picture/Actress crossover. Recent Oscar success for movies like Gravity, Philomena, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty, Black Swan, The Kids Are All Right, and Winter's Bone had boosted Best Actress-nominated films to considerably higher totals at the awards. Whether this year represents a long-term deviation or a mere bump in the road remains to be seen. But, paired with what's already been noted about how white this year’s nominees are, the remarkable male-ness of the 2014 Oscars is a reminder of the tendencies to which Hollywood and the Academy have been known to default.