Oscar Myth Busting: Does a director's Oscar win mean their film will walk away with Best Picture?

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Image Credit: Eric Draper/AP

Put down those Pop Rocks and Diet Cokes. We’ve got some A-list myths to examine! Ahead of this Sunday’s Oscars, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most famous myths to rise out of the annual awards ceremony. Want to know if being nude will get you a Best Actress statue? Or if the Best Supporting Actress trophy is indeed a curse? You’re in luck – we’ll be investigating one Oscars-related urban legend each day this week. Today, we investigate whether a director winning the Oscar for Best Director means their film will be announced mere moments later as Best Picture. In the past 25 years, has it come true? Read on to find out. (And click here for more of EW’s Oscars Myth Busting.)

Oscar Myth: The Best Director-Best Picture connection. 

What Is It?: The Best Picture Oscar will be awarded to a movie immediately after its director has been announced the winner of the Best Director trophy.

Origin of the Myth: From 1941 to 1947, every film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture also boasted the Best Director. Over periods of time, the Best Director/Best Picture one-two punch made it seem as though one was not possible without the other. For instance, from 1957 to 1966, each director that won the Best Director Oscar watched their film go on to win Best Picture, the longest stretch of time for this Oscar phenomenon to occur. (Starting with David Lean’s The Bridge On The River Kwai and ending with Fred Zinnemann’s A Man For All Seasons.) While the trend has been seen time and time again throughout Oscar history, we’ll see how much it’s necessarily been true over the past 25 years. Since 1987, has a Best Director win locked down their film’s fate for a Best Picture victory? Let’s investigate.

When It’s Come True: 20/25. Over the past 25 years it seems the Academy has believed that Best Director and Best Picture Oscars go hand-in-hand. In 1987, four of the five Best Picture nominees had its director nominated, including the eventual winner The Last Emporer and its director Bernardo Bertolucci. In 1988, only three of the Best Picture nominees had nominated directors, but the odds were still in the favor of Barry Levinson and Rain Man. Then, from 1990 to 1997, a Best Director win guaranteed a Best Picture win. Beginning with Oscar’s still-criticized decision to reward Kevin Costner and Dances with Wolves over Martin Scorsese and Goodfellas in 1990, the tradition carried on through with Jonathan Demme and Silence of the Lambs (1991), Clint Eastwood and Unforgiven (1992), Steven Spielberg and Schindler’s List (1993), Robert Zemeckis and Forrest Gump (1994) Mel Gibson and Braveheart (1995), Anthony Minghella and The English Patient (1996) and James Cameron and Titanic (1997). Eventually Sam Mendes and American Beauty closed out the ’90s Oscar tradition of Best Director and Best Picture wins in 1999. The early 2000s saw less of the Best Director and Best Picture Oscar combo pack, but it still was in the majority thanks to Ron Howard and A Beautiful Mind (2001); Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003); Clint Eastwood and Million Dollar Baby (2004); Martin Scorsese (finally!) and The Departed (2006); Joel and Ethan Coen and No Country For Old Men (2007); Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire (2008); Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker (2009); and Tom Hooper and The King’s Speech (2010).

When It Hasn’t Come True: 5/25. Five directors became the exception to the Oscar rule when they won an Oscar but their films did not emerge the Best Picture winner. In 1989, Oliver Stone was named Best Director for his work on the harrowing war drama Born on the Fourth of July, but the film ultimately lost to the sentimental favorite Driving Miss Daisy. In 2000, Steven Soderbergh won for his stylistic work on the drug saga Traffic, but the Academy was more entertained by Gladiator and then in 2003 controversial director Roman Polanski was rewarded for his work behind the camera for the Holocaust drama The Pianist, but thoroughly modern musical Chicago razzle-dazzled its way to winning Best Picture. While those Director/Picture choices have often been debated, they don’t compare to 1998 and 2005, the two years that mark the most contended Director/Picture winners in Oscar history. In 1998, Steven Spielberg earned his second Best Director Oscar for transporting moviegoers to the front line of battle in the intense, gut-wrenching war drama Saving Private Ryan, but the film lost, in a most-controversial manner, to fluffier fare, the period comedy Shakespeare in Love. Oscar stunners reared its head again in 2005 when Ang Lee won Best Director for his work on the sweeping love story Brokeback Mountain, but the groundbreaking film lost to dark horse racial drama Crash.

So, Is It True?: While it’s not a certified guarantee (just ask Spielberg and Lee), the odds are certainly in a movie’s favor if its director has won. Over the past 25 years, 80 percent of directors who win the Best Director Oscar have had their film win the Best Picture Oscar. Even with the changes to the Best Picture race (2009 and 2010 had 10 nominated films, but the Best Director race remained at only five nominees), the percentages have still stayed in the favor of a Director/Picture win.

Which Brings Us to This Year: All five of this year’s Best Director nominees (Woody Allen, Michel Hazanavicius, Terrence Malick, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese) have their respective films (Midnight in Paris, The Artist, The Tree of Life, The Descendants, Hugo) competing in the Best Picture category. Barring an upset from a film that doesn’t have a nominated director (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Moneyball, War Horse) it seems like the the tradition will continue with front-runners Hazanavicius and The Artist poised to win Best Director and Best Picture.

Check back in tomorrow when Sandra Gonzalez investigates if playing gay in a film translates to an Oscar win for an actor or actress.

Read more:
Oscar Myth Busting: Will going nude get you a Best Actress Oscar?
EW’s Oscars 2012 Central

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