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Nominees, winners, and losers

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The paper tries to convey the idea that choosing a winner among a group of nominees or short-listed candidates may hurt those who bestow prizes, those who are selected, as well as those who base their own choices on the ranking. We base our observations on examples of contests (movies, literature, and music) in which winners often turn out not to be better than nominees. Our suggestion is therefore to select, say five candidates, and not to rank them, but reward all nominees equally.

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  1. See also Ginsburgh and Weyers (2008) and Graddy (2013).

  2. Le Monde, September 7, 2010, p. 21.

  3. See Masa Mizuno’s Music Directory, (accessed on October 14, 2012).

  4. English (2005, p. 25).

  5. See Courty and Pagliero (2013).

  6. See (consulted April 2, 2013).

  7. The Oscars winning movies are guessed by every newspaper weeks before the ceremony; a session of the Queen Elisabeth piano competition takes a full month for those who reach the finals; names of possible winners of literary prizes are circulated during weeks by specialized literary newspapers before the winners are announced.

  8. These issues are discussed by English (2005, 2013) and Frey (2005, 2006, 2007).

  9. For a complete list of winners and nominees since 1929, see

  10. There were 4 between 1929 and 1931 and from 1945 to the present days. This number was 7 in 1932, 9 in 1934 and between 1937 and 1944, and 11 in 1935 and 1936.

  11. This is related to Ginsburgh (2003), who looked at movies produced between 1950 and 1980, three Top Movie Lists only and was not interested in comparing Oscars and nominated movies.

  12. It may happen that no nominated movie is of quality larger than 0. This is indicated by the number of titles that were nominated (usually four), but did not achieve more than 0 quality. In 1930 (1), there were no other nominations than the Oscar.

  13. See also the notes at the bottom of the table.

  14. In 1929, two movies were awarded the Oscar, but we took only the better one (Sunrise) and ignored the other (Wings) in our calculations. There were two ceremonies in 1930, but in 1930 (1), there were no official nominees and the data were discarded as well. There was no ceremony in 1933.

  15. Note that if Oscars are excluded, the average for nominees is 4.5, that is higher that the one for winners.

  16. There is of course a long tail of movies of quality 1 and 0.

  17. In one case (1931), no movie made it to any list.

  18. According to the 2010 Yearbook of European Audiovisual Observatory, this number varies between 600 and 900 during the period 1999–2009.

  19. For complete rules see

  20. A rough guess at this can be made as follows. Assume there are 100 eligible movies that are candidates for Oscars. Over the 66 years, this amounts to 6,600 movies. The 15 best movie lists contain a little less than 500 movies (of which 310 are of quality less than 3).

  21. Hodgson (2009) was able to do this since he could get hold of the number of competitions in which the same wines were competing, during the same year.

  22. In nine occasions, it would have selected movies that ended up being of identical quality. This would have put Gone With the Wind on equal footing with The Wizard of Oz in 1940, or Annie Hall with Star Wars in 1978.

  23. The section on the Queen Elisabeth contest is based on Flores and Ginsburgh (1996) and Ginsburgh and Van Ours (2003).

  24. See Flores and Ginsburgh (1996) for the details of the analysis. The authors also find that the effect of order of appearance on ranking is much weaker in the Queen Elisabeth violin contest.

  25. For the full list of one or two winners and the three to five additional shortlisted writers, see

  26. We can unfortunately not exclude that the number of copies in each re-edition of winning titles is larger than that for short-listed titles.

  27. For having sometimes been present as the prize list was announced, one winner at a time, it was horrible to follow the decreasing length of clapping as the announcements of names got beyond the first three winners.


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Correspondence to V. Ginsburgh.

Additional information

The authors are grateful to two anonymous referees and to Kathryn Graddy for comments that much improved the paper. We are also grateful to Victor Fernandez-Blanco who always made himself available to answer our many questions on movies. The part of the paper on the Oscars as well as the general discussion on whether we need rankings is new. To show that what is discussed about movies may also apply in other fields of the arts; we, however, draw on previous work on musical competitions and the Booker Prize.

Appendix: Fifteen top 100 movie lists

Appendix: Fifteen top 100 movie lists

  1. 1.

    Rolling Stone Magazine, 100 Maverick Movies of the Last 100 Years (1999)

  2. 2.

    Los Angeles Daily News Readers’ Poll, Greatest American Films (1999)

  3. 3.

    Video Detective, Top 100 Films of all Time (1997)

  4. 4.

    Time Out Film Guide, Top 100 Films (1998)

  5. 5.

    Time Out Film Guide, Top 100 Films (1995)

  6. 6.

    Village Voice Critics’ Poll, 100 Best Films of the twentieth century (2000)

  7. 7.

    FilmFour, 100 Greatest Films of all Time (no date)

  8. 8.

    Guinness Book of Film, The Top 100 Films by Genre Type (1999)

  9. 9.

    Entertainment Weekly’s, 100 Greatest Movies of All Time (1999)

  10. 10.

    Mr. Showbiz’s Critics Picks, 100 Best Movies of all Time (2003?)

    • A list made on the Mr. Showbiz Web site, a full year and a half before the American Film Institute announced their own list of 100 Greatest American Movies


  11. 11.

    Mr. Showbiz’s Readers Picks, 100 Best Movies of all Time (2003?)

  12. 12.

    Leonard Maltin, 100 Must-See Films of the twentieth century (2000)

  13. 13.

    American Film Institution, American Greatest Movies (2005)

  14. 14.

    American Multi Cinema, 100 Greatest Films (no date)

  15. 15.

    Movieline Magazine’s 100 Best Movies ever Made (1995)

Most websites give details about how their lists are compiled. Last accessed in 2011.

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Ginsburgh, V., Weyers, S. Nominees, winners, and losers. J Cult Econ 38, 291–313 (2014).

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