Is Meryl Streep’s Oscar Record Out of Reach?

With the presentation of Academy Awards completed last Sunday, I am able to tabulate the last Actors of the Decade winners.

With the presentation of Academy Awards completed last Sunday, I am able to tabulate the last Actors of the Decade winners. For the male actors, the winner is Daniel Day Lewis.

Top Actors of the Decade
2007 to 2016 Releases
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Daniel Day Lewis 2 2 0 0 12
Jeff Bridges 2 1 1 0 10
Leonardo DiCaprio 2 1 0 0 9
Colin Firth 2 1 0 0 9
Eddie Redmayne 2 1 0 0 9
George Clooney 3 0 0 0 9

This result is pretty incredible when you consider that Daniel Day Lewis only appeared in three movies during the entire decade. His three Academy Award Best Actor wins stands alone in the history of the category. It might be interesting to measure Oscar nominations per movie made. I’d be surprised if we found any actor who is even close to Daniel Day Lewis.

As for the Best Female Actor, once again, it is Meryl Streep.

Top Actresses of the Decade
2007 to 2016 Releases
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Meryl Streep 5 1 1 0 19
Cate Blanchett 3 1 1 0 13
Jennifer Lawrence 3 1 1 0 13
Marion Cotillard 2 1 0 0 9
Sandra Bullock 2 1 0 0 9
Natalie Portman 2 1 0 0 9

When the 28 year old Emma Stone accepted her Best Actress in a Leading Role award, she commented that she still has a lot to learn. It is that kind of attitude, and a commensurate work ethic, for a young actress today to take a run at Meryl Streep’s Oscar nomination record of 20 nominations. Consider that the actresses that Streep chased early in her career, Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis, received their first nominations some 45 years before Streep earned her first nomination. It has been 38 years since Meryl Streep received her first nomination. We should be on the lookout for the next actress of a generation. Is there a contender already out there?

Let’s look first at the career Oscar performance of Streep, Hepburn, and Davis.

Acting Nomination Points
Lead Actress = 1 point,  Supporting Actress = .5 points
Points at Age:
30 40 50 60 70 80
Meryl Streep 1 7 11 14.5 18
Katherine Hepburn 2 4 6 9 10 11
Bette Davis 3 8 10 11 11 11

I chose not to equate a supporting actress role with a lead actress role to be fair to Hepburn and Davis. With the studios in control of the movies they appeared in, stars didn’t get the chance to do supporting roles. Bette Davis had a strong career before age 50. Katherine Hepburn was strong after age 50. Meryl Streep has outperformed both of them before 50 and after 50. It is not unreasonable to expect more nominations in her future.

As for today’s actresses, I looked at multiple nominated actresses in different age groups to see if anyone is close to tracking her.

Age as of 12/31/2016 Comparison Age Points at Comparison Age Streep at Comparison Age
Cate Blanchett 47 50 5.5 11
Viola Davis 51 50 2 11
Kate Winslet 41 40 5.5 7
Michelle Williams 36 40 3 7
Amy Adams 42 40 3 7
Natalie Portman 35 40 2.5 7
Marion Cotillard 41 40 2 7
Jennifer Lawrence 26 30 3.5 1
Emma Stone 28 30 1.5 1
Keira Knightley 31 30 1.5 1
Rooney Mara 31 30 1.5 1

Except for the 30-ish actresses, none are keeping pace. You might argue that Kate Winslet is in striking distance but, given Streep’s strength after 40, that’s probably not good enough.

Of the young actresses, Jennifer Lawrence has had a very strong start to her career. With 3 lead actress nominations and 1 supporting nomination over the next 14 years she would join Bette Davis as the only actresses to keep pace with Meryl Streep through age 40. Then all she would have to do is average between 3.5 and 4 points every 10 years for anther 30 years or more.

Good luck with that. Along side Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, it may become a record that will never be broken.

Meryl Streep Led a Strong Decade for Actresses But an Older Paul Newman Provided His Own Compelling Story

n the decade from 1977 to 1986, Meryl Streep made her entrance onto the Oscar stage and hasn’t left it since. Because I covered her career extensively in my article comparing her career with Tom Hanks, I thought I’d touch on an interesting pattern I’ve noticed in my analysis of the first six decades of Academy Award acting recognition.

In the decade from 1977 to 1986, Meryl Streep made her entrance onto the Oscar stage and hasn’t left it since. Because I covered her career extensively in my article comparing her career with Tom Hanks, I thought I’d touch on an interesting pattern I’ve noticed in my analysis of the first six decades of Academy Award acting recognition.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1977 to 1986
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Meryl Streep 4 1 2 1 18
Jane Fonda 4 1 1 0 16
Sissy Spacek 4 1 0 0 15
Sally Field 2 2 0 0 12
Jessica Lange 3 0 1 1 11
Geraldine Page 2 1 1 0 10

From 1977 to 1986, six different actresses earned at least ten Academy Award points. The only other decade that had as many actresses with ten points or more was  from 1937 to 1946, which also had six. No decade has had more than three actors with at least ten points in the same decade. In fact, of the 41 actors I’ve listed in my Actors of the Decade lists, only 10 have more than ten points in any single decade, 24.4% of the total. Of the 40 actresses listed, 19 had more than ten points in a decade, 47.5% of the total. This means that acting awards for actresses were more concentrated in fewer actresses. Why? Is it because there were fewer good actresses in the acting pool for moviemakers to choose from? Or, is it the more likely option, there were fewer good roles for actresses and they went to the most bankable actresses? In early 2017, I plan on studying this question further.

Let’s turn to the Actors of the Decade.

Top Actors of the Decade
1977 to 1986
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Paul Newman 3 1 0 0 12
Robert Duvall 2 1 1 0 10
Jack Lemmon 3 0 0 0 9
Dustin Hoffman 2 1 0 0 9
Jon Voight 2 1 0 0 9
Robert DeNiro 2 1 0 0 9
William Hurt 2 1 0 0 9

From 1958’s Cat on a  Hot Tin Roof to 1967’s Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman and his trademark bright blue eyes earned four Academy Award acting nominations. After so much early success, Oscar recognition eluded him for the next fifteen years. Tragedy intervened in 1978 when Newman’s only son, Scott, died of a drug overdose. Before 1978, Paul Newman averaged almost two movies a year. He wasn’t neglectful of his children over this time but he wasn’t always there for them either. He blamed himself for Scott’s death and it produced a cathartic change in him, both personally and professionally. Personally, he reoriented his life and dedicated much of his time to philanthropic ventures such as his Newman’s Own brand which raised more than $100 million dollars for charity. He also established his Hole in the Wall Camps for terminally ill children. Professionally, Newman turned away from the matinee idol roles that launched his career and took on portrayals of more human, more damaged, characters. In fact, the three nominated roles from 1977 to 1986, Absence of Malice, The Verdict, and The Color of Money, all involve characters seeking redemption, an emotion he could readily relate to from his personal life. Newman went on to earn a total of five nominations after the age of 56.

Streep beginning and Newman re-beginning their careers are the stories of the decade.

The Careers of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks Through the Eyes of IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes

Until The Post was released in 2017, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks had never appeared together in a film.

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have been two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood for over a quarter of a century. Both were around 28 when their first movies  were released. It is interesting to view their careers through the average ratings of the movies they were in.

First Career Phase (10  movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 28 to 35 7.2 71%   5 Noms./2 Wins
Hanks 28 to 32 6.1 61% 1 Nom/ 0 Wins

Meryl Streep hit the ground running. She was a Tony nominee on Broadway before landing her first role in the Oscar nominated movie Julia. She won an Emmy Award for the miniseries Holocaust before landing a supporting role in The Deer Hunter for which she received her first Oscar nomination. It is an incredible accomplishment that she was nominated for Academy Awards in five of her first ten movies, winning for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. In her personal life, her 3 year relationship with actor John Cazale ended with his death when Streep was 28 years. Six months later she married Don Gummer and had her first child at age 30 and her second four years later at age 34.

Tom Hanks crossed over from TV to film. While he was best known for the cross dressing role of Kip Wilson on Bosom Buddies, his real break came at age 26 when he appeared with Ron Howard on an episode of Happy Days. This appearance led Ron Howard, the Director, to cast Tom Hanks in the lead for the movie Splash, which went on to a fairly successful box office run. For the remainder of this period Hanks endured a number of flops until his critical breakthrough in Big, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination at age 32. In his personal life, Hanks went through the divorce from his first wife, with whom he had two children. The children were 9 and 4 at the time of the divorce. Hanks married his second wife, Rita Wilson, at the age of 32.

Second Career Phase (9 movies for Streep, 10 for Hanks))
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 36 to 43 6.5 66%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 33 to 39 7.0 67%   2 noms/2 wins

During this second phase of their careers Meryl Streep solidified her position as the premier actress of her time, while Tom Hanks made a successful transition to the “A-List” of Hollywood actors. Remarkably, Streep continued to earn Oscar Nominations for almost half of the movies she was in. Hanks gained serious actor status by transitioning to dramatic roles that resulted in Best Actor nominations and wins in consecutive years for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. In their personal lives, both experienced the births of their 3rd and 4th children.

Third Career Phase (10 movies for Streep, 11 for Hanks)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 44 to 53 6.9 67%   4 noms/0 wins
Hanks 40 to 48 7.4 79%   2 noms/0 wins

This third phase saw an uptick in the quality of the movies each appeared in. In terms of opportunity, Hanks was at the peak of his career. To appear in 11 movies with an average Rotten Tomatoes rating of 79% Fresh suggests that he had the pick of the litter in terms of selecting movies to appear in at this time. As for Meryl Streep, she continued to select roles that earned her an Academy Award nominations for almost every other movie she appeared in.

Fourth Career Phase (12 movies each)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 54 to 59 6.6 56%   2 noms/0 wins
Hanks 49 to 59 6.6 60%   0 noms/0 wins

This fourth phase of each actor’s career is interesting. In terms of the quality of the movies they were in, the numbers are very similar. Meryl Streep  earned two Oscar nominations during this period for The Devil Wears Prada and Doubt, but seems more intent on working rather than cherry-picking Oscar worthy roles. She averaged two movies a year during this period, far and away the most productive period of her career For Hanks, on the other, hand, this is the least productive period for movie acting, about one a year, as he became more involved in producing. He appeared to be more selective in his acting roles, with half being in Oscar nominated movies.

Fifth Career Phase (11 movies)
Age Avg IMDB Rating Avg Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh Academy Award Noms./Wins
Streep 60 to 66 6.7 67%  4 noms/1 wins

Meryl Streep is seven years older than Tom Hanks and so she has completed a career phase that Tom Hanks is just entering. Compare her IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes results during this latest stage in her acting career with her second and third phases and you’ll find that they are very similar. The biggest difference is that she is acting in more movies. From age 28 to 53, Meryl Streep averaged 1.13 movies per year. From 54 to 66, she has averaged 1.77 movie per year.

Let me sum up with a couple of observations. First, if we can use average IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings as indicators of the quality of roles available to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, then the best opportunities available to Meryl Streep were from age 28 to 35 and for Tom Hanks from age 40 to 48. These results are consistent with the study I posted earlier in the year which noted that the amount of dialogue  for women in scripts peaks before age 31. Secondly, both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have four children. During the years that each was involved in caring for their children, Meryl Streep made fewer movies and Tom Hanks made more movies. From age 28 to 43, Meryl Streep made 1.19 movies per year. From age 28 to 39, Tom Hanks made 1.67 movies per year. I won’t draw any conclusions from these observations. I do intend, however, to do more of these side by side career comparisons in the future to see if any patterns do emerge.

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins) and Tom Hanks (Sully) are once again appearing in movies this year that should include them in the conversation for acting awards. They are truly American treasures.

 

 

 

 

Going to August Movies This Year May Be Suicide, but Some “Really Like” Prospects Come in Small Packages

As I mentioned in my last post, August is a below average month for ticket sales at the box office. Accordingly, August is one of the months that movie distributors use to dump movies that they don’t expect to do well. The historical exception to this is promising small movies with modest budgets. It is possible that there is a second exception.Two years ago we saw the successful launch of Guardians of the Galaxy on the first weekend in August. The gamble was that the first weekend in August was more like July, the blockbuster mecca, than the rest of August

As I mentioned in my last post, August is a below average month for ticket sales at the box office. Accordingly, August is one of the months that movie distributors use to dump movies that they don’t expect to do well. The historical exception to this is promising small movies with modest budgets. It is possible that there is a second exception.Two years ago we saw the successful launch of Guardians of the Galaxy on the first weekend in August. The gamble was that the first weekend in August was more like July, the blockbuster mecca, than the rest of August.

In selecting my August “really like” prospects, the trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff. I need to find the movies that fit the exceptions noted above and avoid the dumps. With that in mind, consider the following five movies:

Suicide Squad  Release Date: August 5, 2016  “Really Like Probability” 45%

One of the classic movies released in the 1960’s was The Dirty Dozen, in which twelve criminals with special skills were recruited for a black-ops mission during World War II. The success of The Dirty Dozen hinged on humanizing these “bad men” so that the audience would root for them. The movie succeeded in doing this by infusing a liberal dose of humor. Suicide Squad is a comic book version of the same story. Coming out of last week’s Comic-Con in San Diego, the movie is riding a positive buzz. I’m betting on the buzz being because the movie is good and not just hype. Because nobody has seen this movie so far, the probability reflects a little better than average probability for an August movie. As we get closer to opening weekend we’ll gain a better handle on whether this movie earns the buzz.

Hell or High Water  Release Date: August 12, 2016   “Really Like” Probability: 45%

This western, which premiered at Cannes this year, is very promising. Director David MacKenzie was nominated at Cannes for his work on the film. The screenplay was written by Taylor Sheridan, who made an impressive screenwriting debut last year for the hit Sicario. And, Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers who rob banks to save their farm while trying to avoid the dogged pursuit of a Texas Ranger, played by Jeff Bridges. Based on 15 reviews, Hell or High Water is already 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. With 200 votes on IMDB, it has an early average rating of 7.6.

Florence Foster Jenkins  Release Date: August 12, 2016  “Really Like” Probability: 40%

Meryl Streep is renowned for her ability to assume the accents of the many characters she has played in her distinguished career. In Florence Foster Jenkins, Streep, an accomplished singer, has to assume the singing voice of a woman who can’t sing a lick. This movie has already been released internationally and so we already have more feedback on it than is typical before a U.S. release. With 49 reviews in, it is 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s average rating on IMDB is a 7.1, but is 7.4 for voters over 45. Even without the positive feedback, though, any movie with Meryl Streep qualifies as a prospect. You can throw in Hugh Grant as the husband of Florence Foster Jenkins if you need more convincing.

Southside with You  Release Date: August 26, 2016  “Really Like” Probability: 35%

I’m a big fan of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy. The dialogue driven movies have an authenticity that are unusual in the Romance genre. Director and screenwriter Richard Tanne modeled his approach to the romance portrayed in Southside with You on Linklater’s work. That has me intrigued. The fact that the movie portrays the first date of Barack and Michelle Obama is an added dimension. Because this movie has taken the movie festival route including an opening at Sundance, there has been some feedback from critics, receiving an 88% fresh so far from 24 critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Given that we are in the middle of a heated political season, don’t be surprised if some political passions seep into the IMDB voting.

Little Men  Release Date: August 5, 2016     “Really Like” Probability” 30%

This is not  an adaptation of the Luisa May Alcott novel, but it is similar in its coming of age themes. Two young men, growing up in Brooklyn, develop a friendship while their parents feud. I’m kind of a sucker for good coming of age flix. This one opened in January at Sundance and has been shown domestically and internationally at a number of additional festivals since then. It has been favorably reviewed so far. Rotten Tomatoes is at 94% fresh based on 16 reviews. It is the kind of small movie that can do well in August.

For a month that isn’t favorable for good movies, there seems to be enough “really like” movies to look forward to if you stick mainly to small packages.

 

 

Why Don’t More Women Rate Movies on IMDB?

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Females represented 52% of all moviegoers in 2014. In my study of IMDB’s Top 250, only 16% of the votes cast for Top 250 movies were by women, interestingly close to the 18% participation of female critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

Last October Meryl Streep was at the London Film Festival promoting her new movie Suffragette, a film about the struggle to secure the vote for women in Britain. She used the opportunity to criticize Rotten Tomatoes for its underrepresentation of female critics in its Tomatometer, the tool Rotten Tomatoes uses to grade movies. She pointed out that there were 168 women to 760 men among the critics used by Rotten Tomatoes. She felt that this one sided bias was negatively impacting women-driven movies at the box office. In an interview with the Daily Beast she said “I submit to you that men and women are not the same, they like different things. Sometimes they like the same thing but sometimes their tastes diverge. If the Tomatometer is slighted so completely to one set of tastes that drives box office in the United States.”

Meryl Streep is spot on when she says that sometimes men and women like the same movies but often their tastes differ. For example, in a recent demographic study I put together of the IMDB Top 250 Movies, here were the top 5 movies for men and women:

Men Women
The Shawshank Redemption The Shawshank Redemption
The Godfather Schindler’s List
The Godfather: Part II The Godfather
The Dark Knight 12 Angry Men
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Men and women agree on two of the top 5 but disagree on the other 3.

Is Rotten Tomatoes restricting, or not encouraging, women to participate as critics for their website, or are women simply less interested in film criticism? According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Females represented 52% of all moviegoers in 2014. In my study of IMDB’s Top 250, only 16% of the votes cast for Top 250 movies were by women, interestingly close to the 18% participation of female critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Here are the female participation rates by age groups for the Top 250 study:

Age Group Female % of IMDB Votes
Under 18 21%
18 to 29 18%
30 to 45 14%
Over 45 16%

Some hypotheses for these results might include:

  1. Women are not as comfortable with technology as men, particularly in the older age groups.
  2. There is an unequal sharing of household responsibilities, particularly during the 30 to 45 child rearing years.
  3. Women go to the movies more than men because they don’t have time to watch movies when they are home. Men, on the other hand, find time to watch movies at home.
  4. There is a male bias to the Top 250 movies list.
  5. There are other things women would rather do than rate movies.

The data above is consistent with the first two hypotheses. The third hypothesis may also be a factor. My Top 250 data demonstrates that women have higher IMDB participation rates for newer movies, which supports greater viewership at movie theaters than at home.  When ranked by release date from the oldest to the newest and divided into two groups of 125, there is clearly greater participation across all age groups for newer movies.

Age Group Oldest 125 Movies (Median Release Date 1963) Newest 125 Movies (Median Release Date 2003)
Under 18 16% 23%
18 to 29 15% 20%
30 to 45 12% 15%
Over 45 16% 17%
All Ages 14% 18%

I think you see a convergence in the participation rates as the age groups get older because the old movies become more contemporary as the groups get older. But even for the oldest group, who may have watched many of the old movies when they were new, the participation is greater for the newer movies.

The fourth hypothesis is certainly true. In the Top 250 there are 142 movies that men rate higher than women and only 66 that women rate higher than men. But, in those 66 movies that women rate higher than men, women still are only 16% of the total vote.

In the final analysis, though, when you control for the first four hypotheses, I can’t get female participation in IMDB voting to a level greater than 23%. In fact, the single movie in the Top 250 with the highest female participation, the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday, has a participation rate of only 37%. By the way, the more contemporary version of the same movie, Notting Hill, has only 38% female participation.

All of which leaves me with hypothesis 5, rating movies is one of the things that you do on Mars rather than on Venus. Whatever the reason, Meryl Streep’s concern is real and change is hard. It happens one IMDB vote at a time.

Have I struck a nerve? Do you have any other hypotheses? Please leave comments.