8 things you've always wanted to ask about the Oscars (like, how to get your hands on a statuette without winning)

Every year since 1929 the Oscars have celebrated the best in cinema, but how much do you really know about the Academy Awards? How many members can vote for Best Picture? Who puts the nomination shortlists together? Can you get your hands on a golden statuette without actually winning? Huh? HUH?!

The secrets of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) are closely guarded, but with this year's Oscars just around the corner (this Sunday) I've done some digging and found the answers to eight things you've always wanted to ask about the Oscars. 

1. Where did the design for the statuette come from?

Designed by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons, the Oscar statuette takes the form of a statue of a knight holding a sword, standing on a reel of film with five spokes which represent the original branches of the Academy: actors, producers, directors, writers, and technicians. 

Originally cast in bronze, the statuette is now made from 24-carat gold-plated brittanium alloy, stands 13-and-a-half inches high, and weighs a surprisingly hefty eight-and-a-half pounds.

2. Are all the statuettes handed out identical, then?

No. Most are the same but are some exceptions. Celebrated ventriloquist Edgar Bergen was presented with an honorary wooden statuette with a movable jaw in 1938 for his creation of the popular puppet character Charlie McCarthy. 

Walt Disney’s honorary award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs awarded to him in 1937 for "a significant screen innovation which has pioneered a great new entertainment field," took the form of one full-sized statuette and seven miniatures. Plus, the honorary Juvenile Award – given to Shirley Temple in 1935 and Judy Garland in 1940 – is also scaled down.

3. How many members does the Academy actually have?

AMPAS originally comprised of only 36 members, all of whom were producers or filmmakers. It now has over 6,000 members, representing all areas of the professional movie community, including actors, public relations, and more.

4. How do you join? Is it a matter of who you know?

New members must fall under one of 14 different branches of the Academy - actors, art directors, cinematographers, directors, documentary, executives, film editors, music, producers, public relations, short films and feature animation, sound, visual effects, and writers – and must be proposed by two members of the same branch. The Board of Governors then bases their decision on whether the candidate has "achieved distinction in Motion pictures." 

Oh, and if you've already won an Oscar, you get automatic entry.

5. Can members nominate in any category they like?

The first nomination ballots are mailed out to members in January. Members are restricted to voting in categories within their own area of expertise (actors nominating actors, directors nominating directors etc), but everyone may nominate for Best Picture. 

Nominations for the Foreign Language and Documentary awards are made by committees of members from all branches.

6. After the nominations, who actually decides the winner?

Nomination ballots must be returned within two weeks to accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers, who collate the results by the end of January. After the shortlists are compiled, final ballots are sent out to members in early February. The entire Academy membership is then allowed to vote in most of the categories, and the votes must be returned within a fortnight.

7. Can I get hold of an Oscar – without winning one?

Oscars awarded before 1950 are allowed to be sold on the open market, so if you can find someone willing to sell (and you have the money), you can get your very own Oscar. 

Steven Spielberg has so far bought three - Bette Davis' 1936 Best Actress award for Dangerous which cost him $207,500 in 2002 and her 1939 Best Actress award for Jezebel for the price of $578,000 in 2001, as well as Clark Gable’s 1935 Best Actor award for It Happened One Night which set him back $607,500 in 1996 – and returned them all to the Academy. 

Not everyone gives them back though. In 1999, Michael Jackson paid $1.54 million for producer David O Selznick’s 1939 Gone with the Wind statuette.

8. But how much is an Oscar statuette actually worth?

While the financial uplift of winning an Oscar can be worth millions, the value of the actual statuette isn't as much as you might think. Should a winner (or their heirs) choose to sell, the Academy has pegged the value at $1 since 1950. 

Oscar winners must now sign waivers saying that they will not dispose of any unwanted awards, but rather offer them back to the Academy first, for the nominal fee.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar+. Northerner, Whedon fanatic, and English Breakfast tea addict.
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